JANZOUR, Libya – When it comes to love, Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya was unlucky for unmarried 33-year-old truck driver Ahmed Nori Faqiar. His looks would have benefited if his parents could ever have sprung for a dentist. Lack of means forced him to live unhappily at his childhood home well into adulthood. Marriage, a home of his own, kids -- all are dreams that the wiry Libyan had long ago steeled himself to stop hoping for.
"Before, I was not even daring to look at girls as wife material, because I knew I could not afford" to get married, say Faqiar now.
These days, though, Faqiar wears the mismatched camouflage of Libya's rebels and a dashing bandana on his head, pirate-style. He carries a gun. He is a veteran of battles for Libyans' freedom from Qaddafi's regime -- and it's the women who are talking to him.
"Girls around the area come up to you and say, ‘Thank you! You made us proud, you made us happy,'" Faqiar told me one night recently. He spoke on the sidelines of a camel and couscous feast that the people in this Tripoli suburb threw for several thousand young rebels, after slaughtering 10 camels.
From a specially raised dais, speakers praised the young rebel fighters late into the evening. Hundreds of excited young women and girls in head scarves mingled near rifle-toting young men, a novelty in this conservative country that was overwhelming to members of both genders in the crowd that night. "It's like a wedding!" Faqiar exclaimed, shaking his head in surprise.
Relations between Libyan men and women -- deeply distorted by the eccentric Libyan leader's refusal to provide normal opportunities for Libya's young people -- have changed "100 percent" in the days since Qaddafi fell, the young rebel said. His comrades listening around him voiced agreement.
"Thank God," Faqiar added.
Nearby, young women -- a group of cousins and neighbors, clustered together, in long skirts and shirts and head coverings -- said the same, and laughed about taking their pick of a husband from among the rebels when the war was done.