~REM ___________________________ _ Looking out onto the garden, the trees that I had !wed now gone, felled to make way for the marquees put up for the night's celebratiom, I cried and cried. I cried for my trees, I cried for my childhood, I saw in the barren garden before me a pict11re of the life I m11st now live, bereft of everything I had loved and of everything companionable to me. Httda Shaarawi (1889-1945), Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist I KNOW MY father's date of birth, November 13, 1889, but not my mother's. Hers fell in early May, perhaps the fifth. The year was 1909. My mother sometimes said it was the fifth when I pressed her as a child, but usually she just said May, early May. Why didn't she know? I've sometimes wondered. Could it be that they recorded the date according to the Islamic calendar and nobody got around to fig-uring it out in this other calendar? They must have had birth certifi~ cates in those days; otherwise, how was it Father knew his birth date? Or could it be that they kept records in Alexandria, where he was born, but not in the small country town where she came into the world? At any rate, it was at Benisweif, on her grandfather's estate, that my mother first saw the li~ht of day. She grew up partly in Cairo, in the house that I knew, and partly on her father's estate in al-Fayyurn, the rich1 fertile oasis a hundred miles or so southwest of Cairo. A place of fruit trees and orange-blossom scents and a veranda and roof garden that I also remember. Nearby was Birket Qarun, a vast gray lake, its edges dense with reeds, reeds that were alive with the shuffle and stir of birds-ducks and waterfowl. By the time my mother was a child, change for women was well
94 Leila Ahmed under way in Egypt. Women's magazines were flourishing, feminists were writing newspaper columns, and French, British, and American schools for girls had opened and were attended by the daughters of the well-to-do. When she was an adolescent, Egypt won partial in-dependence from the British, and in 1924 a new government, made up of the country's modernizing intellectuals, came into office, Egypt's first elected government. Although still locked in battle with the Brit-ish for full independence, the new government began at once to effect changes in the areas under its control. Immediately it opened more schools, and soon also a modern university named after King Fuad. Almost from the start, it admitted women. The women leading the way in education were from the ambi-tious, progressive, broad middle class, my father's class. My mother did not belong to this class. Among people of her class, formal edu-cation, whether for men or women, was not a matter of importance. They were not, though, whoiiy isolated from the changes afoot; my mother and her sisters were a11 sent to the Mere de Oieu, a school run by French nuns. But Mother, the eldest, was withdrawn from the school at the age of twelve and thereafter h ad private tutors at home.