Ahmed-Border Passage-ch5-Harem.pdf - ~REM-~-=-= =-=.= Looking out onto the garden the trees that I had!wed now gone felled to make way for the marquees

Ahmed-Border Passage-ch5-Harem.pdf - ~REM-~-=-= =-=.=...

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~REM __ __ _ _____ ___ __ _____ _______ _ Lo oking 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 c ried. 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 h er 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 h er grandfather's estate, that my mother first saw th e 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 rich 1 fertile oasis a hundred miles or so southwest of Cairo. A place of fruit trees and orange-blossom scents a nd a veranda an d 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 Ahm ed under way in Egypt. Wom e n's ma gaz ines were flourishing, feminists were writing news paper columns , and Fren ch , British, a nd American schools for girls had ope ned and were attended by th e daught ers of the well-to-do. When sh e was an ad olescent , Egypt won parti al in- depend e nce from the British, and in 1924 a n ew government, made up of th e country's mod erniz ing int ell ec tuals, came into office, Egypt's first elec ted go vern ment. Although still locked in battl e with th e Brit- ish for full ind ep en den ce , th e new gove rnm e nt began at once to effect changes in th e areas und er its control. Imm ediately it o pened mo re schools, and soon also a modern university named after King Fuad. Almost from th e s tart , it a dmitted wo men . Th e women leading the way in education were f rom the am bi- tious, progressive, broad middle class, my f athe r's class. My mother did n ot belong to this class. Among people of her class, formal e du- cation , whether for men or women , was not a matt er of importance. They were not , tho ugh , whoiiy isolated from the cha nge s afoot; my mother a nd her sisters were a11 sent to the Mere de Oieu , a schoo l run by French nun s. But Mot her , th e el dest , was withdrawn from the school at the age of twelve a nd th erea fter h ad private tutors at home.

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