This book changed the way I thought about the world and is part of the reason I choose to study International Relations and Middle Eastern Politics.
Purdah, from what I have read and just googled, is the seclusion of women from public via concealing clothing and staying inside the home. I am sure this can be hard to imagine and I know as a Canadian teenager (I first read this in high school) I really did not understand why.
A bit of personal background. I grew up in a predominantly white, small town in Canada where our high school had very little ethnic diversity. I grew up in a post-9/11 world and the 2003 Iraq Invasion. A lot of media reports on this part of the world, meaning the Middle East and also Islam were negative. The reports are still negative, and being a ignorant teen who grew up in a somewhat conservative family where many of the members rely on FOX news for “real” news, I didn’t think much of it.
My image of Iran was this: sand (a lot of sand) and women dressed from head to toe in black. I wish I was kidding. It wasn’t until Grade 11/12 when I learned that Iran actually has cities like Toronto and that not all women wear black from head to toe. I was shocked. Actually shocked and I remember that night when I got home I went on and learned everything I could about Iran.
Enter this book. My Grade 11/12 Literature teacher is amazing! She is my favourite teacher and without her I probably would have never thought to study Middle Eastern politics. She assigned the class this book to read and I am forever grateful she did.
Alison Wearing, the author, is a Canadian and she wrote this book as a travel memoir. She travelled to Iran in 1995 on her “honeymoon” (you will have to read to find out why this is in quotations). The authors note at the beginning states “This is a sketchbook, a collection of my impressions of Iran and its people.” I doubt many people choose to travel to Iran for their honeymoon, even less in 1995. The atmosphere in Iran was probably a lot different in 1995 than it is now. Alison and her husband are taken in by strangers, fed lots of food, told lots of stories and basically made to feel like part of the family. There is something truly unique about Middle Eastern hospitality (I have experienced the kindness myself) and I hope that more people learn that it is not like what they see on T.V.
Not having been to Iran (yet!!) I really have no idea if what she writes is true. However I believe that this memoir gives a better (if not more accurate) idea of Iran than “Not Without My Daughter”.
This book has one of my all time favourite quotes in it and it is something I like to think of whenever I travel (especially when I told everyone I was going to Israel and Palestine for 5 weeks). On page 17, near the end of the first chapter it reads: “I have come to this place because it frightens me; because it frightens the world. And because I don’t believe in fear. In giving it such power.” Now while I was not frightened to go to Israel, several members of my family and friends were frightened for me and I think it was because I had this quote in the back of my mind that I did not feel that fear.
I encourage you all to read this book. As you may know I love books that teach you something about another person, place, and culture. The world fascinates me and books are a great way to learn about all of the amazing places and people it holds.
If you read this book or if you have read it I would love to hear your comments!