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Since Ahmed's relationship with her mom is kind of a downer, it's lucky that she has four women to nurse, spoil, and generally entertain her. Ahmed remembers her aunts fondly and thinks of their camaraderie and support when she lands at Girton College, another all-female community.
While Ahmed also admires the women of Girton College—and who's more real than women taking their education and professions into their own hands?—she returns to the women of Zatoun when she considers the meaning and purpose of her life.
Though the women of Zatoun don't have professions—they don't do anything, to quote angsty teen Ahmed—they make life possible for Ahmed and so many others in the family. To Ahmed, that sounds at least as important (if not more so) as the critical work that the women of Girton College do.
Despite her warm memories of the aunts and their companionship at Zatoun and Alexandria, Ahmed knows there are limits to their powers. Whether it's because of cultural conditioning or family taboos, the women of Zatoun (including her mother and grandmother) are helpless when things go wrong.
While Nazli and Aisha are blessed with good marriages and good dispositions that make life more pleasant for everyone, both Aida and Farida lead troubled lives and cannot seem to help themselves—or be helped by family.
After Aunt Aida loses her battle with depression and can no longer bear the thought of remaining in her failed marriage, she ends her own life.
Ahmed is beside herself with grief:
And I found myself angry also at her sisters, my mother and aunts, their eyes swollen and red, receiving condolences in the rooms for women. Why are you crying now? I thought. What's the point of that? Why did you do nothing to help her all this time, why didn't you get her out of that marriage? (120)
Over time, Ahmed understands that her aunts (and mother) aren't particularly evil-minded or lazy. She sees that being a woman is tough, especially in a culture where no one seems willing or able to stand up for the women who find themselves in trouble.
Even her lovely, witty, and bright aunts can't overcome the boundaries of the gender-segregated life imposed to "protect" them. It's a bitter pill to swallow.