Study Guide

A Border Passage Contrasting Regions

By Leila Ahmed

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Contrasting Regions

Ahmed's work is especially awesome at defining spaces, both physical and conceptual: gender limits, inner spaces (think "colonized consciousness"), geographical/cultural boundaries (East versus West), spiritual borders, and the dividing lines of religious life.

We know: whew. It's a lot.

From her vantage point in Cairo, she sits at the crossroads of world history and culture, watching governments rise and fall and whole identities destroyed and created. From her perch at Ain Shams, she experiences a life of comfort while witnessing deprivation all around her—until it invades her personal space and becomes her reality.

Her interactions with the women of Zatoun get her thinking about women's space and set the bar for other communities of support she will find out in the wide world.

In exploring these different worlds, Ahmed isn't really setting one space against another. She's really opening all of them at once and analyzing how their complex interactions make up the world—and her personal existence.

Questions About Contrasting Regions

  1. According to Ahmed, many Egyptians thought that European culture was the height of civilization. Why might they have thought this?
  2. What happened to disillusion Egyptians about European culture, according to Ahmed?
  3. Why doesn't Ahmed like Arabic pop culture, like her mother does?
  4. In what ways are the all-female communities of Zatoun and Girton College similar? How are they different?

Chew on This

Ahmed learns that culture clashes can happen within families and even within a person—not just across borders.

Ahmed finds that having a community and a vocabulary to discuss big issues helps to make people in a minority group more aware of what they are experiencing and gives them the push they need to voice their points of view.

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