I clearly remember my most intense moment of culture shock while first living with a Sinai Bedouin family as a teenage anthropology student in the late 1970s. I was walking along the Gulf of Aqaba with a few other women, who were covered from head to toe, when someone suggested that we go swimming. They removed all of their clothing and frolicked in the water while I stood on the beach. I had not understood that because there were no men, these women did not care about appearing modest. I awkwardly joined my new friends in my underwear.
Women and girls tended to important chores such as herding and collecting fire fuel or water, which also gave them an opportunity to mingle. Secret romances were even common, but this was all to change. In 1982, as a result of the Camp David Accords, the Sinai was returned to Egypt from Israel. The Bedouins I knew were settled by the Egyptian government to develop the area for tourism, with planning and funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Women and older girls are mostly confined to their homes, as there are no longer many outdoor chores to perform. To compound their problems, the men also increasingly take European tourist women to be girl friends and even wives.
I am a social anthropologist who has lived in the Middle East for more than six years. I am writing a book, BENEATH THE VEIL: BEDOUIN WOMEN OF SINAI, based upon my 1994 dissertation, and I will periodically be posting on this web page.
©1995 Ann Gardner. Gardner is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and anthropologist.
SOME LINKS TO RELEVANT SITES:
Live AOL Chat on Sinai Bedouin Women with Ann Gardner.
Fourth World Project
Human Rights Watch
Female Genital Mutilation Research
Global Fund for Women
Women of Africa Resources
Women's Studies Resources
Women in Development Network
International Affairs Resources
Middle East Network Information Center
Palm Tree Books
ZAN: A Directory/Anthology about Iranian Women
The Women's Caravan and CyberHarem Discussion List Home Page