First tie your camel, then trust in god.
This is the first hand account and an instructive, compelling personal experience of American lesbian feminist Chivvis Moore and her travels around the Arabic world. It’s actually two books in one, the first half of the book taking us on her reason for leaving American for a year in the late 1970’s, the sudden arrival in an Arabic culture and the slow and sure adaption to a way of life not as alien, oppressive and savage as we are all taught, but one where liberty, life and community have different meanings with different expectations and demands from the people who live with each other. Moore’s insights can be academic but there are moments in the book which are transcendental; her understanding of the way that creative people, craft and create a healthy culture and how being able to make, meld and elaborate our physical word gives us meaning as people, parents and citizens is a challenge to the manufactured mutterings of consumption that the western world offers us as meaning.
Her arguments are compelling, her being a carpenter is a running theme in the book and she works words as she does wood, anticipating knots and grain and knowing how the beauty of something will be revealed when hands have worn a groove. I liked her prose; it’s very comfortable to read even when the subject matter is anything but. It handles stress well, her voice is quiet but persistent. There are plenty of personal moment that convince about the dignity and acceptance of a western feminist lesbian living in an apparently repressive society, but Moore is no idealist, she keeps her keen eye on real politic.
Read more about Moore and the development of this book on her website here:
The second half of the book takes us into a decade of Moore working in Palestine and confronts us with searing observational honestly. Here Moore bears witness to living in Palestine under an increasingly repressive Israeli occupation and what ever your political views you can’t help but be shocked and moved by these eyewitness accounts of the day-to-day horrors of Palestinian life and simple joys grabbed from adversity.
Not an easy read, but not an easy subject, Moore gives us her own unfazed clarity of view and guides us into the heart of the community and the way it embraces and occasionally judges her. Perhaps this would have been better as two separate books but it’s been a long time since I’ve read a narrative with such force that has made me think so hard about received wisdoms.