We lived in fact, throughout our childhoods, easily and unthinkingly crossing thresholds between one place and another—Ain Shams, Zatoun, our school—places that formed their own particular and different worlds with their own particular and different underlying beliefs, ideals, assumptions.

In this phrase describing the landscape of her childhood from Chapter 6, Ahmed finds herself at the crossroads of influences and culture that will so often haunt her sense of identity. Ain Shams is the name of Ahmed’s childhood home in Cairo, where, in the grand and sprawling garden, she develops an imaginative identity that permeates her lyrical writing about this time in her life. Zatoun is her grandparents’ house, a place where Ahmed grows acquainted with a rich community of female relatives and the oral tradition through which they experience Islam. Ahmed identifies this interpretation of Islam as feminine and humane, accepting of multiple interpretations, and a rich, living manifestation of centuries-old religious ethics. Ahmed’s school is British, where speaking English is second nature and ideas and values central to the Western tradition supersede those belonging to the Arab world.

Ahmed’s analysis of how easily she moved between the three worlds is significant in the way it contrasts with her adult understanding of the more rigid boundaries and categories that apply to women and Arabs in the world. While at Cambridge, she finds herself lumped together with all other students from the third world and subjected to a sort of “genteel” racism that inherently devalues her non-Western perspective. She also comes to understand the implication of the “colonial consciousness” that afflicted the Egypt of her childhood, especially through her father, who revered all things British while failing to see the ways the British colonial authorities held back his career as an engineer. As an academic in the United States, she experiences difficulty getting her voice as a foreign woman heard in women’s studies departments in the early 1980s. Whether in Egypt or elsewhere in the world, she comes to understand the overt and more subtle ways racism is used to marginalize the perspective of minorities.