Guests of the Sheik

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Guests of the Sheik

10/27/10

Anthropology

Ciara Schultz

Out of all the many countries in the world, each one is unique and individualistic with many exclusive qualities to each one. Many times, the countries get compared to the Western civilization of the United States. The book Guests of the Sheik is just that, but more. An American woman, (Elizabeth Fernea) travels to a completely foreign land, not known at all to her and experiences the culture first hand. She is at first willing, since her husband, Bob, had no choice and his job permitted him to do so (in moving to a completely new country). We learn in the book, that not only is where she staying, completely different than America, but surprisingly, the Iraqi people are not ‘jealous’ or want her life, but more take pity on her for not having theirs. My paper will analyze and discuss ideas about satisfaction, security, authority, power, and autonomy for women in the El Eshadda tribal society of El Nahra. I will also touch on the different thing women derive their satisfaction, power, authority, and security in this very different world.

The 1965 ethnography, Guests of the Sheik, written by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea really captures what it is like to live and just be immersed into another culture. Though there is so many different cultures, there is no “right” culture. To say or think that your culture is the “right” culture would be taking an ethnocentric view. For so many people it is nearly impossible for them to accept the way other cultures operate, and the different expectations of the woman’s role in other countries compared to the lifestyle of what they might be used to. What may satisfy a typical American woman could quite possibly horrify a Shiite woman. Similar questions that could lead to cultural dispute may ask what makes a woman powerful, have authority, or feel secure. Cultures all over the world would have different answers. Which culture is right? In the ethnocentric view, your culture is right. Although the men and women of that Iraqi village may play totally different day-to-day roles, especially the women, it is their culture, and to them it is the way of life. And not only just a way of life, it is the only kind of life they would want to live.

During her time in El Nahra, Elizabeth had to become a woman of the village, and come to know and befriend the local women of El Nahra. Even though she and Bob had their own house in the village she had to face and overcome many tough times and hardships. She had to become part of the veiled community and experience the everyday life of those women and that culture. At the beginning she didn’t want to live by their rules, but soon found out that in order to live with them, she had to live like them and adopt their ways of living.

There are a few ways of being accepted into society and gaining a high social status for the women in the village of El Nahra. One of those ways is how good a woman can cook. If she can cook for a large group of men and they eat everything it shows that her food was good. Though it may sound like no big deal, it is much harder than it looks. Everything has to be cooked in just the right way and with just the right spices. It takes time, patience, lots of practice, and sometimes a lot of help from friends and family. Hospitality is one of the most important ethics of the culture, anybody who wants to visit will know the skills of the cooking.

In the village of El Nahra the houses are organized in a very family oriented way. Family is one of, if not the most, important ideals. Having a family really does determine your success in the village and what people think of you. Thus, the reputation of a family is something that family really cares about, and tries to uphold. A reputation of a family is a very big part of being a successful one. In America we tend to think that all these poor Iraqi women would be so much happier if they only knew what they were...
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