Here’s What It’s Like To Be An American Lesbian In The Middle East
Living in Brazil as a child sparked a desire in Chivvis Moore, an American lesbian, feminist and author, to learn about other places and cultures. Inspired by a book about an Egyptian architect, she booked a flight to Cairo, though knew little about the culture and religion of this predominantly Muslim country. From there she had the opportunity to work in Egypt, Syria and Israel before teaching at Birzeit University in the West Bank. The entire trip through the Middle East lasted 15 years.
Her book, First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God, explains her experience to people who can’t comprehend why an American LGBT female would desire such an adventure. She writes,
Why, I was asked, would I want to live in an Arab country? Don’t Arabs hate the United States? Don’t they resent our freedom? Don’t they all want to kill us? Aren’t I afraid? Surely a woman traveling alone can’t want to live in a Muslim country—considered by definition a misogynist society.
I understand why people ask these questions. I see the same news they watch each evening on television. I read the newspapers they read. To the French women of that evening long ago, to other Europeans, and to my fellow US citizens, this book is my effort to answer these questions and others I have been asked.
For those of you who don’t have immediate access to the book, Moore agreed to share some of her experiences with Epicure & Culture through an exclusive interview. She describes daily life, navigating her identity, interacting with men and other women in the Middle East, and gaining a better understanding of Muslim culture (hint: the answers may surprise you).
Before visiting the Arab World, Moore earned a BA from Harvard University and worked as a journalist. She has also earned her living as a carpenter and general building contractor, an editor and researcher, and a teacher of English for Academic Purposes.
Book Review, First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God
GSCENE (National, United Kingdom—Print and Online Book Review page 67 under Page’s Pages, by Eric Page. August issue, 2016
http://www.chestnuthilllocal.com/2016/08/19/new-book-lesbianfeminist-lived-in-arab-world-for-16-years/ Posted on August 19, 2016 The Chestnut Hill Local is an independent weekly newspaper serving the neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, in Northwest Philadelphia.
Posted on September 23, 2016 by Len Lear by Len Lear Chivvis Moore, 71, is a lesbian and feminist who lived for 16 years in the Arab world, including 11 years in the Palestinian West Bank, controlled by Israel. Most of us would assume that an avowed lesbian and feminist could not possibly survive intact while living for so many years in the […]
Epicure & Culture
Sep 16, 2016 – by Chivvis Moore. The Welcome of the Middle East. When I arrived in Cairo in 1978, I was welcomed into the home of an Egyptian woman, the …
David Leonard <email@example.com> 6.27
KYNT RADIO INTERVIEW-Moore
I have scheduled your interview to air the afternoon of 06-28-16, the program begins at 505 PM Central Time and the interview will be on at about 520 PM.
Here is a link to our website: http://www.kynt1450.com/programs/aliveat5
KPFA – Women’s Magazine with Kate Rafael
Chivvis Moore discusses her new memoir, First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust In God: An American Feminist in the Arab World. Moore lived in the Middle East for 17 years, including three in Egypt, two in Syria, and 11 in Palestine. She talks about what attracted her and what she learned about Muslim and Arab culture, volunteering as a medic in Jenin Refugee Camp immediately after the brutal siege of 2002, the impact of Western funding on the Palestinian women’s movement, and how community helps people make it through intolerable situations. On 94.1 FM in Berkeley and Northern California, online anywhere at www.kpfa.org. After broadcast the segments will be available on our website kpfawomensmag.blogspot.com or check the archives kpfa.org/program/womens-magazine
The first review of First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust In God has appeared! It can be found in the August 2016 issue of Gscene Magazine, based in Brighton and Hove, England, and written by Eric Page, on “Page’s Page — Books by Eric Page.” This is a link to the online PDF of the whole magazine –https://issuu.com/gscene/docs/08_gscene_aug16. Review is on page 67.
The review reads:
“FIRST TIE YOUR CAMEL, THEN TRUST IN GOD by Chivvis Moore (North Loop Books). This is the first hand account and instructive, compelling personal experience of an American lesbian feminist and her travels around the Arabic world. It’s actually two books in one, the first half looks at her reason for leaving America for a year in the late 1970s; 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’re taught, but one where liberty, life and community have different meanings and different expectations and demands from the people that live with each other. Moore’s insights can be academic but there are moments which are transcendental; her understanding of how creative people craft and create a healthy culture and how being able to make, meld and elaborate our physical world gives us meaning as people, parents and citizens – a challenge to the manufactured mutterings of consumption that the western world offers. Her arguments are compelling. Her being a carpenter is a running theme 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. Her prose is comfortable to read even when the subject matter is anything but. Her voice is quiet but persistent. There are plenty of personal moments that convince about the dignity and acceptance of a western feminist lesbian living in an apparently repressive society, but Moore is no idealist and keeps her keen eye on real politics. 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 whatever 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. 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.”
I am so honored, and send my sincere thanks to Eric Page.
by Chivvis Moore
When I arrived in Cairo in 1978, I was welcomed into the home of an Egyptian woman, the sister of someone I’d met only briefly in the United States. The questions she asked, within minutes of meeting me, surprised me: What does it cost to get a university education in the U.S.? What do American women earn in comparison to men in the same jobs?
She asked the same questions raised at the time by feminists in my own country. In striking contrast to the Western image of the helpless, unthinking, beaten-down Arab woman, Nahid was a natural homegrown feminist. She was the first of the many females I met during my years in the Arab world. Ladies whom I respected and admired for the strength, inner fortitude, and self-esteem that I came to see as characteristic of Arab women.
In Egypt in 1978, most women had harder lives than those in the USA. In the poorer Arab countries today, women still have less opportunity for education. They do more physical work, without the aid of washing machines and dryers, freezers, and dishwashers. Fewer families have cars than families in the U.S.; shopping is more difficult, traffic and stores more congested, many buildings have no lifts.
The Arab women I met in Egypt in 1978-79, and in Egypt, Syria and Palestine later, in 1991-2008, confronted the whole array of challenges. Challenges that all of us, except the wealthy, have to face-working outside the home and yet, doing the work inside the home as well.
But from Nahid and the other women I met, I got the distinct impression they valued and respected themselves as much as or more than I or many more in my own society. Freedoms for Arab women were more limited than those in the USA, it seemed to me. Nevertheless, they carried their heads more proudly, seemed surer of themselves, and appeared more comfortable in their own bodies.
In the United States, we consider showing more skin as modern, and therefore preferable. Many American women wear low-cut dresses and short skirt, and both genders wear tank tops and shorts. We view the long dresses and veils worn by many Muslim women as backward and repressive. How quickly we accept what is around us: by the time I had lived in Cairo a year, the flesh displayed by tourists of both sexes struck me as unattractive, as well as culturally appropriate.
Back in the U.S., I wear shorts again. Certainly, some Arab Muslim countries require women to veil. But when I lived in Arab countries, I knew Muslim females who covered their heads to indicate their difference from Western ways. Others veiled because they believed that God required of both men and women a certain modesty in dress, as set forth in the Qur’an.
Most who make judgments about Arab women’s status blame it on Islam. They equate Islam with the violent and repressive rhetoric and practices of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But Islam is a peaceful, tolerant religion. In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, many of its tenets were progressive in their treatment of all human beings. Most Muslims want as little to do with the values of ISIS or the Taliban as you or I.
Countries in the Arab world differ in their treatment of women. Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, although in the countries in which I lived and visited, they can. These laws come not from Islam, but from men. Men, who have always had the power in those societies, as they have traditionally in ours.
Just as the founders of the U.S. kept women as slaves and decreed white women unfit to vote, the men who have ruled Arab countries have kept rights for themselves. They justify their actions by their own interpretation of religious texts formulated centuries ago. But the Qur’an is open to as many interpretations as the Torah and the Christian Bible.
In every country on the planet, women activists and writers work to change the practices that hurt them. For the U.S., it is domestic violence, trafficking of women and children, and gang rapes on college campuses. While in the Middle East, it is early marriage and clitoridectomy in parts of the Muslim world. Across the Muslim world and beyond, women interpret the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet in ways that make sense to them. Female Arabs and Muslims are working to change their societies just as American feminists are working to change ours.
Chivvis Moore is the author of First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God. She lived in the Middle East for 17 years, working in Egypt, Syria, and Israel, before teaching at Birzeit University. Before her journey to the Arab world, Moore earned a B.A. from Harvard University. She also worked as a journalist with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Daily Review in the San Francisco Bay Area.