Perspectives on Traveling, Strangers and Self-Confidence

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Scheherazade Goes West was a great book to read before setting off on our amazing adventure. I am completely excited, but behind all my excitement I have also been extremely nervous. I have had the opportunity to travel internationally before but then it was to the British Isles, where the main language is english and the cultures are similar to our own. But to travel to Spain and especially Morocco the cultures are going to be completely different and I can’t speak that great of Spanish. Scheherazade Goes West helped prepare my mindset to travel into a drastically different culture, it began to change my view on cross cultural travel from the first page.

On the first page Mernissi uses a quote from her grandmother, Yasmina, that has directed her mindset when facing a culture or people that she does not understand; “To travel is the best way to learn and empower yourself. . . You must focus on the strangers you meet and try to understand them. The more you understand a stranger and the greater is your knowledge of yourself , the more power you will have”. (Mernissi 1) This quote thrills me, it is so powerful and so true. It is full of the expectation and sense of adventure that comes with traveling and learning. The idea of meeting strangers and seeing them as a gateway to learning is how Mernissi acts throughout her journey in understanding the Western harem. She is continually looking at every situation, even one such as shopping for a skirt, as a way to expand herself and learn more about people that she finds difficult to understand.

Yasmina views the opportunity for understanding that is available in strangers and traveling so well without having had the freedom to travel. This is probably because she longed to travel and learn. For me, when I am in the middle of something, like traveling, I get so overwhelmed and would not normally view a stranger in any other way than a nameless face that I did not understand and continue on my way. Yasmina, never having the experience, but longing for it is able to see what I  would be too preoccupied and overwhelmed to understand. I very likely would pass on a conversation with a stranger, not knowing what new understanding I would be missing. This, I have decided to make a goal for our trip, to embrace Yasmina’s quote, to engage in conversations with an expectation of gaining knowledge and insight, and never pass by a chance to meet someone new.

In the last chapter of the book Mernissi was able to connect with us women of the Western Harem. Her self-confidence was torn away when shopping for a skirt and told that her hips were too wide and that there were no skirts in the store that would fit her. When Mernissi discusses self-confidence I loved the truth in how she viewed it; ” I realized early on that self-confidence is not a tangible and stable thing like a silver bracelet that never changes over the years. Self-confidence is like a tiny fragile light, which goes off and on. You have to replenish it constantly”. (Mernissi 211)

Mernissi is a college professor, and an internationally published author, both of which seem the characteristics of a an extremely self-confident woman. All that it took to make her doubt herself was a skirt. She says that self-confidence is like a “tiny fragile light which goes off and on” (Mernissi 211), we all have that one thing that makes us doubt ourselves, that turns it off. For me it is shopping for jeans. Without fail when I go jeans shopping it makes me feel horrible about myself and that is the trap of the Western Harem that Mernissi found. The clothes manufacturers create clothes where the “norm” is not the average size of the buyer, instead they force us to feel that we are the wrong and must change ourselves to better fit their idea of what size we should be. Catch me on a normal day and I will be feeling pretty good about myself, but when it takes trying on seven pairs of jeans to find one, mabey two pairs that fit well, my self-confidence is temporarily shattered. The Western Harem works by throwing off our self-confidence it makes us doubt ourselves and who we are. I am not just talking about jeans and clothes, but open up a magazine or turn on the TV and there is a bombardment of advertisements on how to “fix” our bodies. It is hard to become and stay strong, self-confident women when every direction we turn we are told that some part of ourselves is inadequate.

Mernissi builds up her self-confidence by telling herself, as well as her mother, who continually pointed our her flaws, that Allah made her this way, so “how could he be so wrong”. (Mernissi 211) I found this inspiring and wonderful, but even with this fantastic view, Western women receive very little to replenish our self-confidence compared to the onslaught of negative views our society places on us.

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