- Women, Water and Memory: Recasting Lives in Palestine
Through the intimate narratives of Palestinian women in the West Bank village of Musharafah, Nefissa Naguib's ethnography, Women, Water and Memory, brings to life the complex social relationships articulated by their diverse biographies. She highlights practices of the mundane in the village to illuminate the intricate internal and external relations that inform and govern Palestinian women's lives. Older women's recollections of water-fetching practices point to the contradictions of everyday life since the era of Ottoman rule in Palestine. Naguib points to the multiple and contentious dynamics facing the women of the village as they experience the eradication of the practice of fetching water from the 'ayn, or spring, with the coming of piped water in the 1980s. Principally through their reminiscences around water, Women, Water and Memory explores enactments of gender, family, and social relationships.
Emphasizing stories and recalling memories and narratives, Naguib joins the writing and research traditions of Rosemary Sayigh, Olivia Harris, and Susan Slyomovics, among others, to capture moments through the oral histories of societies, and specifically of women. Naguib's astute attention to the details of older women's lives in Musharafah offers the reader an "authentic documentation of 'being' and 'knowing' the world" (140). Written into the Palestinian water narrative, the lives of such women become central to understanding the social, cultural, and political dynamics of the village. For example, they recalled their trips to and from the 'ayn as a testament to the 'adat and taqalid (customs and traditions) that are central to the preservation of Palestinian culture [End Page 190] and society in light of a history plagued by occupation. In recalling the social space of the spring, they related the mundane task of fetching water to various moments in Palestinian history which has shaped and structured life as they have lived it. They spoke of life under Ottoman rule and the British mandate, the effects of Egyptian and Jordanian rule, and the establishment of the Israeli state.
Chapter one of Women, Water and Memory provides the reader with a historical account of Musharafah: its geopolitical location, ideologies, and influences. In chapter two, titled "Palestine: A Contested Site," the author recapitulates the history of Palestine by summarizing the works of various historians. It is not until chapter three that the fabric of Palestinian life in Musharafah is made visible. Naguib profiles six village women, each contributing to the diversity that constitutes life in the village. Here the author allows the women to speak for themselves, and they become the writers of the Palestinian water narrative. For Um Muhammad, Musharafah's midwife and healer, the spring signified a space for social interaction, a place where women could approach her to discuss emotional disorders, matters of infertility, and sadness (74). She relates the installation of modern water pipes to the disappearance of khala', the open country necessary for the gathering of vegetal materialkhala' , materials essential to the practice of healing in her society.
While Um Muhammad relates the spring to the well-being of Musharafah, Um Fathi relates water practices to the first intifada that began in 1987. Prior to the uprising, Um Fathi had been a supporter of any "modern" system that would enhance sanitation and health and reduce infant mortality. But the optimism she once had toward modern water delivery was overwhelmed by the material consequences of having her sons involved in the intifada: her home had been raided, her boys were wanted by the Israeli occupation authorities, and each of them has spent time in and out of prison.
Um Muhammad and Um Fathi are just two examples of the women Naguib draws upon to understand the social meaning of water in Palestine. Each of the six women profiled contributes to the production of a narrative of life as lived in Musharafah. The author's creative approach of foregrounding such recollections allows the reader agency to interpret the lives of these women. In chapters four and five, she brings together their various experiences and...