epilogue
O N G O I N G C O N V E R S I O N S
On a trip to Kuwait several years after my primary fieldwork ended, I was
engrossed in conversation with Sister Zahida, an eerie sense of familiarity
prickling at me. Shifting in my chair, I knew the feeling creeping at the edges
of my thoughts, tugging me away from Sister Zahida’s words, was not from
the strange juxtapositions that mark returns—in which understandings sedi-
mented with time, and further smoothed by time away, butt up against the
sharp realizations of change.
Sister Zahida and I were updating one another about the women we knew
in common: Muslim converts, South Asian domestic workers, our interlocu-
tors or students, and in some cases, our friends. I had the distinct feeling I had
heard Sister Zahida’s comments before, but not from her. Staring at Sister Za-
hida from across her desk, a computer screen illuminating one side of her face
and hijab, the other side framed by her stacks of files and books, I tried to give
some definition to that sense. Looking down at the tiny cup of qahwa I held in
my hands, its grounds starting to break the smooth dark surface, I remembered
another cup of coffee I had held a few months earlier, a much larger corrugated
cup in a café thousands of miles away in New York.
There I had met with a recently hired program officer of a large international
human rights or ga ni za tion. Curious about my research, the program officer had
asked to meet to discuss my time in the Gulf region. I had been in the midst
of describing how, based on letters and the odd garbled phone call, it seemed
as though little had changed in my interlocutors’ lives in the years since I had
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