Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rags to Riches

By Alexandra Kinias

Egyptian Ghalia Mahmoud’s life was transformed overnight when her fairy godmother sprinkled her with sparkly dust of luck. Ghalia’ s daily cooking show is viewed by millions. A month earlier, the television superstar celebrity was just a housemaid.

Ramadan, the holy month of fasting is also considered the peak of television viewing season in Egypt. Commercials generate the highest revenues. Ghalia’s show was launched on the first day of Ramadan, which coincided with the beginning of August and immediately became a hit. It’s not unusual for Egyptian channels to broadcast daily cooking shows during Ramadan, but hers is unlike anything presented before. Her meals were simple, affordable and cost under $4.00 per day. She is not your typical host either.

I grew up believing that hard work is the vehicle to success. Indeed luck often knocked on some doors, but that was the exception not the rule. Observing Ghalia’s transformation from rags to riches confirmed the theory that magic wands are selective to who they choose to strike.

Ghalia, wife of a mini-van driver and mother of two, lives in the poor neighborhood of Warraq, Cairo. The combined monthly income of the couple was $200.00, which also took care of other members of their extended family. Cooking low budget meals accentuated her survival skills. Her luck was transformed when Mohamed Gohar, the brother of the lady who hired her as a cook offered her a job presenting a cooking program on his television channel. Gohar whose new born channel is named 25, after the first day of the Egyptian revolution, found in Ghalia the potential to restore the social justice that had long been lost.

Unlike any other television host, Ghalia is a commoner with limited education. In the eyes of the ousted regime that catered to the rich and affluent, she was just another invisible person among the underprivileged millions who struggled for their daily basic needs. In pre-revolution Egypt, her story was not uncommon. She was one among the masses living in a society of contradictions where Islamic religious voices are calling for the return of women to the confinement of their homes. Yet the government statistics show that more than 50% of the low class women are the sole bread winners for their families. And similar to millions like her, she had dropped out of school at a young age to support her family.

From inside the studio, reconstructed like her own kitchen, small and simple, Ghalia communicates daily with her viewers in her down to earth language, with no frills or fancy words. The simple modest woman wears no makeup. Her hair is covered with a scarf and she reminds most viewers of a dear friend. Indeed they are dear to her. She greets them like lifetime friends when they call the program to ask for culinary advice.

Living a lifetime with limited resources, she reminds her viewers that the secret of preparing a delicious meal lies in the method of cooking it and not necessarily in the ingredients used. Unlike most chefs, she had never been to a culinary school and prepares simple recipes with affordable ingredients bought from her neighborhood vendors, yet she can show you ten different ways to cook eggplants or potatoes or beans. On the show like in real life, she only cooks meat, poultry, or fish on Fridays, her payday, and  uses frugal quantities – as much as the budget allows. She spared no effort to show her viewers how she prepared one chicken to feed a family of eight.

Her simple background hit a chord with the viewers. She is one of them. She doesn’t own measuring cups, cooks in tin pots with no handles on propane burners lit with a match, in a kitchen without electrical machines other than an old blender.

On the show, Ghalia also interjects messages to people. She asks men to help their wives in house chores, advises women on how to raise their children, fight the price increase by cooking cheap food and how to care for their neighbors. However, she doesn’t equate the quality of food with dignity.

“Social justice is to live with pride regardless of what food people eat. A pot of beans eaten with dignity will bring social justice more than a turkey consumed in humiliation.”

On her Facebook page, which the producer has created for her since she had never owned nor used a computer before, her viewers voted for the show to continue after Ramadan.

Elated with her new responsibilities, Ghalia is grateful for the revolution that gave her a voice. Her success represents a slice of hope for millions with similar stories like hers. She has broken the mold. The new Egypt has revived her hopes for a better future for her two daughters.

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Stolen Faces

By: Alexandra Kinias

It’s not just the brutality of the acid attacks, the images of the maimed and disfigured faces or the agonizing testimonials of women who survived this heinous crimes that keep me awake at night, but  also the incompetence of the governments to protect women and the negligence to bring  criminals to justice  add more horror to my nightmares.

Vitrolage, throwing acid on women’s faces with the sole purpose of deforming them is a common act of terrorism against women practiced all over the world. However, it is notably widespread in South East Asia from Afghanistan to Cambodia. The attacks are mostly carried out by husbands, boyfriends and rejected suitors. In Afghanistan incidents are reported that the Taliban target girls who dare to attend school.

Underprivileged young women drowning in poverty view marriage as a refuge for improving the conditions they are living in. Their faces are their only assets they own that guarantee them a husband and that’s why their faces are targeted. By disfiguring their physical attractiveness, acid throwers rob them a decent future and destine them to a life of misery and shame, for the simple reason of not yielding to their threats. In such cultures, only the message of fear and submission resonate in the minds of the young girls as they witness women being maimed for believing they can express their voice, stand out for their rights to go to school or end a marriage, sometimes they were forced into. The price for free choice for these women is very high.

Sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, the weapons used to carry out these cruel crimes, are sold in the streets without government control, as cheap as few cents a liter. Once thrown onto the face of women, some as young as fifteen years old, it burns the skin, melts the bones, blinds if sprayed on the eyes and condemns the victim to a lifetime of trauma and misery.  Most of these attacks go unreported in fear of further retaliation. In these countries the bribery and corruption of police officers and judges guarantee the freedom of the attackers. Only a handful of the few cases that are reported come to a closure where the criminals are brought to justice, probably to satisfy the organizations that are fighting for the cause. It is ironic that in Bangladesh where the punishment for acid throwers is the death penalty, the rate of the crimes is increasing.

Because women in these societies are considered cheap commodities with no rights, victims of the attacks endure the pain and shame of these crimes alone, often ostracized from their community and families. Some women went through as many as twenty five reconstructive surgeries, yet after this long painful journey, they never attained their looks again, and they will never do. The psychological challenge of coping with their new images is grave.

In these male dominant societies, governments turn a blind eye on the atrocities women are subjected to. Since most of these women live under poverty levels, the expenses of the surgeries and counseling are paid by NGOs and charitable organizations that are carrying the burden to supply moral, medical and financial support to the victims. They are also giving a voice to these women by publicizing the magnitude of the crimes for the world to take note, in an effort to put international pressure on the governments to react.  That might help end the silence and culture of impunity surrounding this kind of terrorism. Unless the systems that are harboring these criminals change and the governments take responsibility to fight them, this act of terror against women will continue. And more lives will be destroyed.

To read more about the Acid Attacks:

Iranian acid attack victim pardons culprit

Terrorism that’s personal

Acid attacks: Facing a heinous crime

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Beyond Affairs: Why Men Cheat?

By: Alexandra Kinias

Modern technologies and wireless connections are helping women everyday to track down their husbands without leaving the comfort of their living rooms.  My best friend’s earlier suspicions about her husbands’ infidelity came to a closure when she received online credit card statements that included flights to Bangkok, not a destination her husband travels to on business, and the bill of a hotel in the Thai capital. Of course in the Google age she didn’t need a private detective to learn that this hotel offers affordable escort services to its guests. My guess of why an intelligent man as her ex-husband, yes they got a divorce, left a trail behind is because there is no perfect crime. He would have got busted, anyway. With her escalating suspicions, she had kept him on short leash. All she needed was solid evidence to build her divorce case, which he eventually supplied.

My friend’s horrific discovery is not an isolated event.  Every day, women, from all walks of life, wake up to this nightmare, no woman is immune. A research conducted by marriage counselor M. Gary Neuman, estimated that one man in 2.7 will cheat, without the knowledge of their wives. And it may come as a surprise to many that the primary reason for men to cheat is not because of sex, but due to emotional disconnection for not being appreciated by their partners. The women that men cheat with are not necessarily prettier or sexier than their wives either. Some men who cheated on their wives even admitted that they had a good marriage life.

Studies were conducted, books have been written, social and physiological researchers scuba-dived deep into the core of the issue, yet there is no definitive answer to why men can easily slip into extra marital affairs. And since not all affairs were created equal, men stray for all manner of reasons – sometimes out of pure desire to fulfill personal needs, sometimes to escape an unhappy marriage, sometimes to avoid intimacy with their wives because intimacy scares them and exposes their vulnerabilities, sometimes a man turn away from the marriage because he feels like he’s failing in the provider role, and he may seek reassurance elsewhere, or maybe to try a new adventure. Who knows? Science hasn’t revealed all the secretes yet.

However, Gary Neuman suggests that men are very emotional beings even though they don’t admit it. They become insecure when they are underappreciated and this insecurity is the main catalyst that drives them to stray. Of course it goes without saying that when another woman takes interest in them, they listen while she boosts their egos, makes them feel appreciated, and admired.

In other words Neuman implies that pride is the quality that drives men, a very powerful quality, yet very fragile. According to my understanding of Neuman’s findings, men walk through life with their faces covered with the macho mask to conceal their insecurities. While men cheat and violate the trust, which is the basic foundation of marriage, women are blamed that their actions, behavior and attitude, toward the sensitive male nature puts pressure on them to stray. In other words women basically bring it upon themselves by reacting to the false pretense of manhood that men have mastered over the centuries. Quite a baffling rationalization considering that it is hard to comprehend that any man who could open a jar of pasta sauce with a twist of his fingers, yet never asks for directions, because he always knows the way, is actually insecure to ask in front of his partner not to appear stupid.

So, the truth of the matter is that men simply want support, appreciation and praise.  But why would they still stray away when these needs are fulfilled by their partner? That will never be explained. This whole insecurities issue reminds me of the scene in the movie ‘My Cousin Vinnie’ when Vinnie, insecure about his capabilities as a lawyer, asks his fiancée Lisa for moral support, after being thrown in jail for messing up his cousin’s case.

“Support?” She said. “Is that what you want? I’m sorry, you were wonderful in there! The way you handled that judge… ooh you are a smooth talker. You are… you are!”

Well, if this is the case, why don’t men just admit their insecurities and ask to be praised instead of going out looking for someone to pamper their bruised egos?

Men!!! They will never stop surprising us … what can we say!!!

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