By Hadeel Hegazy
Ana Hunna, “I Am Here” in Arabic, is a regional Arabic initiative that promotes the discussion of women’s issues in the Arab world in a different way. Last Thursday, 26 September, three films were screened in the El-Sawy Culture wheel during the Ana Hunna event in Cairo.
The event was held simultaneously in four Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. In Egypt, the initiative is supported by seven
entities, among which are the Egyptian Foundation for Family Development, Enactus Cairo University and the Awtad foundation.
“The initiative is held in those four countries, seeking to cover the Arab community from east to west,” Belal Abu El-Naga, the official Ana Hunna consultant in Egypt, said. “In Egypt, the organisations that support the team are from all over the country, [from] El-Arish, Sinai, and Upper Egypt.”
Abu El-Naga explained the objective of the campaign: “We attempt not only to project women’s problems to the society but to show appreciation in addition. Through the film screenings, we are more able to covey women’s suffering to the public; we have been trying to solve such problems through public talks solely, but it didn’t work, however, through seeing live shots of women’s lives, people see their problems up close and deal with them.”
On Thursday, three movies were screened; The story of N and Om Amira from Egypt, and the story of a Jordanian girl, Beyond the Sky.
The story of N is directed and narrated by Layla Samy, and N is the name of the woman the movie is about. N is a married woman from the lower middle class who has been working in a beauty salon for years to earn money for her family. N’s face is never shown and her name is not revealed throughout the movie because she fears her kids being ashamed when they grow up.
Most of the shots in the movie are taken in the beauty salon where she works, showing her doing coiffeur’s work, such as doing hair, waxing or giving a pedicure, while N’s voice tells her own story. She said she is only 36 although she feels 360; she has a bachelor’s degree in commerce but was never able to work using her education. Her husband does not work and her children are in private school, so the burden of providing for the family is on her, which is why she feels so old.
N’s main suffering is not only caused by living a life in which she works all hours of every day, but also the contempt she receives from her community for being a beauty salon woman or coiffeura. N said that another reason she feels down a lot is because she is not emotionally supported, not even if that entails simple words of encouragement or friendship.
The movie crew was attacked by the beauty salon’s owner while they were filming. He shouted at the director and N: “This is not allowed, it’s a workplace. How dare you shoot women who are getting waxed?” Eventually, N refused to continue with the movie for the sake of keeping her job. Despite all hardships N faces she never forgot how to dream. N dreams of having her own beauty salon and seeing her children having a better life than hers turned out to be.
Om Amira, or the Potato Lady, as she is known in her street, is a lower class woman who owns a simple cart on the street on which she fries potatoes and sells sandwiches. Om Amira works the majority of the day to make a living for her poor family. Her daughter Amira and her husband both suffer from heart disease and her other daughter sometimes helps her at work.
The movie is narrated by Om Amira and directed by Naji Ismail. She starts works at 9pm until the next morning: cleaning, peeling and cutting the potatoes under the light of a small bulb on the stairwell. In the morning, she fries and sells them. Om Amira suffers mostly because of her daughter’s illness; she has taken her to many hospitals to try and make her well, and Amira already underwent surgery once, costing the family a lot of money.
Sadly all her efforts were in vain; Amira’s life ended when she suffered a heart attack in the hospital. Om Amira chose to continue with the movie; she said that this movie is what she has left of her daughter. Om Amira attended the movie screening on Thursday and at the end received a standing ovation from the audience, who showed their appreciation for this woman who continues her life with strength and grace, despite her difficulties.
The event ended with an open discussion with producer and filmmaker Maryan Khory and Hala Abd El-Qader, who is from one of the participating foundations.