Marwa Rakha: Through Nigerian Lenses
Date posted: January 9, 2009
Insight into Egyptian Relationships
She is Marwa Rakha; she is the first model I will be introducing to you based on my write-up; An Uncertain World. I refer to her as my Egyptian self. This is how she defines herself in her popular website (www.marwarakha.com);
"I found my passion in writing, my voice in teaching and writing, and my strength in marketing"
This is exactly how I would have introduced myself but not as articulate as she has done. She is actually a very popular figure in Egypt, breaking traditions, extending barriers and pace setting. She is an Author, a Relationship Expert Speaker and professional speaker; a guest speaker with Egyptian Satellite Chanel, Modern TV, AIN, Dream TV and Nile FM, 104.2. She is an instructor with the Business Studies Division of American University in Cairo.
I learnt a lot from the interview I had with her on herself, her bestselling book and Egyptian relationships. Please, kindly take your time to read her answers on this breathtaking interview:
May we know you ( your general bio data – name, age, place of residence, etc)
Name: Marwa Rakha
Born and raised in Cairo – Egypt
Can you give us a brief insight into your education background?
BA Faculty of Alsun 1996 – English Department – Ain Shams University
Sales & Marketing Certificate 1999 – American University in Cairo
Business Administration Certificate 1998 – American University in Cairo
Give us a little insight into social difficulties faced by ladies in Egypt
Women in Egypt are trapped between who they are and who they are expected to be; they are required to live up to the expectations of their parents, families, colleagues, and later on, husbands and kids. In their attempt to meet those expectations, they lose touch with who they really are and the great things they can really do.
The society dictates how they should look during different phases of their lives, how they talk, what they wear, who they hang out with, who they get married to, and how to raise their kids. Expressing their true feelings towards someone makes them liable to losing their reputation and losing the man himself. Discussing their desires, stating their opinions, and being ambitious is highly frowned upon. I am talking mainly here about the majority of Egyptian women not the liberated elite.
Have you ever been outside Egypt? Where do you get the boldness to challenge the norms in Egypt?
I lived in the US when I was 8 years old for 9 months – if that counts:)
I have also been on short trips to Paris, Berlin, Dubai, New York, and Bahrain.
Boldness? I tried so hard for 21 years of my life to mold myself into the "good girl image". I failed. From 21 to 28 I had continuous inner conflicts and dilemmas of figuring out who I am and what I really want. The gap between who I am and how I wanted people to see me was so wide that it tore me apart. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I saw the misfit that I was. It was the worst period in my life. I moved out when I was 28 and that was a turning point in my life. I realized that I was strong and that I was responsible. I enjoyed my independence and I began letting go of people's expectations of me – I simply no longer cared. From 28 to 33 was a self discovery phase. I discovered that I can do much more than a 9 to 5 job, that my suffering and bad experiences should not go in vain, that I need a voice, that the higher I spoke the stronger I felt, that the more I spoke the more people listened, and that my mission in life is to fight for common sense.
My book is an angry book. I was an angry person. Writing healed me. A lot of young girls and women identified with my book and that says that a lot of women are going through what I have been through. I cannot say that every woman who read my book identified. Some found it very negative and that it did not offer any solutions. I guess it all depends on which phase in your life you are at and what kind of experiences you have been through. I published The Poison Tree because I needed to complete that last step in my liberation. I was pleasantly surprised when a lot of girls wrote to me telling me that I have given them a voice and I fully understand why the ones who hated it felt that way.
Have you ever been in any relationship? Where do you get the insights from to teach your people?
I have been in and out of many relationships. Like any other girl, I wanted to get married and to have kids. But when your self esteem is low, you allow people to step all over you. This has been the pattern in my earlier relations. I worked so hard on my self-esteem issues and it clearly shows in my book in the difference between the first half and the second half. Then I went through a vindictive phase where I only attracted people whom I could hurt. By the time I regained my balance and was ready to give and receive love, I have become the man I wanted to get married to. I intimidate the average Egyptian man -average here has nothing to do with social class or finances.
This is how I help people – I have evolved from a very judgmental person into a person who is tolerant and empathetic. I have made all their mistakes and felt most of the feelings they are going through. I just tell them how to move on and get past that. Most of the time people do not talk to me because they want a solution; they just need to be heard. At times I feel that they are leaning on me and there were times when I felt protective of them. I do not wear the mask of the expert; I am the friend who has been there and done that.
Tell us about your book; are you planning to write more books?
The Poison Tree – planted and grown in Egypt is a collection of most of my published articles since March 2005 until the end of 2007. In the beginning I talk symbolically about the suffocating life of an Egyptian girl growing up, then I address my mom, then my dad, and then ?Santa? who is supposed to get me my Mr. Right:) In the beginning my "articles" were mainly about my different experiences with men in my search for a partner. I uncover the hypocrisy and the fakeness of my society. Towards the middle of the book, my anger resides and I begin looking outside of me; I look at and analyze dating, sex, shame, honor, and other taboos in Egypt. I wanted to shock and shake people. I wanted girls to know that they are not alone, that it is not their fault, and that this does not have to be their life. I wanted men to rethink their actions, ideas, and opinions of a woman. I wanted them to be fair and to be human because they were created human.
After The Poison Tree got published, I came to terms with myself and I fully healed. This is a good thing but in the process I lost my voice. I was the voice of an angry Egyptian girl, now I am not. I still write but my current articles are great for magazines but they are not book material. I do not want to write a book where I adopt the morbid holier than thou tone. I will wait for the right trigger:)
The culture of the Northern part of Nigeria is similar to mainstream Egypt; don't you think this culture however stiff inhibits the practice of divorce which is common in the West.
I do not know about Nigeria but divorce has become very common in Egypt. It is as though people no longer try to make it work. I guess the last figure was 6 divorces per hour. Divorce is just the legal proof that the marriage ended but how many marriages do end without legal proof? I know of people who live together under the same roof but are mentally, emotionally, and physically separated. I think this culture encourages boiling kettles – such marriages are better off annulled.
Just a little diversion, do Egyptian parents arrange marriage for their children like the Indians do? And is it the ladies that pay the dowry?
Hahahaa .. arranged marriages are very common in Egypt – especially in rural areas – but it is quite common for people to meet and get married after a period of dating.
No:) The man pays the dowry.
Do you consider yourself to have succeeded and if so, why?
Yes. I have succeeded to prove that "it does not have to be this way". I am an average middle class Egyptian girl with a normal education and an ordinary family, yet I have managed to gain full financial independence, move out, and use my capabilities to the fullest. I am no exception. It just needs a girl who is determined to make something out of her life.
Do you belief this initiative of yours will eventually shift the mindset of your people since they were groomed from childhood with these beliefs.
I am not alone. There are other great ladies on the blogosphere, on TV, in books, and at schools trying to do the same thing. There are also enlightened men who are trying to make a difference. I do not think I will see the change in my lifetime but I cannot lose hope. History says that it will take about 50 to 100 years to change mindsets:)
An average lady comes to you and says ?Marwa, how can I decide the right man for me??
I will ask her:
Can you be yourself around him? Can you say whatever you feel? Do you feel that he will never judge you? Can you breathe easily in his presence? Are you being true to yourself or do you have to pretend to be someone else? Do you want to kiss him? Do you want him to be the father of your kids? If you die, will you trust him with your kids? Are you proud of him? Or are you just getting married because he is available and it is about time? Can you talk to him? Does he make you laugh? Do you want to cook for him? Do you smile when you see his number on your phone?
Premarital sex is a big issue in Egypt as it is with the evangelical churches in Nigeria; do you believe that premarital sex will affect the success of your marriage?
If the sex is good, it represents 10% of the relationship. If the sex is bad, it represents 90% of the relationship. So, yes, sex is very important and the lack of sexual compatibility could lead to the collapse of the whole marriage. I am pro moving in together before getting married but how will they move in together if they do not move out of their parents' home in the first place? If I promote this idea, instead of steady mature relationships, I will create brothels. People are not ready.
Sex for the sake of sex is one thing and sex as a natural development in the relationship is another thing. If I tell people today in Egypt that it is ok to have pre-marital sex, it will be a zoo. People are not ready. They do not understand how to be in a relationship let alone having sex in that relationship. How do I take the guilt out of the mind of a girl who was brought up to believe that it is a sin? How do I take the contempt out of the mind of a man who was brought up to think that she is a slut? People are not ready.
At this stage, men need to learn to respect women and women need to learn how to express their true selves. When we are done with that, when men stop judging women and women stop faking, we can talk about sex.
What made you decide to be a self-employed entrepreneur @ your age?
Once my basic needs of food, clothes, and shelter were secured I needed more time and space for self fulfillment, and I could never achieve that in a 9 to 5 job. Over and above, my experience as a part-time university instructor, free-lance trainer, writer, and media figure has made it impossible for me to fit in my old desk ? I outgrew the position.
Give us a brief detail of the normal life of a self employed entrepreneur?
I follow the Covey model. I make sure that my week covers my six basic needs; physical, mental, financial, family, spiritual, and social.
Physical: I eat well, exercise, and pamper myself once a weekJ
Mental: Reading, writing, and debates
Financial: Most of my current work is on volunteer basis but I make sure that at least one thing in my business portfolio sustains my living.
Family: I visit my mom at least once a week and see my brother and his little family.
Spiritual: I check my contribution to my country ? be it through education, TV or radio programs, or by helping people who email or call me.
Social: I see one special friend per week.
If you were to advise an upcoming relationship expert like yourself, what would it be?
Be yourself. Give people access. No one knows it all. We live to learn. It is normal to change your position on something by time and it is your duty to relay that message to people. Smile, it makes you easier to approach.
Can you give us a scenario where you were hurt by a guy, and how you used this loss as a foundation to be a better person?
LOL – I wrote a book about that:)
Moral of the story: Anger hurts you more than it hurts anyone else. Stop poking your wound, let it heal, be proud of the scar because you learnt something new while getting it.
Finally, your book addresses the ills in the Egyptian culture; how relevant is this book to African as a whole?
Developing and underdeveloped countries are developing and underdeveloped because their women are passive – or forced to be passive – and their men are more focused on being in control than being productive. People who do not question their beliefs and their traditional heritage will live in the past and will never move past their present. This book is just the start. If men read it and realize that they were wrong, if women read it and choose to be strong, if parents read it and decide to raise their children differently, then maybe Egyptians and Africans altogether will set their priorities right and spend their energy in being productive rather than on being judgmental.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN READING WHAT CRITICS SAY ABOUT HER BOOK AND PROCURING HER BOOK WHICH I TOTALLY ENDORSE, PLEASE CLICK HERE