Recently a friend introduced me to a woman she knows who is facing domestic violence in her marriage. The young woman is 29 years old with four kids, and she lives in poor neighborhood in Cairo.
At first the woman agreed to film with me, but later she called me, whispering to me on the phone that she couldn’t film with me. She said she feared her husband's retaliation if he ever found out that she had talked with anyone about her situation.
I understood what she meant, of course. So I asked her if she could talk to me on the phone sometime, and reassured her that I would only record her voice. The young women took a long pause to consider, but then said, “Yes, that could work. I’ll call you when my husband leaves the house.”
She did call me after midnight that night. For the sake of protecting her identity I’ll refer to her as “R.”
R was married right after she finished high school, to someone who is ten years older than she is. During her engagement period she hardly talked to her fiance without her parents sitting close by. She confessed to me that she was happy about the prospect, since everyone around her was so encouraging. The idea of getting married was exciting, even though she had no idea what married life was about. "I wish we had talked more before we got married," she told me.
I asked R what kind of conversations she hoped to have with her fiance before marriage. She said, “I don’t know. I just wanted to have a chance to talk to him, even though at the time I wouldn’t have known what to talk about. I was quite young.”
Then I asked R what she would have asked him if she knew what she knows now that she lives with him. “I would ask him if he would beat me up after married," she told me bluntly. "I would ask him if he would call me the daughter of a bitch all the time? I would ask him if he would use me a sex toy, or a baby machine?”
I could hear R crying, so I asked if she wanted to stop the interview. But she said she wanted to continue.
R went on to tell me how she can’t even feel her husband beating her anymore. The signs of the abuse are the only reminders of the beating. Crying becomes her only friend; a salvation.
I asked R why doesn’t she talk to her mother or father? She replied, “I did. My mother told me that all marriages have problems, and now that I have kids, I should just focus on them and live my life. My father said that we are from south of Egypt, and we don’t seek divorce no matter what.”
R explained to me that, “under all the family values we have on the surface, we have no time for each other. We all have problems, and nobody wants to worry about someone else's issues."
I asked whether R talks with her sister about her situation. She said that her sister was also married young, to an older men, and "goes into a deep depression sometimes because she suffers from the same problems in her own marriage.”
R went on to tell me her routine: She starts her day early, getting her four kids to school during the school seasons, and making sure that her husband has clean, ironed clothes to wear for work. So she really takes care of five people.
After R takes her kids to school, she shops for food for dinner. She makes a point to stop at her mother's home, so she can help her if she needs anything. Otherwise she will go home to take care of the apartment and be alone with her dark thoughts, and that is not a good option for her.
When R gets home in the afternoon, she cleans the house for few hours, and prepares food for the kids and her husband. She serves the food for the family when they get home. Then she gets tea ready for her husband, who drinks his tea and then take a nap.
R deals with the kids by herself, and helps them with their homework. She tries very hard to keep them quiet, away from her sleeping husband. Otherwise the husband's nap will be interrupted. And if that happens, he will get angry, and more often than not, he will start yelling and beating her and the kids. That leaves the kids crying, and leaves R feeling helpless and tired.
If R's husband gets a good rest, he will get up and change into the clean clothes R has made ready for him, so he can go out, probably to hang out with his friends in a coffee shop. "God knows what he does when he is out of the house," says R. "My husband gets home very late, and dives right away into deep sleeping and snoring. I stay up so that he can do that. It takes me hours to go sleep, many times with my thoughts driving me to cry myself to sleep."
After hearing R's story, and feeling how hard she was trying to stay strong and not to cry over the phone again, I felt like I had to do something to help her.
A few weeks ago I met with two doctors from El Nadeem center in Cairo. I emailed them about R's situation, and they were very helpful. El Nadeem center encouraged R to make an appointment to meet her, and see if they can help her.
R promised me that she would call and make an appointment with the center.
I hope she will.