April 18, 2017

Basma

I left – I fled the country for several reasons. I didn’t want to wear a burqa – I didn’t want to put on the burqa so that people respect me. I would wear it to work because if I left my hair on display, my boss would look at me wanting to take advantage. Women suffer a lot. I was born into a very liberal family; my father was a professor of philosophy. I could not be a submissive woman, but I tried to be that type of person. I did not say anything, I was humble. Until one day I was hurt and went to the hospital with the injuries… Beaten, burned, threatened… I still have the scars. I fled this violence against women; I fled because I was afraid for my life. My experiences of inequality are not unique. I had a friend who was impregnated by her boyfriend – he couldn’t marry her or open a house because he had no money. When her father found out, he killed his own daughter … He did not go to jail because it’s a crime of honor. It’s not just politics. It’s everything. It comes from culture, politics, and religion which allows for the discrimination of women. The man can do everything; you – the woman – have to keep quiet. It was the police who told me to flee.

I went to France by boat since I had the visa, but I only stayed 2 months. I could not get a job because of their very heavy economic crisis. It’s very difficult to find work. When I ran out of money, I came to Brazil without one real, nor speaking any Portuguese in May of 2015. On the plane I met a Moroccan woman. She wanted someone who spoke French to stay with her children so they would learn the language. I stayed with her only a month, because I earned so little. I worked 24 hours a day, without rest, and lived in her house. Every day. She took advantage of the fact that I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone. I left her house, and went to ADUS. I shared my life story, and that I had a degree in gastronomy – I’m the chef of the kitchen. I asked if they could help me find work, but they couldn’t, so I went to The Brasil Mosque. I have no religion, but I went because they speak Arabic. The Imam helped me find a room for rent in Brás.

I left and got work in a Lebanese buffet restaurant on Paulista. I was head of the Arab cuisine. I stayed for 7 months. It is because of them that I perfected the food of all the different dishes served each day. After starting to speak the language I returned to ADUS who arranged a stall in their Bazaar that they do in Vila Madalena. ADUS offers little help to those who have sizable needs. Traditional families should have Basic Basket, cheap rent, school for their children, more employment chances. These things help! The bazaar only goes so far; I sold a R$ 1000 and that was it. Nobody helped me. From there I went out and rented a stall I saw in Faria Lima and I found another booth in Itaim Bibi that was similar to the one in Faria Lima so that I could sell Moroccan cuisine. I worked day and night, I prepared the dishes in the house, I learned the language through books and internet… I had to learn the language in order to manage my business. It was difficult, but not impossible. I persevered and expanded Banarabi Arab Cuisine. I gave a TED Talk lecture in November, and very recently did an interview on Globo TV.

I am creating an Arab food cooperative for women refugees. I don’t have a kitchen for production and we’ll need a cheap place to rent. We’ll need help to buy the refrigerator, a fryer, and an oven. I don’t have the money to buy the appliances and I’ll need assistance to get the cooperative started. From there, I’ll bring women, who have children but cannot work every day, to produce the dishes and sell them to diners, bars, buffet restaurants, etc. And these places will pay the women directly. The kitchen will be the cooperative’s production place for refuge women in need. Mostly I want to work with women who have children but are unable to work every day but need the money. They need something to do on a day-to-day basis, not punctual solutions. It’s an alternative to the bazaar model where someone attends once, and it’s over.

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