Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 March 2006
Issue No. 787
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A day to treasure

Ghada Abd El-Kader bears witness to two conjunctions of heroism and hope

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Standing among family members: Loza (top), Cairo Governorate's selected Mother of 2006; and Mohamed, father of the year

While filial duty is essential to Egyptian culture all year round, 21 March -- Egyptian Mother's Day, or more precisely Family Day -- is the year's most obvious manifestation of it. Indeed with Minister of Social Affairs Ali El-Moselhi yearly declaring the names of the Mother and Father of the Year for each governorate, it becomes all the more exciting. Nor do official celebrations end there. Honoured, also, are: the mother of 1999 Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail; the mother of 2005 Nobel laureate Mohamed El-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency; the wife of 1988 Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz; the mother of veteran actress Karima Mokhtar; the mother of footballer Hossam Hassan; and the wife of the late diplomat Ehab El-Sherif. Institutions will also provide special programmes and events to mark the occasion, the underlying assumption being that nothing beats maternal care in the formation of a society's most powerful and productive elements.

Well, an encounter with Cairo Governorate's selected Mother of 2006, Loza Hassan Ali Ismail, 53, certainly lends credibility to this line of thinking. Her small flat on the top floor of an old building was remarkably tidy and clean. Dressed in green, her head covered in white, she had one of those rare wrinkled faces that oozed not only age and melancholy, but, more importantly, kindness and good sense. An Upper Egyptian woman, she was reluctant to give an interview -- a shame, by the conservative standards of her upbringing. Nor was her shyness feigned: "What I did for my children is the duty of every mother." She was visibly blushing at this point. "No particular pride in it." She laughed quietly. It was her eldest daughter Zeinab, the person who nominated her in the first place, who spoke: "my mother led a tragic life to bring me and my two sisters up." In addition to Zeinab's affliction with polio, Reda had bronchial asthma; only Shaimaa grew up healthy. "She had to be rewarded somehow." To which Loza responded, "but you were God's gifts to me." As it eventually transpired, Loza had received no help from her dead husband's family, though they were rich enough to help her. "Only God stood by me," she said. And starting with her marriage to a modest peddler in 1968, that typical Egyptian mother's tale seemed tragic indeed, down to making the tears well up in this writer's eyes -- except for its happy ending.

With Reda's illness passing onto her husband and thus preventing him from work -- several operations on Zeinab's leg had drained the household of finances without improving her condition -- Loza initially worked as a nursery nanny. Then, in 1997, the husband died. Zeinab was only eight years old, Reda and Shaimaa no older than two. The need to earn more than her meagre nanny's salary became inescapable. As a Health Insurance Organisation employee, she soon realised, she still would not cover house, schooling and medication expenses. Loza used her sowing machine to make clothes, initially for neighbours and friends. Fast forward to Zeinab's graduation from the Faculty of Arts, Eastern Languages Department at Ain Shams University; Zeinab also received excellence certificates as a sports champion and particularly well mannered student. Likewise Shaimaa and Reda are doing their second and last year of the Faculty of Commerce and the Higher Computing Institute, respectively. "A child is like a seed," Loza concluded. "Water it carefully, lovingly, and it gives you a flower -- a flower that makes your whole life meaningful." Suddenly the Mother of the Year award seems barely adequate.

Yet the story of Mohamed Hassouna Hassanein, 71, Father of 2006 for Cairo, was no less impressive. "I loved Egypt very much," the world judo and karate champion intoned earnestly. "So I sacrificed my life for her." The chief of his district in Ain Shams, with a whole street to his name -- in recognition of his individual efforts to build a post office, a cooperative and a police station -- he is so full of energy and enthusiasm he can only be described as young. Earning diplomas, awards and certificates of recognition in the martial arts from Germany, Japan and Korea as well as from late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, President Hosni Mubarak and several Arab heads of states, he tutored not only aspiring sportsmen but the armed forces, including the navy and fidayee corps, making an indirect if undeniable contribution to the October victory in 1973. In 1960-61, he won the World Martial Arts Championship in Berlin. It was Fatma Hanafi, the ministry's Ain Shams office chief, who encouraged him to participate, being -- as well as the co-founder of the first Egyptian Judo Union, established in 1964 -- the father of Ali, associate professor at Helwan University; Amal, professor of child psychology; Khaled, martial arts PhD candidate; Amira, a master of commerce at Ain Shams University; and Ayman, a graduate of the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management. All are married, all with children. "I raised my children on morals, religion and the love of sports," Mohamed said in a deep voice. "All are sports champions with several awards to their names." Then he blinked: "but nothing is more important than love of this country..."

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