Movie portraits ordeals of an infertile woman

Silvia Radan/staff Reporter
Filed on October 30, 2014
Movie portraits ordeals of an infertile woman

Egyptian filmmaker's Um Ghayeb screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival captures bizarre rituals practised by women in order to get pregnant.

Movie portraits ordeals of an infertile woman (/assets/oldimages/fertile2910.jpg)

A scene from Nadine Salib’s Um Ghayeb. — Supplied photos

Dig out a bit of earth from between the rails of a railway line, lay in there and wait for the train to run at full speed over you. This is one of the scariest rituals infertile women in Egypt are advised to practice in order to get pregnant – and many still do it. Hanan has been battling infertility for 12 years and she has tried everything, but this.

One day, on her way to go through a similar frightening – and painful – ritual, Hanan met filmmaker Nadine Salib, and a few years later Um Ghayeb was produced, a documentary that has premiered and is competing for a Black Pearl Award at the ongoing Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF).

“I knew about this name, Um Ghayeb, which means ‘mother of the unborn’ in Arabic, a long time ago. It is a generic name given to infertile women in Egypt and I find it both sad and poetic at the same time. I’ve always been fascinated by it and wanted to make a film about it,” Salib told Khaleej Times.

A young Egyptian filmmaker who only began her career in this field in 2009 — Um Ghayeb being her first feature-length documentary — Salib spent years researching the subject of rituals practised by infertile women, especially in upper Egypt, which she finds a lot more traditional and, therefore, richer in storytelling, legends, myths and rituals.

“I was going to film a ‘kahrout’ practice, but I got lost; a sheikh asked me what I was doing there and I explained I’m a filmmaker and he pointed me towards Hanan. I found her as she was going to kahrout. It wasn’t difficult at all to convince her to be part of my film,” said Salib.

Kahrout is a specific Egyptian ritual that some date to the Pharaoh times, practiced only by women. It involves rolling several times, and in different directions on the ground, over rocks, even down a mountain in order to obtain something out of life, including pregnancy.

Needless to say, it is painful and potentially dangerous, as women often get injured on the rocks. For Salib, watching Hanan do the kahrout was an overwhelming experience, something she has never seen before. From that moment on, her documentary was shaped.

“It became an emotional, personal story, all about Hanan,” she stressed.

Although uneducated, with little, if any knowledge of the world beyond her village, Hanan is a very intelligent woman and somewhat lucky in her misfortune.

“Usually infertile women are stigmatised in Egypt. Even if the man is infertile, it is still the woman’s fault for not getting pregnant. Hanan herself talks about other women in the same situation – like the one who is beaten by her mother-in-law for not getting pregnant or who is divorced by her husband,” pointed out Salib.

Although married for 12 years, Hanan was spared much of this suffering, as she was lucky to get a loving and caring husband and in-laws. In fact, she herself suggested to her husband to divorce her, in order to start a new life and have children, but he refused to leave her.

Filmed over a couple of years, Salib managed to capture many events in the village, including the death of a newborn child, something that happens quite frequently in the area, due to poor healthcare services.

“It is better not to get pregnant at all than to suffer all that pain and hardship of pregnancy and birth labour for nothing,” reflects Hanan in the film.

Although surrounded by family, Hanan doesn’t have any friends, and her loneliness is abundantly demonstrated in the documentary – her favourite pastime is sitting alone in the cemetery – which ends pretty much as it started, with Hanan asking Nadine Salib “would you come to visit me again, won’t you?”

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