Let’s do the time warp again! With Aminah!

I’m doing this thing.

Name: Aminah el-Sadat
Birthplace: Cairo, Egypt
Current home: Time shared between Dubai and her husband’s home in England.
Occupation: Legal consultant for Neighbor to Neighbor International, her husband’s non-profit charity aimed at women in the Arab world.

Personal Life: As a granddaughter of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat Aminah’s life has been an odd combination of privilege and obligation.  She went to only the best schools and is an accomplished horseback rider and dancer.  Her marks were always excellent, and she planned on attending University at Oxford.  However, her family felt she should be married and arranged a match to a much older man whose trade interests were of value to her family.  She dutifully complied, but her husband almost immediately began to make demands on her time and studies.  She attended University in Egypt and tried to make things work, but her husband became more and more controlling, and eventually abusive.  She obtained a divorce after graduating with her BA, though both families were quite upset by the move.  She retains custody of her child, a daughter, under Egyptian law until she is 12 , and many of her private efforts have been bent upon retaining custody afterwards.  Her ex-husband’s family is making this difficult, and her family is only mildly interested in assisting her in keeping Nafisah away from her father.

Her family stridently objected to her going to Oxford as a single parent, and she had to dig heavily into her divorce settlement to fund her studies on her own.  Once in the UK, she found herself working to support herself and her child for the first time in her life, and she struggled.  She couldn’t tell her family for fear of losing her daughter, and she couldn’t afford to let her grades slip.  She met her current husband, a retired British officer and aristocrat named Garret Winthrop Andrews IV, as a server for the high-end London catering company that served many of the charity dinners Garret attends.  He offered her a ride home one night when she had to leave early to reach her daughter, who had cut her hand and gone to hospital for stitches.  He drove her all the way from London to Oxford and they discovered a mutual interest in opera.  He began to make a habit of just happening to be available when she needed rides home from work, and she was too grateful to save on rail fare to complain.  She refused to go to any functions as his date, and so he began to get creative, dropping by to take her and her daughter to lunch and offering to look after Nafisah when Aminah was fulfilling her teaching obligations for the university.  She wouldn’t tell him her surname for the first year of their friendship.  He didn’t tell her that Nafisah’s ballet lessons weren’t actually covered under a scholarship for single parents.

Aminah was difficult to court, but found herself greatly liking and eventually loving Garret. One night after he just happened to show up to yet another of Nafisah’s recitals, she told him why they were living alone, but not about who exactly her family was.  This inspired him to move forward with an idea he’d been considering since retiring from the army; micro-loans and legal aid for women from developing countries.  Aminah had just finished her terminal degree in international law and quite happily got on board.

They married quietly in a civil ceremony, at which point her family found out and began to raise all kind of fuss.  His wasn’t too keen either.  Through the ensuing legal battles and one particularly frightening kidnap attempt on Nafisah, Garret has stood by her side, and once the press got wind of it, they’ve become quite suddenly a high profile couple attracting both controversy and attention for the plight of women and girls in the Middle East and Africa.  Their initial charity has expanded to include branches specializing in the support of survivors of human trafficking, women leaving prostitution, and Western single-parent families with special needs children.

Their second daughter Mary Peace (called Miriam as well) was born earlier this year and has been a magnet for paparazzi.  The world waits with baited breath for the couple’s demise; the Andrewses seem perfectly unconcerned.  Every time Garret is seen being helpful to a woman, the tabloids cry “Affair!”  This happens frequently.  Aminah finds it both annoying and hysterical.  People magazine ranked them as the 5th most intriguing couple of 2011.  Rumor has it that Aminah is in the running for the most beautiful people issue of 2012, though she has repeatedly said that she wouldn’t participate in something that shallow.

Likes/Dislikes:

Books – Philosophy and theology.  She always names the Qur’an when asked in interviews for her favorite book.  Garret has introduced her to Yeats and Coleridge, both of whom she finds very fine indeed.

Television – She isn’t a fan, and has refused multiple offers to have her own reality TV series.  Her daughter adores BBC educational programming and Bollywood, so they end up watching that along with some pink, glittery princess movies accompanied by Nafisah’s interpretive dances in fairy wings and tutu.  Every evening the family watches BBC world news together after dinner.

Music – Classical anything, though the classical music of Egypt is foremost in Aminah’s heart.  The closest they come to pop music is Nafisah’s childrens’ songs, and those are safely kept to her glitter-encrusted iPod.

Celebrities – Actually being a celebrity has made Aminah rather uncomfortable with the concept, though she moves easily and graciously through the glitter of the donors who give to her foundation.  She greatly admires several modern politicians and has a fondness for a few obscure medieval philosophers.

Sports – She still rides when she can on a snow-white Arabian mare named ‘Amirah’ that her husband gave her for their first anniversary.  She has been teaching her daughter traditional Egyptian dance, though this happens very privately at home.  She attends the ballet and opera enthusiastically, and sporting events when a charity event requires it.  She rather enjoyed Ascot this year.

Worldview: Aminah believes in justice above all other things, and feels that Allah has put here where she is to ensure that justice is done.  She is devout and prays daily.  She and her daughters attend the local mosque.  She also will celebrate Christmas and Easter with Garret’s family when called upon, taking the view that Jesus was a prophet, so Allah shouldn’t mind her paying her respects.  Her family is horrified.  Many people are horrified.

Home: She and her family think they live simply, but they don’t have a lot of perspective despite her years in poverty and his time in the imposed poverty of the service.  Meals are all home cooked, if not by her, then by a local Pakistani woman in need of employment.  They hire where they think it will do the most good, but they insist on keeping time so that they can be involved parents to their daughters.  There are no nannies, and Nafisah often comes along to business meetings.  She reads quietly to herself while the adults talk.  They have several homes, but spend most of their time either in Garret’s Georgian mansion in Kent or in their high-end townhouse in Dubai.  They are not yet welcome back in Egypt, though Aminah has become something of an icon to the younger generation of politically active Egyptian women.

The decor shows a welcoming blend of Islamic art and traditional British antiques.  Everything is colorful, and much of the craftsmanship is the work of women whose businesses the Andrewses support.  The artist’s name is always displayed by the item, and each is treasured.  Many items are loaned out to various museum collections in order to promote their charity.  There are notably no portraits displayed, though there are hard drives full of pictures of the girls.

Holidays:  Already covered, pretty much.  Aminah is scrupulous about exposing her children to both English and Egyptian traditions, and often marries the two.  Nafisah has come to think of Yorkshire pudding as some sort of fancy holiday treat.

Clothing: During her days as a graduate student, Aminah’s clothing was quite Western and nondescript, bought as it was in thrift shops.  Since she’s come into the spotlight, she has reverted to very traditional clothing, modest and loose, but colorful and stylishly cut.  She wears the hjab now as well.  Both her scarves and her dresses are made entirely from cloth embroidered and printed by women her charity supports, and she has met several of the craftswomen personally.  Most recently, she wore a scarf and dress sewn for her by a collective of former prostitutes in Mumbai for an interview on the Daily Show.

Goals: Apart from ensuring the financial security of her charity work, she is deeply concerned with winning permanent custody of her daughter.  As Nafisah nears 12, Aminah is strongly considering applying to the British government for aid, though this is her last resort.  She is still very much an Egyptian and wants to work as an Egyptian to bring equality to women in her homeland, and to herself as well.  She believes firmly that change must come from within, and not imposed by foreign governments, and if she is no longer legally Egyptian, she fears she will transgress this basic belief.  Now that Miriam is getting older, Aminah has started a memoir.
Anything you missed?: That’s about it.

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