The Greater Freedom-Book Review

Scrolling through social media I saw that Diwan Egypt (one of the most influential and prominent bookstores in Egypt, and a place I proudly worked for) was hosting an event for a book signing of “The Greater Freedom” by Alya Mooro. The title intrigued me and the excerpt they had on the post about how the book discusses the stereotypes facing Middle Eastern Women definitely caught my attention.

So on a Thursday evening, I drove to the iconic Diwan Zamalek, and took a seat amongst the crowd. It was a full house, the place was packed, and the crowd was interesting. So diverse; young females, older ladies, young men and a few older gentlemen were there as well.I went with intrigue, but to be very honest, I didn’t have very high hope that I was going to fall in love with the book. For some reason I went to the book signing thinking it was going to be some “angry feminist book” if that makes any sense. So why did I go? Because curiosity is one of my most prominent character traits ever since I was a child.

Then Alya started reading a small passage from the book and I was instantly hooked. Why? Her writing style, the way she read, it was like hearing my thoughts outloud!! She wrote in the manner I thought. She spoke the same written language as me. I involuntarily smiled as she read, I could tell that I would love the writing style and enjoy it very much, even if I wasn’t so sure about the content (remember this was still the very beginning of the book signing), so I decided, there and then, that I would buy the book.

Alya describes the context of this book as the greater freedom to not be oneself, to step out of the stereotypes and the cultural norms. I’m not gonna get into details about the actual content because I don’t want to ruin the book for you. She believes that this book is relatable to Middle Eastern women living in the western world, or outside what we call “home”. But I disagree with Alya, this book relates to every woman, period.

The struggles, the stereotypes, the realisations the author makes in this short, but irresistible read, are to me universal to all females. It speaks of the truths, the frustrations, the joys, the fears and the journey that is applicable to practically every modern day female.

The book took me by a very pleasant surprise. Mooro discusses the thoughts we are forced to internalise sometimes because of the cultural norms. She discusses all these “norms” we are taught as children, and breaks them down for us, explores them with us, and speaks the reality a lot of us wish to, but are afraid to say it, because we are scared of society judging us.

Females are always taught to be a certain way, since birth, regardless of our ethnicity, social class, education or upbringing. We are taught to be timid, we are taught to be non-sexual (publicly, but a man-pleasing seductive goddess in private), we are taught to be second in drive and ambition to men, we are taught so many “norms” that generations before us believed without thought, accepted with minimal fight and expected us to follow in their footsteps.

Thankfully, our generation is taking a more challenging approach (some of us, that is) to believing these norms. We now learn to question, to fight back, to push back, and we learn, not to settle. Alya in her book, speaks on behalf of most of us that are walking that walk, and it’s universal. She vocalises the thoughts that a lot of females in the Middle East, and other cultures are afraid to speak. She pushes the boundaries for us, covering relationships with partners, with parents, with our home countries, cultures and friends. She explores the consequences of certain thought processes, parenting styles, and personal boxes we confine ourself to because of our thoughts.

I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan environment, I was brought up with what is considered very liberal parents by Egypt’s standards. I was born and raised outside Egypt, and lived a free, independent life as a female. I moved back a few years ago, and I experienced all the things I “should be” according to my culture here. I first hand experienced all the stereotype that other females, thousands of miles away, who have never met me, or met my family or my circle of interaction experience in their parallel worlds. This is why I found this book relatable, this is why I believed that it speaks to more than just the Middle Eastern female mind.

To all the men out there as well, in case you’re wondering if you should read this book, I definitely recommend that you do. This book gives you a small window to see the world through your female friend, girlfriend, sister, wife, partner’s view. It gives you an insight on the world we live in, the struggles we feel, the liberations we’re after, and why some of us won’t settle.

So, thank you Alya for this excellent read, thank you for verbalising a lot of our thoughts to so many masses. Thank you to Diwan for this opportunity and supporting such discussions, authors and progress and bringing it forth to Egypt. Finally, thank you to every female who refused to settle, to fit in a confined mould that she doesn’t feel she belongs in.

I really hope you check out “The Greater Freedom”, and that you enjoy reading it as much as I did. In the meantime, to every person out there: Be inquisitive, be a challenger, be yourself, be free and never settle.

One of my favorite passages from the book

Life is difficult…

Life is difficult. This is the first sentence in the book that has changed my life the most. Gifted to me by my best friend, in the height of my grief and confusion in life, I let this sentence sink in, as I read it over and over and over again.

The fact that life is difficult is something we don’t always acknowledge or we don’t want to acknowledge. We grow up with this notion that we should breeze through life. The feeling of omnipotence we have as toddlers, later on becomes a feeling of entitlement to go through life without facing adversity. That is where our pitfalls come from. We do not acknowledge that life is a journey, a hill, it has curves and bends and ups and downs. It’s not a plateau or a flat line and it most definitely is something we earn, and not something we are entitled to!

I had a rather privileged upbringing; I lived in a beautiful bubble with all my friends, in my school and my world travels and my parents provided for me to the best of their ability. I was lucky with my education, and that my parents could afford such an education. However, what I believe my parents did a great job at, is teaching me that I have to earn these privileges, I have to work for them, and not just the monetary privileges but other privileges they gave me, like their trust, freedom of mobility (for females in the middle east that is a big thing) amongst many others.

I was taught that it is ok to make mistakes, as long as I am transparent about them and admit them, not just to get away from getting in trouble, but to learn how to correct them. I was taught that not every trial will end in success, and sometimes we will fail, we will fall, bruise and break, but how long we stay on the ground is our call, eventually we have to get up, and learn to walk again, because the world goes on, whether we lay in the trenches or get up and fight.

We earn the life we live. Circumstances are dealt to each one of us, we all deal with adversity, with pain, with loss, on different scales and proportionate to our lives; so yes, sometimes life is difficult, but it is never unfair, because we each are dealt a hand that we have a choice on how to play, we are never unlucky, we make the conscious choice of how to react.

I spent three years wallowing in anger, grief, and pain because I believed that I was “unlucky” and mad at God and the world, for dealing me a bad hand, so to say. I forgot that death, since the creation of mankind, was a constant, that parents, despite our belief, do not live forever, and that having my father in my life, with the close relationship I had with him, was a privilege and not a right. A privilege we earn through the way we treat our parents, and the way they treat us, but sooner or later, that comes to an end. I was mad for being “stuck” in Egypt, for being “unappreciated” at work, for my “bad luck” at starting my business because of the economic turbulence that hit as soon as I started.

I spent years so angry, I would scream at God in my parked car for hours, forgetting that these were only circumstances, and I was the one that chose to react with passiveness to each and every one of these situations.

I chose to lie in the trenches, scream, kick and cry without once trying to pick myself up, or see what is going on in the world around me and how I can change my situation or make the best of it.

I forgot that I am merely one person, amongst more than 7 billion people, and that the world will go on even if I choose to put my life on hold and not look beyond my problems. I felt entitled to breeze through life, and at the first bump in the road, I was paralyzed. I got angry, because it was easier, anger is always the easier choice.

I remember, I opened the book (which is called The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck) and the first line was just there staring at me: Life is Difficult. It was only then that I stopped my temper tantrum and looked at how far I had gotten in life, and how I got to where I was. I realized, that life has always been difficult, but that after every adversity there was always a sweet reward.

My father died, but he died peacefully, without pain or suffering, and one day we will all die. I could either wallow in grief for years, or grieve and be sad for as long as I need, but get up and move on with life. I decided to do something about it. I started reading more about grief, I started educating myself, I sought help, and finally I did all I can, to honor my dad’s memory and he remains the catalyst for all the success in my life.

I was mad at my job, but I realized I was privileged with education, years of experience and a world of opportunities, if I don’t like where I am, I can just leave, and look for another opportunity, the world is endless, Egypt is massive, who said I was stuck? I’ll tell you who, my mind! When I actively sought another job, I found one, I moved, so was I unlucky? No, I was simply passive! Funny enough, my interview was for a bookstore, and they asked me what was the last book I read, I said I’m currently reading The Road Less Traveled, and the CEO said:,” I love the first sentence in the book, Life is Difficult.” I looked at her, and simply smiled.

As for my catering business, I was so mad because it was taking off on a slow start, so I stopped to think why I was feeling so entitled to instant success. Talent was only one small step, along with passion, perseverance and resilience. My own culinary degree came out of a rather difficult situation, the bi-product of a car accident that smashed my foot, and made me decide to switch careers. So why did I forget that the kitchen is blood, sweat and tears, and that running my own business is hard work. I let go of my sense of entitlement, and I took, and still am taking small steps towards my success, talent is one element, the rest is equally as important. If I want success, I have to earn success. I cannot call it quits at the first sign of turbulence, tantrums won’t cut it in the grown up world, I am no longer an omnipotent child, I am a hard working adult, in a competitive world.

Until we die, we have the privilege of making choices, we can go through life as we choose to go through life. It is never a smooth ride, it is never an easy ride, but we are always in control of the steering wheel. We sometimes feel entitled, and feel that we deserve to live easy, and forget that this is not the case. Life is difficult, but life is also good, it is what we make out of it.

Always remember that, you have a choice, you will always have a choice. So as you go through life, be active, be supportive, be conscious of your choices and most of all be appreciative of the good you get in life, because you earned it. Change the negative, take your time to grieve, but don’t wallow forever, and when you fall and bruise, lean on whatever you need to get yourself back up.

Life is difficult, but that is definitely what makes it worth living.