Film

'Rafea: Solar Mamas': Engineering Education

Rafea's enthusiasm and talents help her to stand out, but at the same time, she sees herself as representative more than exceptional.


Rafea: Solar Mamas

Director: Mona Eldaief, Jehane Noujaim
Cast: Rafea Anad, Bunker Roy
Rated: NR
Studio: ITVS
Year: 2012
US date: 2013-02-12 (Stranger Than Fiction)
Website
Trailer

"This is out central heating system," explains Rafea Anad. She's leaning over a pile of fiberboard chunks, a cupboard now put to more immediate use. She and her four daughters, aged 13 to three, huddle over the pile as she lights it, the older one focused on the book she's reading, the younger children helping to clear the rug away on the dirt floor inside their tent, twirling their arms in little-girlish diversion.

Rafea also smiles as she works, a cigarette in one hand, like her children apparently at ease with the camera observing her for Rafea: Solar Mamas. Introducing this family unit, living in a traditional tent in Jordan, the documentary by Mona Eldaief and Jehane Noujaim focuses on their daily chores, from cleaning up to preparing food, as well as Rafea's aspirations. The girls "mean to the world to me," she asserts, which means that she worries for them too. "I have had a fifth grade education. A girl is not supposed to continue school past ten, because it's shameful." A couple of her daughters watch her work, smiling shyly at the camera as they lean on a tent pole. "I would love to have a career and succeed," Rafea says at last, "to help all the women in the village who are in the same situation."

Screening on 12 February at Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with directors Eldaief and Noujaim, the film follows Rafea's next step, as the entrepreneur Bunker Roy recruits her to attend his Barefoot College in India. "I tell her that I can see it in her eyes," he insists, "that in six months, she will become the best engineer in Jordan." Proud of his own work -- "It's the only program in the world where an illiterate woman can become an engineer" -- Roy hopes to allay Rafea's initial reluctance to go, as she worries especially over leaving her children behind for nearly six months.

The film reveals some background for her concerns, as her husband Aliyan, has his own fears. He keeps another family in another tent ("I am number two," Rafea says), and a change in Rafea's fortunes would mean a change in his own. Told this might be change for the good -- Rafea's girls would have a house, with bedrooms for each -- he's set in his fears. His wife's education and a livelihood might affect his routine, the life he's grown up expecting to have. "He kills my spirit," Rafea reports, "I don’t have a problem, my husband is the problem." Before the camera, Aliyan appears a gentle man, his complaints uttered quietly. But still, even as he's intrigued by the promise of an improved income for his own household (they'll have a house, and the children might have their own rooms), the very idea of a woman feeling independent, making decisions for herself, is unnerving.

Once Rafea agrees to go, life at school is also unsettling. She can speak with the girls by phone, but when she hears that one is sick, she determines to go home immediately. This panic passes, and she resolves to complete her term's worth of classes. Nervous about an upcoming test of one of her projects she ponders the possibility of failure, sharing her feelings with a friend. They sigh, "No one is satisfied with their life," but knowing this doesn't stop them from deciding to move forward, to pursue some satisfaction in a way they haven't imagined before.

If Solar Mamas makes an argument beyond the obvious one -- education is good, for everyone -- it's that overcoming fears is part of that process. Change is built into schooling, and as Rafea sees herself and her world from a new perspective, she's able to translate that new view for her friends back home, her husband, and her daughters. "Men and women are created equal," she learns at school. "No difference between them, tell your husband you want to work." If his initial assent is based on self-interest -- that house -- it is yet a step forward.

This and other steps appear on screen, the camera quietly observing in the classroom or in Rafea's work to construct a means to solar power back in Jordan. Rafea works together with her fellow students, earns commendations from her teachers, and impresses her family back home. As she steps into a world she hasn't yet imagined, she embodies both hope and risk. Leaving her family behind, however temporarily, is traumatic, as are her husband's fear and disapproval. Still, she presses forward. In her classes, learning to develop solar power for her community, Rafea's enthusiasm and talents help her to stand out, but at the same time, she sees herself as representative more than exceptional. "We can change this village," she says, "We can change this life."

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image