“Food prepared at home is not the same as food prepared at restaurants. There truly is no place like home.” This statement inspired a question in Ghafora’s mind, “why can’t restaurant food be the same as food at home?”
Changes to demographics and the growth of the restaurant industry have shifted eating habits in a way that has devalued home-cooked meals and contributed to growing health problems. Ghafora al-Wadei always hears about food-borne illness, food poisoning, and feeling of satiety because of the food prepared at restaurants. All these complaints made Ghafora think about opening a restaurant to provide food and atmosphere of the same quality taste of home in all aspects: cleanliness, quality and serving.
Ghafora, like many other Yemeni girls, was a victim of early marriage and early pregnancy, habits and traditions of society. But all that did not discourage or stop her. She didn’t surrender to her circumstances. Marriage and children didn’t prevent her from continuing her secondary and university studies. Not only that, she also decided to continue her master’s degree outside Yemen. “In my days, it was difficult for a girl to travel alone to study abroad but I struggled to go with full insistence and determination, I defeated and broke all the traditions of Yemeni society,” Ghafora said.
Her dream was to be a professor at Sana’a University, but because of her circumstances she couldn’t. “I couldn’t achieve my dream but it doesn’t mean I stopped planning for future. No, I looked for another chance I wanted to achieve,” she says. Ghafora was able to break all the limitations that restrict women; she studied, traveled, worked in America, and opened her own business, a restaurant called DAYMAH.
“I didn’t get what I wanted easily, I struggled a lot to make it happen. My family refused the idea of the restaurant ideas, not because they didn’t like it, but because of society, traditions, tribes and habits that prevent not only a women but also a man from a upper class family,” she said.
Her family knew that when Ghafora put an idea in her mind, no doubt she will obtain it. First, her idea was to open a cooking school. She made a study about the services in restaurants and she found that most of the restaurants in Yemen have an unqualified cadre. But it was difficult to open a school, the idea was changed to a restaurant, though the idea of the school is still exists. “The cooking school will cover a large group of workers who can’t have job. Most of the workers in restaurants are not qualified because Yemeni society still looks at it as a shame to be a cook or a waiter. I couldn’t easily find qualified people for my restaurant.”
Daymah is a Yemeni modern kitchen; it provides all kinds of food prepared in the Yemeni style. What make its food the same as home is that all the chefs are women. The restaurant employees are women who didn’t get a chance for education or work labor. There are thirteen female and five male are working in the restaurant. Customers from different layers of society comes to eat here regularly including youth, elderly, women, and foreigners. Many organizations and associations order takeaway food.
Ghafora said, the most important thing is that there are no barriers between them and the customers and they are dealing with them directly as if they are in their home.
“I really want to develop my project by opening branches in all the governorates and open the cooking school business,” she added.
Fatima al-Kebsi, the Director of Customer Affairs, said that at first she received many mixed comments about her work in the restaurant from close friends and relatives, but then they accepted the idea and decided for her work which she is proud of.
According to al-Kebsi, the most comments she receive from customers are that the space is too small and the food finish early. For example, by 4:00 pm the costumers cannot find food left. “We cook a limited amount of food because we don’t want to keep food for the second day. Our food is fresh all the time,” she stated.
Al-Kebsi said that most of the costumers are happy of the service and the restaurant style operated by women.
Kholod Ahmed, Sociology Specialist, said that Yemeni society puts barriers and limitations on the activity of businesswomen, especially by their relatives. Some women are forced to make a partnership with relatives or invest funds on behalf of a relative as a result of the culture of shame that restricts the role of women to the home. Some families do not accept the idea of women’s work and don’t encourage them in the field of investment and economics. But now it has significantly changed and women have started to achieve many rights.
Women like Ghafora and Fatima are changing traditions for Yemeni women.