Palestinian men take up cooking in quarantine

Forced to stay at home due to precautions against COVID-19, some Palestinian men are learning to cook for the first time in their lives.

al-monitor Hassan Titi, 56, helps his wife, Samar, prepare a meal at home, Nablus, West Bank, March 30, 2020.  Photo by Ayman Nobani/Xinhua via Getty.

Apr 20, 2020

Samar Titi laughs and says her husband, Hassan, has hardly ever stepped into their kitchen throughout 27 years of marriage, not even to pour himself a cup of tea.

One reason was that Hassan, a video journalist, was rarely home. The father of three would have coffee with his wife in the morning, then rush to work most days of the week.

But since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the Palestinian territories a month ago, Hassan, like most of his colleagues, is staying home. In April, the Palestinian government declared a state of emergency and shut down public places, including schools, universities and markets. 

At home in Nablus in the West Bank, Hassan dabbled in the kitchen and prepared his first dish: msakhan, a Palestinian delicacy of chicken, onions, olive oil and bread. 

“It was delicious,” Samar said, explaining she had little to do with the preparations. Her husband had found the recipe online and didn't consult her.

Hassan said, “I was tired of doing nothing and picking up arguments with my wife because I was restless and on edge. I was surprised to discover that there are a lot of men cooking. At first, I felt shy cooking in front of my wife and daughters.”

But once he discovered that he could, Hassan started working with Samar in the kitchen. Samar said she was “so happy" because the lockdown afforded her some time with her husband.

Then Dina, their youngest daughter, a student of marketing and human resources, filmed her father and posted the videos on Facebook.

"I saw my parents working together on one of our family's favorite dishes that we had not done before, as we did not have time," she said. "So I decided to record these special moments and share them with my friends. Cooking, baking sweets or coming up with healthy recipes is also a way of spending time together.”

In the Gaza Strip, where the situation is more difficult because of the Israeli blockade, Mohammed al-Ramlawi and his wife Noor also cook together at home in Gaza City.

Mohammed also helps Noor clean the house — which is perhaps even more rare than a Palestinian man cooking, as men, in Palestinian society, typically do not help with domestic affairs.

Noor said the quarantine has changed the habits of some men, who are putting aside the mentality that real men do not do housework. But she admitted that her husband would rather cook than clean.

Mohammed said he had never helped in the house over six years of marriage because it was neither necessary nor requested. "Most of the time, I was working outside," he said. "When I came home in the evening, everything was done and ready."

Both the Ramlawis and the Titis have found a way to cooperate and help each other during these days of self-isolation. “There have been many reports of violence — both toward women and children — in quarantine in the Palestinian lands,” Laila Abu Aisha, a family counselor from Gaza City, told Al-Monitor.

"Many men who are forced to stay home suffer from stress and frustration, particularly if they have lost their income," she said. "Fear, insecurity and stress negatively affect their psychology and they resort to violence — they abuse their wives and children.”

She called on the Palestinian government to help alleviate Palestinians' financial difficulties and protect women who are victims of domestic violence.

Women’s groups active in the Middle East have warned against a potential increase in domestic violence since the  coronavirus outbreak, saying that tight-knit family structures and multigenerational living conditions in confined spaces could increase violence. Stressful situations often lead to physical abuse, which was high in Palestine even before the added stress of the coronavirus.

Though many women’s groups have warned of increased domestic violence in the Middle East, no figures have been released since the start of the pandemic in the region.

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