March 27, 2010

Remarkable Women: Ikhlas Brais

We just finished recognizing the achievements of 42 UNC Charlotte faculty, staff and students at a lovely event with guest speaker Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan. We had women from Pakistan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan, Russia, India, Zimbabwe and many other countries as well as men from around the world. While our event highlighted those who are part of the UNC Charlotte community, several events in the Charlotte area also celebrated international women. And indeed, remarkable women exist around the world - some we are fortunate enough to meet through class, work and common interests and others live outside our 'eight degrees of separation' in Charlotte and beyond.

The guest blog below highlights a remarkable woman from the Charlotte community - originally from Jordan, written by a remarkable student.

Guest blogger: Natasha Williams

Age: 45
Favorite color: Doesn’t have a favorite color. She likes all colors.
Favorite Food: She likes any Middle Eastern food, and she loves desserts
Embarrassing moment no one knows about: When I was really young I was eating at a Mexican restaurant and a cockroach crawled into my pants. I screamed so loud.
Hobby: Likes to exercise and take pictures.
Random thing most people don’t know: She bites her nails really badly and that’s why she wore acrylic nails her entire life.

While “Sweet Dreams” techno mix plays in the background of the flawlessly cleaned two-story home, Ikhlas “Kelly” Brais scurries around to find something else to clean. She reaches for a neatly folded rag lying on the counter to wipe the already-spotless stainless steel dishwasher. It may appear clean to the casual observer, but Brais sees beyond the shine to notice a few drops of water.
She interrupts her cleaning spree to place cheddar flavored Chex Mix and pistachios on the counter and check her BlackBerry. The one-hundred percent Jordanian businesswoman manages to cook and clean in her purple sweater dress and black leggings, purple eye shadow, well-managed hair and a matching tourmaline earring and necklace set. She does it all without breaking a sweat.

The Jordan native works hard to provide for her family and beat all odds. Brais comes from humble beginnings. “I am one of nine children,” said Brais. “We lived off one income and we built our own home. We lived comfortably, but we still had to watch what we did. We couldn’t do too much.”

Brais never neglects her wifely and motherly duties for work. “Work is time consuming, but I always find time for my family,” she said. “I am a very organized person and I try to make time for everything.” Brais’ daughter, Sayde, admires her mother’s work ethic.

“A lot of people wouldn’t know by just looking at her, but she is one of the hardest working individuals. I have to say that I admire this quality in her more than anything,” she said. “My family and I have been through many struggles, yet she has never let those difficulties defeat her spirit. She continues to fight for the well-being of her family.”

Brais moved to California at 15 years old and found it a bit difficult to adjust. She never felt like she fit in with the people or the language. She never spent time perfecting Arabic in Jordan, but instantly had to improve her ability to speak English in the US.

She knows how to read and write both Arabic and English, but sometimes finds it difficult to verbalize her feelings. She said she feels like the movie “Lost in Translation.”

Brais somehow manages the language barrier enough to own businesses and sell houses with partner of two years, Phyllis Salerno, at the real estate company Wilkinson & Associates Real Estate.

She started her first business when she was 25 years old, and she did it without a traditional high school education. She completed high school via mail. Brais attempted completing high school twice. The first time she was forced to leave.

“I loved school,” said Brais. “The first time I was forced to leave. When I met Joe, I just wanted to spend as much time as possible with him, so I finished my education at home,” said Brais.

Joe said it was love at first sight with Brais. The first time he saw Brais he told his salesman he was going to marry her. Six months later they were married.

Joe brags about his wonderful wife and how they met. “I owned a juice company in California, and I was introducing the juice to her brother’s store,” he said. “After I saw her I kept coming back. I got eggs and a certain movie every time. I didn’t even watch the movie.”

Communication and loyalty keeps the 22-year-long marriage alive and well. “I kick her ass every once and a while to keep the relationship fresh,” Joe said, jokingly. “No, we communicate and don’t try to hide things, and we don’t let anyone come between us.”

Brais does it all for the well-being of her family. So, don’t be surprised to see the energetic, Jordanian woman looking flawless in a sweater dress while cleaning her two-story home, cooking and conducting business on her BlackBerry all at the same time. She does it all with a language barrier and an at-home education.

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