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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The Life of Badia Masabni
Part 2: Unlimited Pain

 

Starmaker in the Embrace of Happiness & Pain

 

 

Written by Tarek Hashem for Al Jareeda,

Translated By Priscilla Adum

 

This series of articles by Tarek Hashem appeared in Al Jareeda online in August of 2010. It's a long, but fascinating story. This page contains part 2, out of a total of 14 parts. See the bottom of this page for links to the other parts.

The original Arabic version can be found at http://www.aljarida.com/news/index/404849. It appeared online on Al Jareeda on August 12, 2010.

 

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Table of Contents

 

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Return to the Levant

Badia did not hate the Levant. It was, after all, her homeland and she missed it. The long exile had been difficult, and the scandal that her rape had caused hounded her constantly. In the end however, Badia returned with her mother from Argentina and they arrived at her aunt's house. Their own house had been mortgaged before the family traveled to Argentina. The aunt and her daughters received the family with great joy, and the house was soon filled with neighbors and friends inquiring about their parents or relatives back in Argentina and wanting to know how they were doing. Toward nightfall, the conversations about the journey came to an end and the inquiring voices died down.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Badia Masabni is wearing a Syrian dress.

The family had returned from Argentina to claim their share of the grandmother's estate, but Badia's mother was shocked when her sister informed her that there was no estate. She began to cry, wailing about her poverty and her situation, insisting that her sister tell her what had been left to them. The sister told her that their mother had only left a small house in a small hara. [Translator's note: this implies that it was a small, cheap house located in an undesirable area.] As a result of the state of shock that Badia's mother found herself in, her son Tawfik took her and Badia to stay in his home.

Intermediaries tried to convince Badia's mother to buy her sister's share of the house, thinking that she had returned with tons of money. She sobbed and told them how her sons had failed as merchants, how they had traveled everywhere unsuccessfully, and how her daughter Nazla had married a man old enough to be her father, and how the police had harassed them on the streets of Buenos Aires, so therefore she was unable to buy her sister's share of the house. So the sister offered to buy Badia's mother's share for 150 gold Ottoman Lira. Badia's mother took the money and began a renewed life. She paid off the mortgage on their old home and returned to the old house along with Badia.

Badia

 

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Ongoing Conflicts

After returning to their home, Tawfik frequented the house under the pretext of checking in on his mother. However, he soon expressed the desire to move in and live with his mother along with his wife. He used all kinds of excuses and trickery until the mother was unable to refuse this idea any longer and she finally gave in. She accepted that Tawfik and his wife come live with her at her home. Only a short time had passed before the son's wife was faced with the stubbornness of the mother, and with her hegemony and domination. And she felt bitter. Badia had nothing to do in the matter, as she herself had long suffered from her mother's oppression. Tawfik also could do nothing, so the conflicts erupted again in the Masabni household. Soon the neighbors became aware of their problems, as the mother had not given up her old habits of gossiping and blabbing to others about all the family issues and secrets that went on in her house.

The struggles between the mother and her son's wife reached such an extreme that Badia's mother claimed that her son's wife was plotting to kill her and Badia. To confirm this claim she prepared some Ghame and left it out until it rotted, and then she forced Badia to eat it with her. They immediately showed symptoms of food poisoning. The mother then went around saying that Farida, the wife of Tawfik had put poison in their food to try and kill them so that she could get rid of her and Badia and thus keep the house for herself. As usual, she began to wail and weep so that people would be inclined to believe her and not doubt her and she asked Badia to act the part as well. It was still not over at this point, and she summoned both the Sheik el Hara and the doctor to confirm the charge that she had made against her son's wife. But Badia refused to go along with it and as a result she was severely beaten. The mother's deceit was exposed and Farida did not face criminal charges.

Badia

 

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Beautiful Mature Girl

It was amid these circumstances that Badia lived, and soon the little girl grew into a beautiful young woman that showed signs of femininity. Her body and her beauty matured and she was unusually attractive. The young Levantine men would follow her around and she became their dream girl, but at the same time she still tasted humiliation and disgrace and she suffered from malnourishment. Her clothes showed the severe poverty that she lived in, poverty so extreme that both she and her mother slept on the floor.

Badia's poverty and neediness was not a barrier against the hatefulness and jealousy of her neighbors. So they sought to get even with her for her beauty. They began to gossip about her painful past and to recall the story of her rape. They would chant this ditty: "Yes she's beautiful and sweet but she's poor because someone raped her when she was seven and now who's going to want to marry her?"

Badia heard these words day and night and wondered what sin she had committed. Seeing her grief, her mother was touched and she felt sorry for her daughter for the first time. Badia asked her mother if they could leave the city again and go to her sister Nazla's house in the village of Sheikhan in northern Lebanon where she had settled with her husband after returning from Argentina. Nazla had already sent a letter to her mother inviting her to come and stay with her and the mother responded to her and decided to leave. But the pessimistic mother lied and said that she did not have the funds for the expenses of the trip and Badia would have to choose between remaining in Syria or traveling by foot to Lebanon. Badia accepted and they packed some bags and some food, they covered their facial features and began their journey to Lebanon.

Badia

 

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Escape to Lebanon

Badia was not afraid of the dangers of the road, or of ghosts or darkness or of thieves and bandits and she walked happily next to her mother. Perhaps she would find in this new journey a better life and people who she would feel reassured by. Three nights passed and they were still on the road. Badia tried to talk her mother into riding the train but her mother refused to even travel on a third class train though the tickets were very cheap and cost only two Turkish Riyals. At the rate they were going, they weren't able to get even half way there after walking for a week. The mother was miserly to the maximum and she wanted to make the entire trip without spending a single piaster. She would impose herself on some of the families along the way, as a guest or a passerby. If the family was Muslim, then she would immediately convert to Islam but if the family was Christian she would immediately revert back to her Christian religion.

When they reached the area of Dahr al Baydar in Lebanon a dark night awaited them. The mother could not find a place to stay or anyone who would receive them except at a khan which was designed for travelers and their animals, mules, donkeys and camels. It was full of people and animals, and teeming with fleas and lice. Badia couldn't sleep that night and she rebelled inside against the injustice, the poverty, and the oppression. She began to think about the alternatives to the misery that had followed her like a shadow almost since she'd been born. She hoped to leave this sad life behind her. In the morning she and her mother left the Khan.

They began their journey once more. The road began to look long again and their shoes got holes in them. Their hope of reaching Nazla's village seemed remote. People felt sorry for Badia and her mother and gave them other shoes until they reached Beirut. Once there, the mother asked about the road to Sheikhan. At the beginning of the road there was a stable that rented out donkeys and horses to passengers for a small fee. After much pleading and crying on Badia's part, her mother agreed to spend some of her money and she rented a donkey which they took turns riding. After a long and bumpy road and quite a bit of torment, Badia and her mother reached Sheikhan hoping for a new and happy life.

Badia

 

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At Nazla's House

Mary, the stepdaughter of Nazla, had married and given birth to a son named Antoine. Badia played with him after all the greetings were done and Nazla inquired about the trip. When Badia was about to tell her of all the troubles they'd had, her mother jumped in quicker than lightning and told her about the wonderful and carefree trip they'd had and how much they had enjoyed the train ride.

Once they were out of their mother's hearing, Badia told Nazla about the awful and torturous trip and when Nazla didn't believe her, Badia showed her cracked and blistered feet as proof until Nazla believed her. So Nazla began to subtly interrogate her mother during the course of their conversation until the mother finally realized that Badia had told her the details of their trip. As usual she rose to hit Badia but Nazla intervened and prevented it. However, the mother's screams began to rise to such a high pitch that the neighbors were alarmed by the ruckus and gathered around wondering what catastrophe had befallen Nazla's family. After many attempts, Nazla and her husband were finally able to calm her down and bring her back to her senses.

The mother didn't sleep that night, and blamed Badia, harshly telling her that they would leave Sheikhan early in the morning. Badia woke up the next morning to feel her mother smacking her. All of Nazla's pleas asking her mother not to leave did not dissuade her from the decision she had made. And so in this manner, Badia left the good food, and the rest and relaxation of the first day and returned to homelessness. When she asked her mother where they'd go, her mother told her to just walk in silence. She'd gone from one prison to another and from one sad situation to another and she moved on with her mother. On the road, her mother became lost and began to head for Tripoli, and when Badia tried to show her the correct direction her mother exploded and said to her, "If you don't want to come with me then just go wherever you want to."

These were the words Badia was waiting to hear to break free from her mother's iron grip and she ran as fast as she could back in the direction of her sister Nazla's house. The thought that Badia might have a peaceful life tortured her mother and she began to call out to her to come back, but Badia didn't listen. As was the mother's habit, she began to scream and yell for help saying that her daughter had robbed her, stolen her money, and escaped because she didn't want to live with her. So the people on the road ran after Badia and after struggling until she was knocked to the ground. She surrendered and was returned to her mother.

Badia

 

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In the Women's Prison

After a long while on the road, Badia's mother asked one of the passersby where this road led to and the passerby told her that she was about to arrive in Tripoli. Badia tried to steer her mother in the other direction and back to Beirut but the mother paid no heed and insisted on continuing on this route. The idea of escape began to grow in Badia's mind and she searched about for an opportunity to achieve it, but then quickly put the idea out of her mind again when she remembered that a young girl couldn't handle life's hardships; especially, if she was beautiful, she'd be easy prey. So she preferred to stay with her sour mother.

They reached the city of El Betroun and they began to knock on doors searching for food and lodging. One kind family received them, and the following morning mother and daughter continued walking until they reached Tripoli. It was under Ottoman rule at that time. They reached a checkpoint and the mother tried to convince them that she was a Muslim. One of the police officials noticed Badia. Her calm demeanor, in contrast to her mother, caught his attention. The official in charge of the checkpoint suspected that maybe this woman wasn't Badia's mother and that she may be someone who worked in white slavery or prostitution. So the official was concerned about Badia and he ordered that they be sent to the women's prison. They remained in the prison for four days among criminals and bandits. On the fifth day their interrogation began, and then they were then released on bail, which was posted by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Tripoli.

The mother decided to return to Sheikhan, and there Badia was finally able to taste happiness for the first time. She loved the singing, the customs, and the companionship of the Lebanese. And she loved the moonlit evenings with the Megana and the 3ataba [Translator's note: these are a Lebanese tradition of old stories or poems that are sung from generation to generation.] She remembered the songs she knew in Spanish and she would sing all the ones she knew. The villages that surrounded her were full of goodness and happiness and the only thing that Badia worried about was her mother's ever changing moods. In spite of the happiness of her surroundings, Badia was always waiting for her mother's negativity and sourness to surface.

Badia

 

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The Misery of a New Journey

One night the mother told Badia to get ready because they were going to leave for Beirut. Nazla opposed her mother and objected strongly and told her to go alone and to leave Badia with her, explaining that one of the village boys wanted to marry her. The mother began to scream and scratch her face saying, "I do not want any daughter of mine to marry one of those peasants!" Nazla's husband intervened and explained to her that the young man who wanted to marry Badia was not a farmer; but rather, he was well educated and ambitious. The mother was not swayed and she began screaming harshly at her daughter's husband telling him "Do not interfere in our affairs!" She grabbed Badia and dragged her across the floor in front of the villagers.

Ultimately, the mother's goal was to destroy any stability that Badia enjoyed in her life. She prepared her for yet another difficult journey, and then a second, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. They left the village of Sheikhan and Badia left the kind and loving people behind. She and her mother headed towards Beirut, and though Nazla gave her mother money for expenses during the trip, she again returned to traveling on foot, begging and dark nights.

Badia

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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