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The Life of Badia Masabni
Part 3: Escape from Her Mother's Hell

 

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 3, 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/405000. It appeared online on Al Jareeda on August 13, 2010.

 

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Table of Contents

 

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Escape from Her Mother's Hell

When Badia arrived in Beirut accompanied by her mother, the signs of their poverty and misery were clearly apparent. The mother went to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beirut as the poor people of her community do when they feel that there is no other option. The first thing she demanded was a place for herself and her daughter. When the person at the Archdiocese learned that they were from the Masabni family, he told them about George Masabni, who was a cousin of Badia's and who could help them out. However, the mother rejected that proposal and said that she would visit George only after finding a house to stay in. After a difficult search, they found a modest house with the assistance of the neighborhood sheik in the area where the Archdiocese was located. His name was Nagib el Sabagha and he offered to give them whatever they needed until their things arrived from the Levant (Syria).

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Badia is wearing a Tunisian style of dress.

The mother, who was an enemy of comfort and stability, complained about anxiety and began to feel homesick for the Levant. She whispered to the ears of Badia, "Let's return to the Levant, my daughter," but Badia surprised her with rebellion and said to her, "What Levant? The Levant that has long tongues and pain and grief and sadness? My mother, there is no hope in the Levant. So if you want to go back, then go by yourself. You go back to your Levant. But I will stay here alone." The mother left Beirut and went to Damascus, leaving Badia alone. Badia begged El Sabagha to allow her to remain in the house. He felt sorry for her, so he took her to his home to stay with his daughters.

After about two weeks, the mother returned to Beirut bringing her baggage from the Levant and Badia began to arrange the house. She had longed for a home where she could feel privacy. They began to work in needlework which she mastered quite well and she was able to make sufficient money for her expenses and began to feel some happiness and tranquility in this simple home.

Badia

 

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Marriage Did Not Happen

Badia asked herself, "Don't I have the right to have fun sometimes?" She felt suffocated and bored by her mother's moodiness and from working so much. She had no other outlet except chatting with the neighbors. Their neighbor Elias el Faran was a generous and hospitable man and he was a poet. He was lighthearted and fun and his house was frequented by poets. Evenings in his home were fun filled. Badia began to visit him after she got to know Elias's daughters and they learned how to make crafts from her.

One night, Elias's brother came to visit him from America. When he saw Badia, they were attracted to each other and he decided he wanted to marry her. However, for the second time the mother stood in the way of Badia's marriage and began to ask the suitor, "Who are you? How old are you? How do I know you aren't married in America and have kids? You're so old that if Badia walks next to you people will think she's your daughter." Then she said to him "We don't have daughters to marry them off to middle aged men. Go away and mind your business." The suitor and his family tried to get Badia's mother to consent to the marriage but the stubborn woman not only refused, she also decided to leave Beirut and go back to the village of Shekhan where her daughter Nazla lived.

Badia's hope was to marry anyone and to get away from the torment of her mother, so she told Elias Faran's family that she would travel with her mother to the village of her sister Nazla and she requested that Elias's brother follow them in the hope that perhaps her sister's Nazla's husband, Michael Garios, could convince her mother to accept. On the way back to Shekhan Badia set down the condition that they would not travel on foot, but the mother persisted in her obstinacy and they walked to Shekhan. When they got there the groom was waiting for them. He stayed for two days at Nazla's house trying along with everyone else to convince the mother to accept but she rejected the proposal with all her might and refused to agree to the marriage. So the groom returned home to his city very disappointed. After spending several days in Sheikhan, Badia returned to Beirut again with her mother, and the groom returned to the United States, defeated. He left his address with his brother Elias el Faran, so that perhaps Badia could catch up with him alone.

Badia

 

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Servant

Badia was obsessed with a desire to escape from this darkness that had perched on her soul and she decided to flee, no matter the obstacles, in order to get away from this difficult life. But she was undecided. Should she travel to America to where her suitor was? Or should she look for another alternative? How would her mother spend her time in this little house without any of her children? For although her mother humiliated her, Badia could not leave her on her own.

While Badia was mired in psychological conflicts, the neighborhood sheik, Najib El Sabagha, visited them and proposed that they go live with Badia's cousins. They were rich and their standard of living was quite good. He politely tried to make the mother accept, and he contacted George Masabni who was very willing, but he chose only Badia to stay in his house and her mother agreed to it.

At the home of her cousin, Badia was surprised by being handed an apron and asked to go to the kitchen. She discovered that her job there was as a servant and so her dream of a good and happy life was shattered. However, she accepted this position and she worked until her mother came to check on her one day. When they made her mother enter through the servant's entrance and she saw Badia wearing servant's clothes in the kitchen she went crazy and told Badia, "Go change into your normal clothes and let's return to our house. Poverty is more honorable to us than to work as servants in the homes of our family."

Badia left George's home with her mother. On the way the mother passed by the cousin's store and said to him, "Badia is your cousin, George, and she is not a servant to you. She bears the name Masabni. And he coolly responded to her, "That's the best I can do, I can't do anything more. I'm married and I have a lot of responsibilities. In addition, my wife doesn't like strangers to enter her home and my children hate strangers too. You can go to my brother Lyan. He is single."

Lyan was present during this exchange and he reluctantly invited Badia and her mother to his home. He lived alone in a large house, large enough for a big family. Badia stood in surprise contemplating everything because it was the first time in her life that had seen luxurious things. There was a big difference between this home and the dark, humid place without a bed where she lived.

In Lyan's house there was an unknown woman. She wasn't a wife, and neither was she a servant, but she seemed to have the characteristics of both. She didn't get along well with Badia and began to harass Badia and her mother. She bothered them to the point where they had no choice but to go back to the Levant.

Badia

 

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Hits Her Mother

Badia continued the drama of traveling with her mother again, going through trouble and hardship. They returned once more to the family's home in Damascus where they discovered that her brother Tawfik had taken over the entire family home and was living in one part of it and renting out the other part. Badia asked her mother to leave the house and rent a room away from him but she refused. She also suggested that they go to her aunt's house but the mother refused that as well and forced her to spend the night in the barn that was attached to the house, with the animals and mice and all kinds of insects. There were foul smells and the ground was humid. Badia begged her mother to find a room with some sunlight, but her mother was unresponsive.

Badia lived in the infested place for quite a while and she began to do needlework again to help herself out with living expenses. She then went out in search of a room and she actually found a clean one that would accommodate two people so she took Farida with her (her brother's wife), rented the room, and returned quite happy. Once her mother found out about it, she became enraged and began to hit Farida, her son's wife, and Badia as well, with all the strength she had. Faced with this situation, Badia lost control and threatened her mother, telling her that if she hit her again she'd fight back. So when the mother kept hitting her, Badia hit her back and bit her and tied her up with a rope and told her that she was grown now and that the mother was going to have to treat her in a better manner. Her mother acceded.

Badia

 

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Another Marriage Fails

The mother finally agreed to rent the new room with the sunlight streaming in and Badia lived as if in a dream. She couldn't believe that the rats were gone. She asked her mother not to mention anything about the past or about the rape incident that she had suffered, so that she might be able to find a man to marry and to care for her, who didn't know anything about her past. But the mother paid no heed to Badia's words.

Around that time, Badia met a handsome young Palestinian man from Haifa who was in search of a bride in order to evade military service, because Ottoman law in those days didn't allow men who married foreign women to serve in the army. Badia was beautiful and had good manners and the young man's mother was pleased with her and decided to quickly propose the marriage to her son, with Badia's mother.

The groom's name was Michel Hasbani. He was a handsome and kind man and Badia found in him all that she had dreamed of. But as soon as he stepped into her old house he found out about her past and discovered everything about her. However, he didn't care about what he heard and he realized that Badia had been the victim of a terrible situation and of the treachery of a wolf, and she wasn't responsible for that. However, his mother was not convinced and began to ask around. Finally she decided that Badia must go to the doctor to be examined, and Badia and her mother felt ashamed and humiliated.

Badia went to an old woman who understood about gynecology, a midwife, and after examining her she told them that Badia was not a virgin and the cause of that was an old accident. The groom accepted this and he understood that these things can happen without fault, but the groom's mother used this to her advantage and she began to approach Badia's mother about the matter of a mahr (bride price). Badia's mother told her that the traditions of her community were that the groom was the one who must pay for the needs of the bride and had to cover the wedding costs, but since the mother of the groom was not much different from Badia's mother when it came to being unreasonable, she answered, "This is true only if the bride is intact and unmarred."

When Badia's mother heard these words she was uncharacteristically silent and she felt ashamed. Then unexpectedly she told Michel's mother that she had 50 gold lira but Michel's mother answered that this was not enough. So Badia's mother added "I will sell my share of the house plus I also have a sewing machine and I will work as hard as I can to make the money that is required for the wedding."

Badia was very surprised at the extreme generosity of her mother who for the first time appeared to realize that life was short and that her days were numbered. She wanted to shield her daughter and she actually told Badia that she wanted very much to see her with a man who would protect her, and she said to her, "What I want now is for you to have a successful marriage and for you to be blessed by God with your groom."

The next day the groom came and Badia's face was full of happiness and she welcomed him. She began to feel reassured, and felt that they loved each other and she forgot all about the things her mother had done.

However, her happiness lasted only a few hours because her brother Tawfik came over and insisted that his mother tell him the details of the marriage. When he learned that she intended to sell her part of the house he became agitated and angry and he threw the groom out of the house. The groom left and never returned. And the matter was closed. Thus Tawfik was behind two major disasters: The first being that he exposed Badia to rape when she was just a child, for if it had not been for his addiction to alcohol, she would not have gone to the bar asking for him and she would not have fallen prey to the bar owner. The second was his destruction of her marriage plans which would have taken her away from the poverty and humiliation and the oppression that accompanied her.

Badia

 

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No Turning Back

Badia looked back on her life as one looks at a film and she began to remember what her family members had done to her. She had immigrated with her brothers to a faraway country and then they left her there. Her mother had made her taste humiliation and oppression like nobody her age had tasted, her brother Tawfik was the cause of the loss of her groom, and her cousin George had made her a servant in his house. She remembered the nights of sleeping with rats and insects — fatigue and hardship in order to make a living. All of this while the family just watched without anyone making an effort to think about the fate of a helpless girl. She lost everything while she was small, and she was plagued by a severe mother who hand-fed her humiliation and destroyed her life while was still young.

Badia reached the final decision to flee, leaving her mother, her home, and her family in search of a new life. As she thought of escaping she also thought about the expenses that this adventure would require, as well as where she would go: To Beirut where her sister lived? Or somewhere else, for fear that her mother would follow her? Should she go to Argentina and find work in hand-made things? But the important issue was, where would she get the money necessary for this journey of escape?

Badia thought about the check that her brother Kamal had sent to her mother which was worth 50 gold lira, but how would she get it? She watched her mother, waiting for the opportunity to steal it. It was her hope for a new life, but the mother would not let it out of her sight and she'd put it underneath her pillow when she slept. However, on Saturdays she was busy washing clothes and cleaning the house so Badia thought it would be the right day to get the check. On the appointed day, Badia took the check and put it in her bodice and pretended to be asleep. When the mother stepped away Badia quickly jumped out of bed and she left, to never return. To a new life that could be better than this suffocating world.

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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