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The Life of Badia Masabni
Part 4: Here's Cairo

 

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 4, 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/405225. It appeared online on Al Jareeda on August 15, 2010.

 

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Table of Contents

 

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In a Suspicious Home

On the train bound for Beirut, in third class, Badia sat waiting on pins and needles for the train to whisk her away from the station. The image of her mother didn't leave her, and the days of suffering and misery surrounded her. She wished she could get rid of these memories and forget those days. Escape was an adventure and a big risk, but it was better than being tortured by her mother.

Next to Badia on the train was a woman from Halb. Badia caught her attention, so the woman scrutinized her with great interest, talked to her, and provided her with food to satisfy her hunger – the journey was long, and Badia did not have any food of her own. Badia noticed that her traveling companion didn't speak Arabic well, but because of her kindness and nice manner Badia felt comfortable with her. Their long chat continued until the train arrived in Beirut.

By that time the barriers between them had been lifted and the woman asked her, "Where will you go?"

Badia answered "To my sister, in the village of Sheikhan."

The woman felt sorry for her that she would have to travel again so far after such an already long journey, so she invited Badia to spend the night at her house, then she could continue her journey to the mountains in the morning. Badia accepted and thanked the woman for her kind treatment of her.

Badia accompanied the woman to her house in Beirut.  She was amazed at the luxurious furniture she saw there, but her shock came from the strange scene in the dining room. She saw many people, mostly men, with their arms wrapped around the women, swaying and dancing together and flagrantly drinking alcohol unabashedly until they were no longer aware of who came and who went. Badia continued to look at these revelers with great surprise until the owner of the house brought her a delicious dinner and she ate it hungrily. Then the woman took her to a luxurious bedroom that took the sleep from her eyes and the woman approached and began to help her to take off her clothes. Badia spent the night happily.

The next morning after breakfast, the woman continued to treat Badia kindly and invited her to stay permanently. Badia thought to herself, where else was she going to find delicious food, peaceful sleep and beautiful clothes? Badia felt comforted living in that house, especially as this lady brought her fine clothes. Happiness began to seep into her life and she felt as though life had reconciled with her.

However, fate was not to allow it yet. Badia discovered that this angelic woman had lured her in order to entangle her into a life of parties, dancing, and prostitution. The woman took Badia and introduced her to one of the guests. Badia was quite shocked, and the woman rebuked her for rejecting this opportunity and these people. She then entrusted Badia to one of the girls who worked with her. This girl promised Badia to help her to get out of this suspicious house.

Badia felt comfortable with this girl and told her about her story. Badia and her friend succeeded in getting out of this house and she immediately went straight to the bank to cash the check that she had. There was a surprise. The bank employees welcomed her and took the check, then asked her to wait until the manager returned. She remained and waited until she heard her mother's voice crying and saying, "My daughter! My daughter!" Badia went to her mother whose sad, wrinkled face was full of tears, and together they would walk to a common destiny.

Badia

 

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Exodus to Egypt

Badia’s mother wanted to go back to the Levant, but Badia vehemently refused saying, "I will not go back to the Levant! Death is better than to live there, as far as I'm concerned. Let's go to any other place without the painful memories and without having a brother standing in the way of his sister's marriage in order to take his share of the house. Any other land would be more merciful than the Levant. A country where no one knows us would be better for us than the Levant. But in the meantime let's return to Nazla in Sheikhan and we can think about this afterwards."

Badia sensed that her mother was not reluctant to travel to Egypt, especially since her uncle lived in Egypt and he was rich. In Sheikhan, Nazla and her husband Michel tried to convince Badia to stay with them, but Badia had another dream. She was thinking of a life of dancing and singing, but she kept it hidden from them for fear of rejection. Without their knowledge she planned in her mind the trip to Egypt which was the country of art. The country of Sheik Salama Hegazi, Sayed Darwish, Badi Khairy, Nagib El Rihani and many other names. Badia liked Sheik Hegazi very much ever since saw him for the first time in the Levant when he and his band came and sang at El Effendi Garden Theater, and she dreamed of dancing and singing and being onstage.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Badia Masabni is wearing a costume representative of the Levant.

The artistic life was Badia's only hope, one that could lift her from the hours of continued distraction, and she persisted in achieving it. And so, one morning, she left the village of Sheikhan with her mother in spite of her sister Nazla's insistence that they remain with her. They traveled in a babour in order to avoid suffering hardship and fatigue and to avoid the offers of charity from well-meaning people. They searched for a ship that could take them to Egypt. The ship arrived at the port of Alexandria. Badia could hardly believe that they had left the Levant and its people and that this was Egypt, a country of beauty and art. They spent the night in Alexandria and in the morning they took the train to Cairo.

Badia

 

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Love in Azbakia Garden

As Badia roamed the streets of Cairo, her feet led her to Azbakia Garden and she marveled at this magical place which became her refuge whenever she felt uneasy. One night while she was there daydreaming and enjoying the place, she was approached by a young man named Khamis who invited her to play and skate with him. He was a nice and pleasant young man. She didn't know this game [skating] so she tried it with him and discovered that she could do it. Khamis was surprised at Badia's ability to learn the game quite easily. At the day's end he became emboldened and asked to meet her again there tomorrow to continue skating, and she accepted. When she returned home her mother was waiting for her and began to besiege her with questions as usual but Badia paid no attention to her and went to bed to sleep and to dream about tomorrow's meeting with this new friend.

Badia finally found a companion and Khamis was her new focus. She used the story about searching for her mother's uncle Ibrahim el Nagar as an excuse to stay out late and to spend time with Khamis, and she continued meeting him at Azbakia garden. She told him about this uncle and he told her that it was difficult in a country as large as that without an address. But he did not leave her to search for this unknown uncle alone, he searched with her and they kept on meeting in the beautiful garden.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo depicts Azbakia Garden. It was taken by Felix Bonfils, a 19th century French photographer who took many photos in the Middle East during his lifetime. He died in 1885, so this photo would have been taken before that, probably in 1880.

Azbakia

 

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In the Theater for the First Time

 

While Badia was in Azbakia Garden, a beautiful building that drew many people into it attracted her attention. She asked Khamis about it and he told her that this was the Azbakia Theater Building which at the time was presenting plays from the leading artists in Egypt and the Arab world, including George Abaid who presented many novels translated from the English and French languages. Badia entered the building accompanied by Khamis and there she found herself in a world different from the one where she had experienced pain and hurt and she began to imagine herself dressed as an actress on the theater stage.

That night Badia delayed her return home, and when she thought of the scolding that she would receive from her mother, she began to cry. When Khamis asked her why she was crying she told him about what awaited her from her mother when she returned to the boarding house. He told her that he would go with her and apologize to her mother and she refused but he insisted. So both of them took the hantour back to the boarding house. But when they arrived there, the innkeeper told them that her mother was not there because she had not been able to deal with Badia's tardiness. Khamis and Badia went to search the streets for Badia's mother and they asked pedestrians, drivers of vehicles, shop owners and people who lived in the area. The searched until 1:00 a.m. and then Badia went back to the boarding house because she thought that her mother might have returned. But the innkeeper told her that her mother was not there and Badia began to blame herself for what she had done. She cried until morning and then together with Khamis she resumed the search for her mother, but to no avail.

After the two of them failed to find the mother, they decided to go to the newspaper El Moukatam to get the word out about her disappearance. They gave the address of the boarding house. Then they went to the police station in Shoubra where they were told that the police had seen an old woman slapping her face and screaming in the streets with a clear Levantine accent, "Badia, ya Badia! Wien Benti, Wien Benti!" [Where is my daughter?] When the police questioned her about her address she told them that it was at the convent.

So Badia quickly went to the convent with Khamis and her mother immediately ran towards her and began to insult her and hit her. After she screamed and cursed, Badia's mother began to question Badia about who was with her, and without giving Badia a chance to respond she fell on the young man with reprimands and humiliating words. So Badia asked Khamis to step outside and leave her alone and the young man quickly went back out to the street quite surprised by the old woman. After this incident Khamis disappeared from her life and Badia didn't know how to find him again. He disappeared just like all the other beautiful things had disappeared from her life.

Badia continued to go to Azbakia garden, perhaps she would see Khamis there but it was in vain. One night she saw among the people who were in the garden some new faces that she had not seen before, and they were all reading out loud from books that were held in their hands and they inclined their bodies to the right and to the left like one of those crazy people at the moulid. She asked someone who they were, and he replied with a laugh "A group of actors and they're now on their way to the theater but they're rehearsing their parts." Badia asked if she could watch their theater performance, and did so.

The person who was talking to her was the actor and playwright Fouad Salem who accompanied her and introduced her to George Abaid who was getting ready to go onstage. Abaid noticed her at once and he asked Salem, "Who is this beauty?" and Badia immediately responded, "My name is Badia". He liked her voice and her Levantine accent. Then he asked her if she knew how to read and write in Arabic, and she replied, "I read and write in Spanish". He said to her, "if you knew how to read and write in Arabic I would train you to be an actress because your beauty is unique, you're courageous, and the tone of your voice is beautiful." Salem suggested that she learn to read and write in Arabic and she nearly flew from happiness and hoped that he was being serious. He asked her, "When can we begin with the first lesson?" and she replied, "Tomorrow, God willing sir." Then he asked her "Where shall we meet? and she responded "At the same place, in the skating garden."

Badia Masabni

The following day, the day that she would receive her first lesson which would pave her road to acting, the most cherished dream of her life, Badia arrived early and began to skate as she often did. When Salem arrived he found her gliding in the skating ring and he was surprised at her gracefulness. He continued to watch her without her knowledge until she finished her dance and Salem told her, "You are great and you will have a wonderful future in art".

He began to give her Arabic lessons, and he found that she was a fast learner with a retentive memory. Badia continued with her lessons regularly for two months until she was able to read quite easily. She may not have been as good at writing but reading was important to her and she began to read scripts and memorize them. This of course made her stay late at the theater and she told her mother that she was working somewhere. However, her tardiness could possibly lead to her mother discovering her trickery. So she resorted to a new ruse and told her mother that she was working at a bridal shop and this was the reason she was late, so the mother reluctantly accepted this.

Badia was finally to appear on the stage. When she made her debut, she was an immediate hit. She drew the attention of the spectators and she became the topic of discussion among the actors and actresses. She made important contacts with some of them such Aziz Eid and Ms. Fatima el Yousef who was at the time, the owner of the most famous magazine in Egypt, called Rosa el Yousef. And the person responsible for having opened the world of theater to her was the playwright Fouad Salem.

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

At that time, Badia was the youngest actress in the theater troupe and her roles were not significant enough for her to be onstage much. She was only allowed to do so when another actress was absent. But she endured it because of her dream. She loved acting more than anything and she was waiting until the day came when she could have a leading role, not just as an extra in the script. She longed for this day and continued to work for it tirelessly.

After a fatiguing three months she was awarded a monthly salary of only 5 pounds. This was a very small amount and not enough to live on. It wasn't enough to feed herself and her mother. She wondered how she would cover the cost of rent, how she would buy beautiful clothes with which to mingle among the famous actresses who wore the most exquisite dresses, and how she'd live a peaceful life. And what about her mother? What would she tell her about the exhaustion and the tardiness? That the owners of the bridal shop tricked and exploited her for this meager salary?

Badia longed for the moment in which she would be able to wear the finest clothes and to adorn herself with jewels and have a beautiful house, like a palace. She dreamed of making up for the miserable days she had experienced. She was searching for a beautiful alternate and high-class life, and to get away from the impoverished room of the boarding house. So she resolved to work with all her energy to become like the stars and to live like them. She vowed to work hard so that her picture would appear on posters on the streets, and with her teeth she would carve the name of Badia Masabni on all the largest theaters of Egypt and the Arab 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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