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The Life of Badia Masabni
Part 11: Marriage to Naguib el-Rihani

 

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 11, 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/articles/1461902599272210500/. It appeared online on Al Jareeda on August 23, 2010.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

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Mistress' Life

Badia Masabni and Naguib el-Rihani's performances ended in Alexandria, and he hadn't yet finished writing the new play. She realized that it would be a while before el-Rihani thought about new work, because he had enough money now. So, there was nothing for her to do but to return to Cairo.

At that time, Badia met Viola who was a foreign artist, and the two became close. Viola convinced Badia that she was wasting her life away with el-Rihani. Badia told her frankly that she loved Alexandria, and preferred to work there rather than in Cairo, but she couldn't find anyone who could help her out in this city. Also, [Badia confided] the 500 pounds she had brought with her from Lebanon had almost run out. El-Rihani was the cause of her financial crisis, and she was doubtful about his ability to work at all.

The following day, Badia went with Viola to Café Trianon [which is still there today in the Raml Station area in Alexandria]. Viola informed Badia that a prominent Egyptian wanted to meet her, and that she'd agreed on a meeting with him at 11:00 p.m. At the stipulated time, Badia went with Viola. As soon as Badia saw him, she remembered his face. He was always in the first row at her performances, and his name was Ahmed. He was accompanied by one of his friends by the name of Abdel 3azem and Viola introduced them to Badia.

Ahmed was in his 40's. He was taciturn and reasonable-minded, and he didn't like to brag about his wealth or social position. So he left the talking to Abdel 3azem who said to Badia, "My friend Ahmed Bek is in love with you Ya Set [Lady] Badia, and he is ready to do whatever you ask. He will prepare a beautiful home for you in Cairo with luxurious furniture, Persian carpets, and velvet curtains, and a two-horse carriage will be at your disposal. Badia accepted his friendship, and they parted with the promise of meeting again.

Badia Masabni

 

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Badia's Palace

Badia returned to the hotel where she found el-Rihani dozing. She didn't want to wake him up because she didn't want him to see the happiness that was apparent on her face. So she said to him, "I'll wait for you at the restaurant." However, after she waited for quite a while, he didn't show up, so she gave up and ate alone. She tried to think of a way to get rid of him without causing a problem that would lead to an argument. The idea occurred to her to take her belongings to the theater and then escape from there.

At the hour that had been agreed upon between her and Ahmed Bek, Badia went to the café. She found him waiting for her, with gifts that Badia never imagined or dreamed of. She asked him to hold on to them until she could go to him in Cairo. Ahmed Bek suggested a hotel for her to stay in while he furnished the house. He also requested her personal information so that he could complete the procedure of transferring the ownership of the home to her.

Badia became a home owner, and her house looked like a palace from the thousand and one nights. After all the suffering that she'd tasted, she now had a palace with servants and horse stables and a personal maid. The evening of the first day that she entered the house, Ahmed Bek came and with him were Abdel el 3azem and El Sheikh Abou El3ela Mohamed. During dinner Sheikh Abou El3ela extolled the genius of Oum Kalthoum and Abdul Wahab. Then Ahmed Bek gave her the home ownership documents.

Badia lived in her new home as if in a dream. She brought her adopted daughter Juliet to live with her. She hired a private tutor instead of sending Juliet to school so that Badia could have enough time to work with el-Rihani.

Juliet's tutor was a poor orphaned girl named Claire who lived in a small room. Badia brought her into her home, and loved her, and treated her as a friend. She paid her a monthly salary of 15 pounds in addition to the gifts that Ahmed Bek showered on her so that she'd take good care of Juliet. But Claire was a curse. She spied on Badia and Ahmed Bek, and lured Badia into talking about el-Rihani, and then she'd relay everything to el-Rihani. However, Badia's happiness with her life with Ahmed Bek blinded her to everything.

Claire played the game of poisoning the honey, and she would frequently comment within Badia's hearing that although Ahmed Bek was kind and of good origins, he was married to another woman and he had children. So why didn't she look for a legitimate husband instead, and and stop this kind of life? Claire was cunning as well as envious of Badia's lavish lifestyle.

Badia Masabni

 

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El-Rihani at Badia's House

One day the phone rang at Badia's house. When she lifted the handset, and heard el-Rihani's voice, she was confused, and the handset shook in her hand. El-Rihani didn't give her a chance to say a single word. He said, "I'm coming to get you. Open the door so that I won't cause a scandal in front of the neighbors."

Badia was afraid that he would come and embarrass her in front of Ahmed Bek, and she thought long and hard about what el-Rihani wanted from her. As she was still contemplating this, she heard a hard knocking on the door. When she opened it, she found el-Rihani standing there, and she fainted dead away. El-Rihani caught her in his arms, and Claire helped him take her to the bedroom.

When Badia came to, she burst into tears and yelled about el-Rihani's actions. He said to her, "I've never seen you as beautiful and as magnificent as you are at this moment!" He kissed her and pressed her to his chest. This happened in Claire's presence.

Badia noticed the looks and the winks between el-Rihani and Claire, and she was certain that something unscrupulous was going on between them. She screamed at him and accused him of wanting to destroy her home. At that moment, el-Rihani asked Badia to marry him and then continue on to America. She told him that she despaired of his imaginary projects, his empty promises, his laziness, and utter disregard. She asked him to leave her be, as she was happy without him and she worried that if she accompanied him to America they would starve in a foreign country.

Badia Masabni

El-Rihani responded, "I'm worried that your youth will come to an end and your time will be over. Then your beauty will wither as you live the life of a mistress. There may come a day when you'll be sorry and it will be too late. I'm offering you a last and most valuable opportunity as well as the most beautiful offer that I can make to a woman. 

Badia interrupted him sarcastically, "Do you think that the most valuable offer is marriage to you?"

He responded, "Yes, why not?"

So she said, "If I married you, would I ever get any rest from theater work or from the homelessness of going from country to country and wearing a display of obscene clothing, showing my bare legs and staying awake until dawn, dancing and entertaining people whose hands I can't even stand to shake?"

So el-Rihani said to her arrogantly, "But you'll marry Naguib el-Rihani the artist who someone like you doesn't even value and who isn't appreciated in his country. So I'm offering you that we go to another country. Maybe I'll be lucky there. Maybe none of my colleagues will have been there before me after stealing my plays and attributing them to themselves, as what happened to me in Lebanon and Syria and Palestine. You'll see for yourself another el-Rihani dedicated to his work. I've made you an offer and I hope you will accept it." Then he leaned close to Badia and whispered in her ear, "I will not ask for your answer now. I'll leave you until tomorrow." And then he turned and left.

Badia Masabni

 

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The Prince

Badia didn't sleep that night because of her confusion. How could she leave the man who'd been kind to her and had made her a woman of society?

When Ahmed Bek came in the evening, he felt that there was something strange about her but she didn't tell him what had happened. The following day el-Rihani went to her house and asked her to return to acting and to cut off her relationship with Ahmed Bek. He promised to present her with a new play that would earn them money, and then they would get married and go to America.

Badia liked the idea of acting. It was the best way to convince her to return to el-Rihani. It also rescued her from the boring life she lived with Ahmed Bek, especially after she had gained weight. This allowed el-Rihani to snatch her away from him. In the evening Ahmed Bek returned accompanied by his friend Abdel el 3azem. Badia met him by saying, "I've become tired of this quiet boring life, and I want to return to the theater."

Abdel el 3azem repudiated what she said, claiming that she didn't need to work, and Ahmed Bek said to her, "This will cause you to keep company with dancers and singers," and he pleaded with her to drop the subject.

After a few days, word began to spread in the artistic community that el-Rihani was preparing a new play, and the leading role was to be for Badia Masabni, so Ahmed Bek asked Badia about it. She answered him sheepishly, "Do you have objections to my working with el-Rihani?"

And Ahmed Bek responded "No, I don't want to be an obstacle between you and your hobby, but it's difficult for me to imagine myself deprived of you. You are the most dear person to me, Badia, and I haven't forgotten what there was between you and el-Rihani. So how can I easily accept that you're going to work with him?"

Badia Masabni

Badia put his mind at ease and said to him, "Let's change the subject now, everything that has been said are just rumors. When el-Rihani returns to work, God will show us a way to solve this problem."

Several days later, el-Rihani called Badia to tell her that he'd finished writing the new play. He offered to come to her house. However, Badia refused and she suggested that they meet at a secluded café in the Masr El Gedida area where he briefed her about her part in the play. It was called The Prince, but he didn't give her any idea as to what the play was about. They agreed that he'd call her after he decided on the rehearsal dates.

El-Rihani continued to hide the content of the play from Badia. Whenever she asked him about it, he would repeatedly say, "Just worry about your part instead".

The announcement of the play filled the streets of Cairo, and it was an overwhelming success. Despite the fact that el-Rihani had portrayed her as a greedy woman who preferred a rich man over him, the play achieved a level of fame for her beyond what she had dreamed of. She became the talk of the newspapers and of the public. El-Rihani himself hadn't anticipated this much success for her, and he became jealous of her.

Badia Masabni

 

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Exodus from Paradise

The play continued to run for two months, during which el-Rihani deliberately began to spread rumors of his marriage to Badia and their plans to travel to America.

When the rumors reached Ahmed Bek, he said to Badia, "Naguib's marriage to you is favorable only for him. He can't afford to lose your enormous talent, your ability to play difficult roles, your dance ability, and your singing. This is the main reason that el-Rihani is attached to you and is insisting on marrying you and traveling with you to America. Anyway, you are free to do that you want to do. As for me, I won't stand in the way of your future. What I want you to know is that you have unintentionally given me a slap in the face. But this is my fault. You took my dreams and crushed them."

Badia said to Ahmed Bek, "You're a wealthy man as well as a kind man, and you can find someone better than me who will make you forget me. And who knows? Maybe your new girlfriend will be more devoted and faithful to you than me."

Then Badia brought the gifts that Ahmed Bek had given her and she said to him, "I'm not avaricious. The reason for my friendship with you was not because you're a wealthy man, but because I respect your nobleness and your honesty, and because I trusted you. Take your gifts, I won't leave with anything but my own clothes. I will never forget you for the rest of my life. Please forgive me." And then she threw herself against his chest and cried bitterly and profusely.

Ahmed Bek held her away from him and asked her, "Have you both decided on the date of the wedding? From this day forward I will consider you as a daughter and I shall give this house to you and everything in it as a wedding gift. I will give it to you in the hopes that you will find the happiness that you wish for in your marriage to el-Rihani. I also hope that you will one day not be sorry for taking this step."

Then Ahmed Bek left. He was the most noble person that Badia ever met in her life.

Badia Masabni

 

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Emigration to the Unknown

El-Rihani's life was a series of adventures and pain, happiness and tears, success and failure, pleasure and boredom, comfort and anxiety, activity and laziness.

After Ahmed Bek left Badia in the house that he'd purchased for her, she began to look around. It was difficult for her to enjoy this wealth after she had broken up with its owner. So she brought up with el-Rihani the subject of selling the home and the furniture. He agreed, saying to her, "We're going to travel to America anyway, so we don't need the house or anything in it." Then they moved to the Continental Hotel and sold the contents of the house in an auction. Badia received a large sum.

Very quietly, and away from the eyes of the public, el-Rihani married Badia at the home of doctor Khalil Gouda who served as a witness to the marriage, and Claire was the second witness. After the religious ceremony was over, the bride and groom rode to the banks of the Nile in a hantour. They returned to the hotel in the morning where they were received by Egyptians and foreigners with acclamations and good wishes for a happy marriage.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This is the wedding photo for Naguib el-Rihani and Badia Masabni.

The husband and wife spent their honeymoon between Alexandria and Ras el Bur.

Badia Masabni and Raguib al-Rihani

Then they traveled to Brazil accompanied by Juliet and a group of artists. It was a long ocean voyage that took over a month. The ship docked in a strange country where all the passengers dispersed, and they were left with the feeling of being in a difficult position.

At the port, they met a man who spoke Arabic and who asked them about their destination. Badia responded, "We are a singing and dancing troupe".

El-Rihani added "We not only sing and dance, but we act as well."

The man answered heedlessly, "Unfortunately, you won't be able to work here because in this country nobody understands acting or appreciates it. But if you've got singers and musicians, you can make quite a bit of money."

So Badia spoke to el-Rihani in French and said to him, "Let's give it a try, and God will provide."

Badia Masabni

El-Rihani and Badia left the port. The man who had spoken with them led them to a hotel that he owned [which was the reason] that he went to the port, to recruit guests. In the evening, the Syrian and Lebanese community showed up. They were the children of El Gabal, Beirut, Tripoli, Aleppo, Syria, Homs, and Houmah. As soon as the news spread of an Arabic performing troupe at the hotel, everyone began to ask about the Arab [woman] singer who had come from their country, and they asked Badia to sing.

So she chose "Delicious Salted Pistachios Ya Effendi." Just as she began the introduction of the song, one of the audience members stood up and said, "I heard this song sung by a famous singer in Aleppo!"

El-Rihani asked him what the name of the singer was, and the man answered, "Badia Masabni!"

El-Rihani asked him, "If you saw this singer now, would you recognize her?"

The man responded, "Of course!"

El-Rihani said to him, "So why haven't you recognized her yet?"

The man looked at Badia and said, "I thought so! But I was afraid to say it, because people would accuse me of being crazy." The man explained to the audience who Badia Masabni was, and how famous she was in Aleppo.

Badia Masabni

 

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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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