The Legends of Egypt Vol I and II
When I was staying in Cairo, Egypt in the early 1950's, I asked Mahmoud Dawara to take me to Casino Opera to see the show. I especially wanted to see Badia because my grandfather was crazy about her. Many times he had mentioned her name, but had never seen her in person. He had only experienced her from the magazines he had read, and from hearing the music which was made just for her. I remember that we used to wind up the phonograph and put on Badia's recorded music and dance.
Badia was about 50 years old when Tahia Karioka was in her early 20s. I had always wanted to see Badia dance in person, but only my mother had met Badia in Jafa. Since I was born in Jafa, my mother got to meet many stars from Cairo such as Badia Schafika Elkubtia, Sofia Helmi, Salame Ehjzai and Fareed, and many more. They used to bring the best to Jafa as Jafa was on the sea and was like Paris to the Arab people in my mother's time. In my time, it was Beirut, Lebanon. I had never met Shafika or Boimb Mukashar, Salame Ehijazi, or Sofai Helmi; however, my mother had met them all and she used to sing and dance like them around the house. She used to tell me exactly how Badia used to dance, and she would bend her back far back and then twist three times before straightening up. She also mentioned the names of dancers and singers that performed far before my time.
My and I took the trolley, and we stopped and walked about two blocks where Badia owned the Casino Opera. We went up many steps until we finally entered a very cozy, but large, dark room with a stage and burgundy velvet curtains on the walls. There were also fancy tapestries. The room was full of men; ninety-five percent of them wearing Tarboosh on their heads (which means a fez with black tassles). There was also a very large hand-painted picture in color of King Farouk. Most of the people there appeared drunk, some of them facing the stage looking at a dancer who was about five or six years younger than Badia. The dancer had a large candelabra on her head and she was moving fast, clicking her fingers to match with the drum beat. There were also twenty to twenty-five other dancers scattered throughout the place sitting with the customers and drinking, laughing, and giggling.
I approached a woman who was wearing a black, short dress with a large red flower on the shoulder. She had lots of kohl on her eyes and was wearing a great deal of make-up. She had fat legs and had them crossed. Mr Dawara whispered to me, "That's Badia". I went closer to her and saw that she had a large argila by her side going down to the floor. By this, I mean it was a smoking hooka with a long pipe, and she had the tip of it in her mouth. I wondered if it was real hashish? As I approached, she asked Mr. Dawara in a loud voice, "What are you bringing with you? I don't have a nursery here or a baby sitting service."
Mr. Dawara became somewhat upset, and in a soft voice said, "This young girl and her family are crazy about you and your dancing." She stopped smoking and said, ""Oh, I'm sorry. C'mon, c'mon to my, my darling." I sat down near her and she bent very close to me and said, "What's your name?" I told her, "They call me Kamelia of Jordan." "Oh, I didn't know that there was a singer or dancer in Jordan." Mr. Dawara said to her, "Well, I guess that she is the only one so far."
She asked me if I could sing a Jordanian song for her since she had never heard one. I told her that I would be glad to. I went to the stage and asked her musicians to play, but they said that they had not heard the kind of songs I wanted them to play, and they couldn't follow me. So, I continued the song without music. When I finished, I asked them to play Badia's dance music. With this particular dress I had on, I danced to their music, but not too well I am afraid. When I finished, she clapped for me and smiled. She said,"Honey, when you get older, I will give you a job. and then you can practice with the musicians with your favorite songs. you will be a better dancer when you grow a little older."
"Are you hungry?," she asked. I said that indeed I was and she ordered shish kabob, humos and pita bread and some Egyptian salad for both of us. That night, Mr. Dawara interviewed her for a new story and after we had eated she gave me 10 Jineh because she knew I was poor and young. Then we said good-bye and she stood up and kissed me on both cheeks. Her breath smelled heavy with tobacco, and she told Mr. Dawara to please bring me back to see her again, I think that she just wanted to be polite because I was going to Jordan. She told me to "give my love to allyour family, especially your grandfather." He was crazy about her and her dancing. She was the best according to him. She was the dancer of dancers- better than Tahia Karioka, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Katie and many more great dancers. The truly great dancers had learned from Badia, and she is truly a legend!
Mr. Dawara told me a great deal about Badia's life. She had once told him that when she was a little girl and was living in Lebanon that her older brother molested her and the family was shamed. They put her in a Catholics nun's school where she learned tap and ballet. When her younger brother found out that she had been molested, he killed his older brother. He did not spend any time in jail because of his pride to keep the family's name clean. After this, the nuns sent Badia to America with an American family and she spent about five years in the USA. Then she returned to Beirut. She wanted to be a dancer, so she went to Egypt where she changed her name from a Christian name to a Muslim name- Badia Masabni. She also changed her looks and in a short time, she was the greatest of all dancers. At that time, there was another Christian dancer whos name was Shafika El Koptia. There were only two Christian dancers in all Cairo, and they were great. I neer had the chance to meet Shafika, but I had heard a lot about her.
Badia opened a successful nightclub and ran it for many years. She fell in love with a great actor, Najib El Rihani. She was deeply in love with him and he wanted to marry her, but she refused at first. She was worried about him stopping her from dancing and above everything else, she wanted to continue dancing.
She lived with him for a good number of years and they made plays together and traveled around the world. Najob died behind her stage from a major heart attack, and Badia became very depressed for a long time.
When Jamal Abed El Naser took over Egypt, he heavily taxed the rich if they had extra buildings or a business. In fact, he took them from people. On one occassion, he even put Tahia Karioka in jail and many like her who had been involved with King Farouk. He also put a stop on all o Badia's income after he ordered her arrest.
Badia had made an arrangement with Sofia Hilmi to sell her Casino for ten thousand Jineh. The Casino was probably worth more like a million at the time, but Badia really had no choice in the matter, as she had to run away fast, and she was out of time. She gathered her wealth and paid a huge price for two men to take her and fly her to Lebanon.
The meeting was in a house of one of her trusted friends. They picked her up with a truck load of her personal treasures, money, and gold. The airplane was waiting for them outside of Cairo in a place called "New Egypt". They flew her to Lebanon with all her treasures.
With her money, she purchased a very large far where she raised the best beef, dairy cows, fruits, and vegetables. She survived because she had some money and she grew old with her adopted daughter, Juliette. She also had some nieces, nephews and other relatives.
Badia got married twice in her lifetime. Once when she was young, the government of Egypt tried to bring her to Cairo, but without success. I believe that in 1970, Badia died at the age of 92. The Lebanese government protected her to the end. Truly Badia was the queen of all dancers. She is truly a great legend of legends. How lucky I was to have touched her hands and to have met that great lady.
Thank-you Badia, for the wonderful short time you gave me when I was near you. God bless your soul.