Photographs by Rafic
Creative Direction by Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Make-up by Walid Al-Zoubi and Nada Al-Agha
Hair by Maher Jubran
Digital art work by Atef Daglees
All clothes by Max Mara
Special thanks to Torwadah Hotel downtown – Amman
The universe is constructed by the rules of physics, sometimes strange but bringing it to perfect equilibrium, maybe more! Things are in balance, and for every action, if you want to get Newtonian about it, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In nature, in politics, in the social structure. For every wrong, a right. For every princess, a prince. And for every cat, a dog. But when it comes to Jordan, there’ is little balance for the force of Rania Kurdi, the one who never fails to conquer.
My drive to interview Ms. Kurdi at her home was a both daydream and internal battle. I never knew that driving and thinking could be so intense! I had a set of question written out, but was in a haze, swinging back and forth between nervousness and excitement.
One minute I was in traffic-jammed and tumultuous Amman, and the next I was in a quiet and serene place past the city’s limits. Rania seems comfortable in her home set away from the city, which she and her husband have built together. It allows her to be near her parents and raise their two beloved children ( and what seems to be a runaway dog) in a state of peace. She remarked, “I like living far out because it’s unmoving. It’s not so easy with the distance, if I want to go shopping or find nearby stores, but it makes me think… can I be bothered to go or not? It’s not always convenient, but it’s worth it because of the quiet.”
I found myself sitting in my car (now parked in her driveway) for few minutes on that Saturday afternoon in a Christmasy December, random chills coming and going from excitement! Rania must have seen me and waved to me from the kitchen’s door. I walked attentively next to her and engaged in small talk as she led me into the sitting room where her kids were playing. I felt as if I were trying to re-spark a dead moment. I broke the ice and asked her why she agreed to do this feature (considering the status of My.Kali.mag) and whether she likes being controversial, to which she responded, “I wouldn’t say I like controversy, but I wouldn’t like be put in a box either. Like oh she’s the sweet one, or oh she’s the nasty one, or oh she’s the daring one… I like to always do the unexpected and the unpredictable.”
She excused herself to go to the kitchen, and I found myself strolling around and studying the room with quick glances. Rania had hung a series of family photographs on a wall in the sitting room, one side of the wall allocated to hers family and the other to her husband’s, and memorable shots of children lie in-between. It creates a “homespun feel” that you wouldn’t necessarily expect of a celebrity’s house.
Rania returned and set out a cup of Moroccan tea with Christmas ginger snaps aside it, and settled into the corner of the sofa that lay across from me, looking sleek in all black. The kids ran to the next room with the sitter to play, but popped in occasionally to tell on each other, beginning each complaint with phrases like, “Mummy, he took my…” and “I told her not to…”
Soon, things calmed down and we were left alone to chat. “I love your notebooks. All the binders, the old papers, and the organized agenda, this is how I do it too,” Rania said as she observed my entourage of notebooks and papers. The lady had taken note of me too! I said for a simple “thank you” and complemented her cozy home.
Rania Kurdi has been on the “star scene” for quite a while now. I remember running back to my grandma’s house when I was still in school to tune into the TV’s latest music videos ( a major obsession in the early 2000’s here in Jo). Rania’s “Ma Btezha’a” was on, and I fell in love with the visuals and the choreography, which I later tried to imitate many times behind closed doors… I didn’t find much success. Haven’t you dreamt of being an office assistant too with flicker-ish hair and bright headsets? I never confessed this to her, though she will probably laugh to herself once reading this, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the extent of my admiration. Her quirkiness and confidence that drew millions allowed her to continue to grow rapidly, and to become Jordan’s very own cutie pie!
“…It is not my place to judge others’ beliefs, because who is to say I am right and they are wrong or vice versa?”
On-screen, Rania tends to give off a cat-like combat vibe or a female canine warrior…edgy! But in-person, she appeals much softer, leaner, cuter, and almost boyish with a few freckles marking her fair skin. She confessed that she was never the type to play the girly-girl things in school preferring instead to wrestle with the boys. In fact, she still does martial arts in her free time. She recalled her early stage acting gigs, when she was to play Oliver Twist (a boy character) in a school play. She was about 11 at the time and quite thin, but had her hair cut short for the role. Rania played the role quite well, and apparently one of the younger girls (maybe 9 years old) totally fell in love with her! Rania shared that,”She thought I was a boy. I tried to convince her that I’m a girl too and was just playing a boy, but she still wrote me love letters and stuff… that was funny then!”
Though one might detect a faint aggressive disposition about her, Rania is overwhelming bright and animated, quick to laugh, and feminine when one least expects it. She gestures with small, slim, expressive hands, something I noticed as our conversation ranged from her affinity for meditation and martial arts to learning about religions and psychology.
How open is Rania in the new age of ideologies? What about for the aspirations of individual groups and minorities? And when it comes to sexuality? “I respect that people have point of views different from my own, but I do not agree with them forcing those beliefs upon others.” She continues that, “it is not my place to judge their beliefs, because who’s to say that I am right and they are wrong or vice versa? I don’t question people on who they are but on how they act!”
There is an old riddle that says, “never meet your heroes,” or in our case, your favorite celebrity, for perhaps it is better to wonder than to know if they meet your expectations. Rania spoke about her time on the show, SuperStar, admitting that that image is what affected her most during that time. “The effects of fame and TV and how they broadcast a false image of one’s life is dangerous. People change toward you if you always have to appear glamourous. I decided early on that I didn’t want people to like me or treat me based on that TV image given. I wasn’t going to play that part for them off TV, or to feed into the illusion that ‘yes, my life is glamorous, and oh, I don’t do normal things like you do…’ You know what I mean? A lot of stars would fall into that but it’s very hard to break free from that trap once you fall in.”
“Western stars seem to have a more casual attitude who prefer to live life in as normal a way as possible. They go out with the kids, do grocery shopping and everyday tasks… they’re not always trying to be the glamorous celebrity. I think they just have enough of it… enough red carpets, enough photo shoots, enough promoting movies. It likely gets tiring to always be made up, looking gorgeous, and talking about themselves! I feel there isn’t as much of that in the Middle East, that’s why they look for the glamour 24 hours… they make it part of their lifestyle. I prefer the more laid back attitude.”
“I wouldn’t say I like controversy, but I wouldn’t like to be put in a box either. Like oh she’s the sweet one, or oh she’s the nasty one…”
In spite of everything, Rania still manages to push the pop culture of Jordan forward, always undertaking new projects. But like many other local celebrities, Rania laments the a gaps in the cultural world, here. “Films by local directors only get attention after they’ve received acclaim abroad, but by then it’s too late. We need to push to promote our local talent in order to get the attention needed!” This change to support local cultural production is occurring gradually, with places like The RFC (The Royal Film Commission) committing to local projects (to be taken within consideration) and having two Jordanian films receiving worldwide acclaim. ‘Al Jomaa Al akhira’ by Yehya Abdallah, won “Best Composer” in the 2011 Dubai International Film Festival, and film ‘Killing in the Name’ was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 83rd Academy Awards in, 2011.We drifted away from the social talk and personal politics during the last chorus of our interview to recalling “incidents” that occurred on the shoot. She’d blurt out funny comments while posing, casting characters to help the shot seem more believable! She is hilarious! We then found ourselves back at small talk. ‘Are these homemade,’ I interrupt as I reach for another ginger snap. “Not really. I usually do things at home, but they don’t turn out like that! When we do something at home, Ii takes 3 hours to make cookies then it’s 5 minutes and they’re gone. The kids just eat them after they make them.”