Queen Rania discusses her new book "The Sandwich Swap" with Oprah
Oprah Winfrey (OW): Yes we are live, thank you, live in Chicago. So like, like so many of you she’s a working mother, she does car pool, and is known to make a mean chocolate chip cookie. But she also lives in a gorgeous palace, and is referred to as Her Majesty. Queen Rania of Jordan is one of the most intriguing and beautiful women on the planet. Take a look. She’s a modern monarch on a mission....
HMQ: If you educate a girl, you educate the future.
OW: With nearly one and a half million followers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Queen Rania of Jordan is plugged in to the people...
HMQ: Go on, get Tweeting.
OW: Born in Kuwait to middle class Palestinian parents, Rania al Yaseen was busy pursuing her own career, never dreaming she would marry in to royalty. But at age twenty two, while at a dinner party, she caught the eye of Jordan’s Prince Abdullah. After just five months they married and started a family. A few years later Jordan’s ailing King Hussein made a shocking announcement, by naming his son, Prince Abdullah, not his own brother, as heir to the throne. At just twenty eight years old Rania became the world’s youngest queen....... It’s been a few years, but we welcome her back, Her Majesty Queen Rania. Come on out. Welcome back, welcome back. Welcome back, welcome back.
HMQ: Good to see you.
OW: I was just joking with the audience as I passed your entire, not your entire staff, but some of your staff back there, it must be great to be Queen.
HMQ: Well it’s got it’s good days sometimes.
OW: Good days.
OW: Do you feel though you know as I was introducing you though just like so many other mums out there you do car pool and you do you know make chocolate chip cookies and you know make it a priority to spend time with your children. So does the Queen thing enter in to your life, are you thinking about ‘I am Queen making cookies’.
HMQ: I never really, I mean, for me I never think of myself as a Queen you know. It’s the eighty per cent of my life is you know life is normal you know like any other mother. You know I worry about my children if they’re doing alright, I worry that my husband’s doing well, how they’re doing at school, and you know the twenty per cent is just the Queen aspect which just factors in. But for me you know it’s life as usual it’s just taking care of my family.
OW: Do you have any thing to worry about? I would think as Queen, that’s what we think right? A Queen has no worries.
HMQ: Well actually there’s never really a day when I don’t have anything to worry about you know. In addition to taking care of my family there’s also the six million people in my country that I have to think about, and I have to think about the issues of our country, and all and everything that faces us, so it’s quite an awesome task. It’s very overwhelming sometimes.
OW: So what’s a typical day like for you?
HMQ: Well you know I just I wake up in the morning. There’s a typical mayhem in the morning of taking care of the children, making sure they’re ready for school and they’ve had their breakfast and everything.
OW: But you have help though right?
HMQ: Yeah I have some help. It’s you know there’s some things that only a mother can do. And then after they’re in school I go on to my email, check my Twitter, all that kind of thing. If I have the energy I’ll do a little bit of exercise.
OW: What do you Twitter about?
HMQ: All sorts of things. You’re on Twitter too.
OW: Yeah I know I’m on Twitter, but I don’t Twitter as much because I’m too busy to Twitter.
HMQ: Well I don’t know about you but I find that my online persona, my online self, I find it easier to get closer to people online than my real self, my virtual self can get closer to people more than my easier than my real self. Because I think people sometimes think of Queen as a title that’s shrouded with protocol and formality and for that reason sometimes people are just not easily saying what they want to say. They’re reluctant to express their opinions, and I kind of find that frustrating as I want to know what people really really think.
HMQ: And the great thing about being online is that it kind of demystifies who I am and what I do, it opens a window in to my life and it opens a window for me into other people’s lives so I can see what people are thinking, what the sentiment out there is all about, and it creates a space where titles mean little and people can just say what they want.
OW: And so that’s why it’s good for breaking down those kinds of barriers. But you know a lot of people Tweet about you know I just ate a sandwich.
HMQ: Right. Well you know you have, you know it’s great to have that personal and direct connection, but for me the fact that you can reach so many people, means that you can really, it changes the way that I work. So I can reach out, raise awareness and rally people around causes that I really care about. For example education, you know trying to bridge the divide between east and west. It’s a very useful tool. If you harness it in the right way you can really get a lot done.
OW: Last month Queen Rania hosted a fabulous event with a star studded guest list, Nicole Kidman, and Keith Urban, and Hugh Jackman (my favourite) and his family, and you took them to your favourite places in Jordan and you brought some personal pictures to show us. What are we looking at here?
HMQ: Well, oh this is against the backdrop of the Dead Sea which is the lowest point on earth with the highest oxygen content. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sunset as you can see. And it’s actually one of the only places in the world where it’s safe to tan. This is Petra, which is two thousand years old, carved out of red stone cliffs, it’s absolutely breathtaking, it’s one of the seven wonders of the world, magnificent place. And this is in Wadi Rum, which is a really breathtaking desert.
OW: And everybody got there by camel?
HMQ: Well. that was part of the tour. You know the great thing is not only are these sights so beautiful and you know...
OW: I can imagine all the camels are lined up outside, here we go, yeah.
HMQ: Yeah. So this is also on the, this is in Aqaba actually, which is if you know you want to get the beach and the sun. The great thing about Jordan is that you know it’s a small country but you get this diversity of experiences. And more than which you see, it’s a country that you can actually feel. You know when you go there you get a feel for the customs, you interact with the people, you get a feel for the traditions, and one thing that I hear from most of our guests that come is about the hospitality and the warmth of the people. And I think that this comes as a surprise to some people here because our region is always associated with conflict.
HMQ: But when people come to the Middle East, Jordan and other countries in the area, they’re always very surprised to see how warm the people are, and actually in Bedouin culture hospitality is the highest virtue there is. So we actually have an expression that says ‘A guest is a guest of God’ so we really take care of our guests. That’s very very important for us to make sure that they’re happy and relaxed. One thing I will warn you though, if you want to lose weight don’t come to the Middle East because you know we love our food and we love to feed our guests and that’s how we show our hospitality, Whether it’s Amman or Abu Dhabi or any part in the Middle East it’s just something I think people would really...
OW: My kind of place. Last July it was officially announced that Queen Rania’s oldest son, Prince Hussein, will be the heir to the throne, and I hear you had some mixed feelings about that at the time.
HMQ: Well you know as a Mum part of me wants him to just have a normal life and to just have the normal teenage experience and have friends and you know not have any pressure, but another part of me understands that by having the title he can learn more about the people, the problems and the protocol of our country without really being under too much pressure.
OW: When you have children who have everything, literally, and being born in a palace, and your father is King, and your mother is Queen, that is literally everything, and I know a lot of you here in this room have you know done well in your life and done better than your parents did, and it’s always a question for parents who have, how do you raise children who are kind, who are generous, who are thoughtful, who have ambition, who also are born to a lot?
HMQ: Well you know with my son I make sure that he understands that he at the end of the day needs to be a decent guy. You know people have to like him for who he is. He needs to be compassionate and inclusive. He needs to ....
OW: Isn’t it hard though when you’re King to say that people need to like you for who you are but if you have the King title everybody knows that. Isn’t it true, everybody knows that?
HMQ: But he, it’s important for him to know that. For him to know that he needs to, that people need to like him for who he is. That it’s important to be likeable, not be popular. Being popular comes when you have everything, but to be liked it means that you must be treating people with respect and you must be showing kindness towards them. So it’s important for me that he realise that and for him to realise that leadership is very important.
OW: That’s true.
HMQ: And leadership....
OW: Let me interrupt you because we have to go to break because we’re live. More with Queen Rania when we come back, we’ll be right back.
OW: So Queen Rania of Jordan is a hip, modern monarch. She has a blog, she has a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and has over a million followers on Twitter. I’m wondering what would you and the King do to like whoop it up for a night?
HMQ: Mostly it revolves around watching movies and you know just sitting around eating popcorn and catching the latest show. We really that’s the way to unwind.
OW: What have you seen that you love lately?
HMQ: Well Avatar was great.
OW: Wasn’t it great.
HMQ: Hurt Locker was great. Hurt Locker was filmed in Jordan actually. There have been quite a great movies.
OW: Okay, okay, so if you’re going to pig out what would you be eating? You don’t look like you pig out ever.
HMQ: I actually do. You know I love my chocolate, I love like peanut butter and jelly which we’re going to be talking about, I love hoummous, I have quite a good appetite. I’m not a picky eater.
OW: Not a picky eater. But Queen Rania’s new children’s book is called The Sandwich Swap and it’s the story of two little girls who learn a lesson in tolerance when they swap sandwiches and the story that you wrote for The Sandwich Swap actually comes from your own childhood. Tell us about that.
HMQ: That’s right. Well sadly in ten, next year is going to be ten years since 9/11, and I still feel that you know that was a horrible day, it was a day that rocked the United States but it also shook humanity. And I think we’re still suffering from the aftershock. There was the physical stuff that we saw, the destruction, the death that we saw. But there was the invisible stuff, the fear that entered our hearts, the mistrust that we now feel when we see new places or new faces, the suspicion that informs our decisions. You know all of a sudden people, whether it’s different clothes, customs or cuisines, suddenly anybody who was different became much more visible. And I think that’s one of the cruelest legacies of that day because it changed our world, and it changed the relationship between east and west. At the time I had just, I had newly become Queen, and I was just feeling my way through, and then all of a sudden I was bombarded with a barrage of questions from all sides. Some inquisitive, but most angry. You know, ‘Why do they hate us?’, ‘Why do they adopt jihad against us?’, ‘Why do they adopt crusade against us?’, ‘Why does she cover her head?’, ‘Why am I judged according to my hijab?’. All those questions. And it made me realise that there’s such a lack of understanding between both sides. And when I tried to think of my own life, and the fact that I could transition between east and west so easily, probably stemmed from the fact that I had a multicultural upbringing without even realising it you know. I went to...
OW: And you had an incident with a peanut butter sandwich.
HMQ: I went to an international school, and I used to go everyday, and at lunchtime I would proudly open my lunchbox and find my hoummous sandwich which my mother made every day with lots of love, and you know there’s a dependable, tasty texture.
OW: Tell us what that is, hoummous?
HMQ: Hoummous is a paste made out of chickpeas and tahine and you put some garlic and olive oil with it, and it’s just a great thing to eat.
OW: I like using it like a dip, but okay.
HMQ: It’s a great dip. And it’s a great thing to eat if you just don’t want to be eating meat for a while you know. Very healthy. So I unpack my sandwich and the girl sitting next to me she is eating something that I thought looked horrible. It was just this gooey, pasty,...
OW: Brown stuff.
HMQ: ...brown, purply stuff. And I really felt sorry for her. And then I thought poor girl she doesn’t have my delicious hoummous sandwich. So one day she offered me to take a bite and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I kind of scrunched up my face, closed my eyes and took a bite. And then I wanted to take another bite just to make sure that I liked it. And then another, and that’s when my love affair with peanut butter started.
OW: Peanut butter and jelly.
HMQ: You know I was five years old so it’s not like I drew any conscious lessons, but on a subconscious level I think I understood that I shouldn’t fear the unknown. That I shouldn’t judge something without trying it. That wonderful things can be found in the strangest of places, and from that time onwards I stopped second guessing diversity but started embracing it. You know differences became part of the turf, adding texture and colour to one’s life.
OW: So one of the interesting things about this little story The Sandwich Swap, the girls are in the lunch room and one does have that moment when she looks at the other sandwich and looks at the other sandwich and before you know it they start calling each other names, not just about the sandwich but about other things.
OW: You know, you ......, you know.
HMQ: The animosity arises and you know for me that’s a metaphor for what’s happened between east and west. There is so much animosity.
OW: And the sandwiches are also a metaphor for what can happen.
OW: The bringing together of peanut butter and hoummous.
HMQ: And it’s a decision that us as adults have to make you know. If we keep, you know, if we don’t look each other in the eye, then if we keep our backs to each other then we’re never going to see face to face and I think that that’s a tragedy and we all stand to lose by that so I just hope that we can just... When something as terrible as a terrorist attack happens you can either let the fear take over and close your heart off or you can open yourself up and face new truths and learn more. And your life can be enriched when you do that.
OW: You seem so wise and you’re not even forty.
HMQ: I’m actually almost forty.
OW: Almost forty.
HMQ: Which I haven’t gotten my head around. I still feel like I’m a kid inside.
OW: And you always will. That’s the thing as you get older. Let me just tell you. It’s just a number.
HMQ: I mean one day the lines crept on my face when I wasn’t looking and you know like now when I go to the department stores and the saleswoman is like ‘you want to try this anti wrinkle cream?’ I’m like ‘who’s she talking to, she must be talking to somebody else.’ And then when my kids cousins come over to the house and they’re taller than I am and they’re calling me Aunty Rania and I’m like who are you going around calling Aunty? I’m not old enough to be anybody’s Aunty, except I am.
OW: Are you looking forward to turning forty or is it a little, you’re apprehensive?
HMQ: Well let me tell you something popular culture has us believe, I mean generally we’re programmed to believe that time is the enemy, that it takes away from us, that it diminishes us. I’ve found that it’s done the opposite to me. Life is in perfect balance it’s just that our perception of it isn’t. With time I’ve found that I have more confidence, I’m more sure-footed, things don’t phase me anymore.
HMQ: I can put things in perspective much more. I don’t fret over the small things.
OW: Yep. Let me just tell you Your Majesty, let me just tell you that when you turn forty something happens to you. All this confidence that you’re feeling now, it’s only going to get better.
HMQ: I hope so.
OW: Yes, I guarantee it.
HMQ: I’m looking forward to the journey.
OW: You become more of yourself.
HMQ: And I really want to debunk the whole culture of ageing is bad. I think instead of trying to fight it I want to work harder on accepting it and enjoying it because there’s so much to gain.
OW: Well you’re making forty look really good.
HMQ: Thank you.
OW: Her Majesty has agreed to sign our No Phone Zone pledge. She will be our first Queen to sign the pledge. And I’m going to sign, I am signing your One Goal petition for education because I deeply believe that when you especially save a girl’s life and educate a girl, you educate a community, so thank you so much.
HMQ: Absolutely, absolutely.
OW: Thank you. What a pleasure to have you here again, thank you. Queen Rania’s book, The Sandwich Swap, is in the bookstores now. We’ll be right back. Thank you. Thank you.
Queen Rania's official website
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