Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – II. A Love Story (1 of 2)

In the summer of 1934, a 24-year-old man from Cairo came to Alexandria for a weekend.  This was not his first weekend, nor indeed the first year he was traveling between the two cities.  He was not in Alexandria to escape the stifling heat of Cairo, or to enjoy a day at the beach where he could flirt with the modestly-clad bathing beauties.  He was in Alexandria to attend the races (they switched from Cairo to Alexandria in the summer).

This weekend proved to be different though.  He was accompanied by his friend, Joseph.  They were at the track for different reasons.  While the young man in question loved gambling, Joseph was very fond of horses.

At the end of the races, Joseph informed his friend that they have been invited by his aunt, Bida, for supper.  An Egyptian invitation cannot be turned down; it would have been very rude to refuse.  As well, Joseph let it slip that his aunt had a very attractive daughter.  Therefore, he accepted the invitation.

And so it was that Nessim, the man who would one day be my father, met Flora, the woman who would one day be my mother.

As is the custom in Egypt, when a story is told and retold, it becomes greatly exaggerated.  After trying to remove all the extraneous layers, this is my understanding of what happened during that fateful period.

Nessim was smitten by Flora  He admitted that to me more than once, but was always quick to add that she could be an exasperating woman.  My mother also liked him and told me as much.  Again, it was told in the context of my father being a very difficult man to live with.  Those confessions happened much later.  So let’s come back to the present.

Nessim and Joseph continued to come to Alexandria, for by now, things were beginning to take a serious turn.  As custom dictated, the consent of my maternal grandmother, Bida, was needed.  Joseph approached his aunt, and she in turn, talked to her daughter.  Flora was agreeable, but was concerned because Nessim was a gambler.  Could he change his ways?  Nessim was willing to do so.  And so the way was opened for a formal engagement.

The Alexandria clan (Bida and her son, Maurice, her husband, Michael having passed away a few years ago) were satisfied  with the fact that Nessim had a good job at a bank.  The dowry the future bride would give was discussed and agreed upon.  The fact that she would have to live in Cairo was accepted, albeit reluctantly.

On the Cairo front details were discussed and satisfaction expressed by Nessim’s parents:  His father Zaki (Isaac) and his mother Helene.

The families met and liked each other; and the wedding took place in the spring of 1935 (I don’t know exactly when).  The stage was now set for me to make my grand entrance.  I would be followed many years later by my brother Robert.

Before I move on to my birth, a few additional details should be added.

How did my family look at the time?

I am relying on old pictures and how I remember them when I was old enough (around 8 or 9).

There is one professional picture of my mother.  She looked tall, but that’s because she wore heels and stood on a platform; in reality, she was of average height.  Her face was round with well proportioned features.  She had the hint of a smile.  As a child, what I didn’t like about that photo was that my mother looked “old-fashioned!”

She had the flapper look which was born in the 1920s:  a liberated attitude, a flapper round hat, a calf-long dress, heavy make-up, and a thin silhouette.

For a long time (centuries really) thin wasn’t in.  Men valued shapely, soft, and rounded women.  However, around that time, the thin look was beginning to get prized.

While my mother was thin when she was engaged, she didn’t stay like that for long.  She put on weight during her pregnancy with me and never lost it.  Her constant yo-yo dieting over the years made matters worse.

My dad was a slight man, very thin, and somewhat short.  He had a long nose with features that were not well proportioned. Most of the time he looked preoccupied, and indeed he was a worrier.  Make no mistake about it though, physically, he was a catch!  He had the Humphrey Bogart looks that women loved.  (I can’t see today a movie with that legendary actor without remembering my dad).  He stayed thin throughout his life.

Nessim had a great sense of humor, but rarely laughed heartily; mostly I remember a half-smile when something amused him.

As well, he rarely looked relaxed.  However, he was at peace with the world in two instances:  when he was reading, and when he was playing poker (even if he was losing).

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