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 – VI. My Early Childhood – Rue Tour Sina (1 of 3)

My mother left Alexandria very reluctantly.  She never really liked Cairo.  She missed her family, her job, her friends, the beach, and above all the cosmopolitan atmosphere of her native city.

Early on, Nessim and Flora struck a deal.  Flora wanted, every year, to spend two months in the summer in Alexandria.  Nessim readily consented.

(Years later, when I expressed to my dad regrets over the fact that we left him alone in Cairo during the hottest months, he told me in no uncertain terms that he loved this period for he could revert again to the life of a single young man.  He ate by his mother.  He also spent part of his time with her, with his sister Angele, and his brother Joseph.  The three lived in the same house.

His family did not limit him in any way; he was a single and carefree young man again.  And he loved it; for he could do whatever pleased him.  Of course, what pleased him the most was to gamble.  To his credit, he was always reasonable and never lost his shirt).

Besides consenting eagerly to the aforementioned Alexandria vacations, my father told his young bride that they would not live in Cairo proper.  He intended to rent an apartment in Heliopolis.

And so it was that my mother started her married life in this beautiful suburb.  And she loved it.

But nothing stays the same in life.  The day came when she had to leave a place she liked so much.  She had to move to Cairo.  There was a terrible war in Europe, and even though in Egypt we were largely unaffected, this tragic event could not be ignored.

I was only four when my parents told me that we had to move.  I was old enough to know somehow that I was leaving behind a familiar and pleasant environment.  Apparently, I cried, stomped my little feet, and otherwise raised Cain.  I was eventually consoled.  It took longer for my parents to be consoled.  However, there was no choice in the matter.  Why did we leave Heliopolis and where did we go?

The Germans intended to establish a global empire.  Early in the war, many Europeans countries were occupied by the Nazis.  At the time of this account, they (the Germans) were already in North Africa; and slowly but surely Marshall Rommel was getting ready to attack Egypt.  The fateful battle eventually took place in El Alamein, an Egyptian town on the Mediterranean 70 miles west of Alexandria.  I will talk about that later.  For now, I am focusing on Alexandria, the city where my mother’s family lived.  A family who was getting increasingly worried by the fact that the war was getting closer and closer to them.  It was accepted wisdom at that time that if you can get out of Alexandria, and go to Cairo, then you should do it.

The family consisted of:  My mother’s brother, Maurice, his wife Renee, and their two children Michael and Gaston.  My grandmother Bida and aunt Rachel also lived with them.  My mother also had a sister, Linda, her husband was Vita, and they had five children.

Uncle Maurice was a businessman, and he had done well.  He felt that he could conduct his business even if he lived in Cairo.  Uncle Vita was also a businessman.  For him, however, the option of going to Cairo, and still be able to make a living, was not open.  Therefore, despite the danger, he stayed in Alexandria.  His family refused to go to Cairo without him.  Ultimately, that meant that only Maurice and his household would come to Cairo, a total of 6 people.

The Heliopolis apartment was small.  When Maurice notified my parents that he was coming to Cairo with his family, it became obvious to them that they needed to rent a larger apartment.

My paternal grandparents lived in a huge apartment on Rue (street) Tour Sina  (Tour Sina means Mount Sinai).  As luck would have it, there was a vacant apartment right next to them.  Without further delay, my parents went to Cairo and rented it.  We now had enough space to receive the Alexandria family.  An added advantage was that in a crunch, some of us could sleep by my grandparents.

Sometime in 1940, uncle Maurice and his family joined us in the Rue Tour Sina apartment.  A new chapter in my young life had just started.

I was not told much regarding the daily routine.  I imagine that with 9 people living under one roof, there must have been a fair amount of tension.  Of more relevance are the events that unfolded during those fateful years.

My dad lost his job at the bank.  We were Italian nationals; Italy was a member of the axis; and Italians therefore were considered as enemies.  While this turn of events created a difficult situation, we never considered it as a catastrophe.

My mother – an outstanding money manager – had managed to  squirrel away, from the monthly budget, a substantial amount of money.  Enough to see us through a long period of time.  But uncle Maurice stated in no uncertain terms that from now on he would be responsible for the expenses of the household.  Under no circumstances, was my mother to touch any of her savings.

For many years, Nessim had dreamed of having his own business, of being his own master.  The bank had given him a generous severance pay.  Therefore, he now had the required capital for a business.  His brother-in-law, Maurice, encouraged him to go in this direction.  Maurice had been in business for many years.  My dad could therefore draw on his experience both at the planning stage, and later when the business was established.

Accordingly, Nessim quizzed Maurice for hours on end.  There were long discussions.  My father was a meticulous and careful man.  He didn’t believe in flying blind.  When that process was completed, my dad had taken his decision:  He would start his own business.

The next questions were:  What kind of business and where can he find an adequate partner?  It was accepted wisdom in those days that you shared the responsibilities of a business with one or more partners.  Running a business by yourself was a very difficult endeavor.  Besides, Nessim needed additional capital.

Three people kept their ear to the ground:  Nessim, Maurice, and Joseph (my father’s brother).  They eventually found a man, Maurice Kaire, who was also seriously considering going into business.  Maurice had experience in the wholesale business of China and other household articles.

This potential partner, however, had very little money.  Nevertheless, he told dad that he was on the lookout for a suitable bride with a sizable dowry.  And this dowry was going to be his capital.  Dad consented.  It was time to enter the planning stage.  And this part of the project started with frank discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of each.  Nessim, after working for a bank for many years, was bringing a wealth of administrative experience; Maurice, on the other hand, was well acquainted with the China business.

I will talk at length about my father’s business in a subsequent section.  Suffice to say here that Maurice did marry, and did receive a substantial dowry.  And they both went on to establish a successful business.

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