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 – XVI. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Food (1 of 18)

You (a fictional American official stationed in Cairo during World War II) are walking in the direction of Khantaret Ghamra with Malaka Nazli at your back. (Queen Nazli was the wife of King Fuad). Keep walking until you reach the tracks of the tramway (streetcar). Right after you cross the rails, on your right, you will see two buildings: 12B and 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra. Enter 12A, ignore the ground floor, and take the stairs to the second floor. You will notice that there are two apartments per floor, knock on the door to your right. You’re a stranger, but no matter, we are hospitable, we will be glad to welcome you.

Nobody will ask you why you didn’t call; few people at the time had phones; you had to be well-to-do, and well-connected, to have one.

You only speak English? No problems, my dad, Nessim, speaks some English. My nonna Bida will mutter something in Arabic, she will say, “Rabena yefhamak” (only God can understand you!).

Our home is relatively small compared to other houses. My mother had a predilection for the small and cozy. Indeed, the building had two types of apartments, the second type being somewhat larger, she rented the small one. It wasn’t a question of cost since the rent was ridiculously low: 2 Egyptian Pounds and change (at the time an Egyptian Pound was more or less equivalent to 5 U.S. Dollars).

My dad is quizzing you on the ongoing war, and on life “In America,” when my mother calls him. It’s your chance to quietly look at the house.

You’re in a small living room, and it is surrounded by 3 rooms. If you face the street, you’ll have on the right my parent’s bedroom; on the left is a small dining room; next to it is another larger and nicer dining room; a table, with our best china and cutlery, is set-up there, for we are expecting guests. By the way, you’ve also been invited. It would be very rude to refuse. You will also deprive them of the opportunity of saying that they had “An American” for lunch.

If you could explore the house further, go through a corridor where to your right you will come across a W.C. (Water Closet or toilet); next to it is a bathroom which is separate from the W.C., as it serves as a large laundry room.  All laundry was washed in a tub by hand.  In between the two, in the corridor itself, is a sink and tap, one tap only; hot and cold water would have been a pipe dream for us!

Further on is a small kitchen where my mother, my grandmother, and the maid are deep in an Arabic conversation. My father has been summoned to this kitchen meeting. French is now intermingled with the rapid fire Arabic. The topic of the conference: what do we serve the American? There is a variety of dishes, and he is sure to like them. After all, who wouldn’t like Egyptian food? But there is a small problem.

You are still on your own and you can now pay attention to the furniture. The house is nicely furnished with the kind of furniture that will last long after you’ve gone to your reward. It is also tastefully decorated.

My dad, eventually emerges from the kitchen. He runs the menu by you: there is cold cooked fish as an appetizer, a defina (more on that dish later), and chicken and potatoes. He stresses that everything is delicious, but strongly advises against the defina, you would find it very heavy. You, needless to say, will take his advice.

The guests eventually arrive, a young man and his fiancee. The young lady speaks no English. The young man supposedly speaks some English. It turns out that he speaks a badly mangled English, to the point that it’s comical. You have a difficult time keeping a straight face. Nessim eventually saves you when he asks him to lay off the English; he will do the translation.

Now you may not know any French, but remember this phrase: “a table.” It means dinner is served. You will sample some of the Egyptian cuisine; there are a large variety of dishes. So let us talk of the different aspects of food, starting with its variety.

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