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 – Canada – CCCXXIII. Difficult Beginnings (6 of 15)

Anybody that crossed my path during my life enriched me in some way.  Some stand taller than other; and some were very special; in this last category, Fouad stands alone.  He was a friend, an adviser, and the voice of reason during that turbulent period in my life.  He was a few years older than me; but even more important, was the fact that he was a pragmatic person with his feet firmly planted on the ground.

As previously mentioned, Fouad was an Israeli who came from Iraq at a young age.

We rarely called Fouad by his actual name; the people who knew him mostly called him Foufou; and that indeed is how he preferred to be called.

Foufou did not consider the apartment as ideal; it was more a question that it will do for the time being.  As for the furniture he clearly stated that it has seen better days; I had to agree with him, but I told him to keep in mind that we had received it free of charge.

Foufou worked as a knitter; he designed and knitted men`s socks.  It was hard work, required a special aptitude and, accordingly was well paid.  Foufou`s favorite saying was:  “If you’re willing to break your back, you will always find work!”  At times, he had to work overtime to complete a rush order.  He tolerated the hard work, but felt he was not being paid adequately.  More than once he requested a raise, but the owner cried poverty and the great difficulty he had in meeting the payroll every Friday.  Eventually, Foufou tendered his resignation, but the owner refused to accept it.  The argument between them went something like that:

Foufou:  I am sorry, but I am leaving at the end of next week; ma’al salama (go in peace, meant as goodbye).

Owner:  “You don’t understand; this is Canada, things are different.”

Foufou:  “Canada work without money; a’ ma fe a’nak.”

Foufou inserted Arabic expressions in his conversation; but I sure hope he didn’t translate the last one for it means:  “May you go blind!”  (Of course it’s an insult and is not usually meant literally).

The good news is that the owner came around and agreed to increase his pay.

Before leaving Israel, my mother insisted that I sit down with her and write some recipes.  “No,” I said, “I’ll be going to Canada and will eat steak every day!”  Eventually, I realized that this was an absurd response, and took a number of recipes with me.  Indeed, I later wrote to her when I needed a recipe for a particular dish (or dishes).

What I am trying to say was that I learned to cook.  It was just edible at the beginning, but got better with experience.

If Foufou, came from work tired, I asked him to help himself to what I had prepared on that day; and he often took me up on my offer; but he insisted to pay the whole cost of that particular meal.  That was fine by me, for I was closely watching my dollars, and a free meal was welcome.  And that was not the only benefit I derived.  Foufou was a fine cook (not a beginner like me), and offered many suggestions to improve my cuisine; some of them I use to the present day.

One night, Foufou looked critically at the house (which had one bedroom with two beds shared by Foufou and I, and a living room that included a table, two chairs, and a ratty couch) and said, “why don’t we take an extra roommate that can share the rent; he can sleep in the living room; we can get rid of the couch, and replace it with a bed.”

And so it was.  We went looking for a used bed and wind up buying two; the second one was a folding bed that we set aside for a potential guest.

This proved to be a wise move since Robert and his wife Margot arrived from Israel shortly thereafter; thus we were able to welcome them in our humble abode.

When Robert moved into his own apartment, it was time to look for a roommate; and here, there were two (Israelis) candidates:  Joseph or his brother Emile.

Joseph (and here Foufou gave him a musical nickname:  Ha JaJo) was a funny character, let me give you a few examples.

He would borrow money from Foufou; and when the time came to repay, he would tell him, “mi efou ani avi lekhah?” (From where do you expect me to get that money?); and without fail he would put his hand in his pocket and angrily hand him the money.

He audited some courses in university, and proudly proclaimed that he was a student; all efforts by Foufou and other people to dissuade that he was not a bona fide student were in vain.

At the end we went with Emile, simply because ha jajo was unemployed; Emile, on the other hand drove a taxi, and had a steady income.  Alas, that partnership proved of short duration.  Emile was not willing to do his share of the cleaning since he worked long hours; we accepted his reasoning and did the household chores in his stead.  But there was another problem.  He helped himself to our food and offered to pay; and pay he did – generously!  We also worked hard, and were not willing to shop and cook for him, long hours notwithstanding.  Did I forget to mention that he was a hearty eater and loved our cooking?  Eventually, there was an incident that forced us to give him his walking papers.

On that day, I had cooked lamb in a cumin and garlic sauce.  I left it on the stove and went out for a long walk.  Big mistake.  When I came back, Foufou gave me the bad news.  It seems that Emile sampled a piece of lamb and declared that it was absolutely delicious; he tried again, perhaps to ascertain that he got it right the first time around!  By now, I am sure you get the picture.  One piece followed another, and another.  Eventually, he left enough for me to have a small supper.  He apologized profusely, and held a wad of bills in his hands.  I accepted his apologies and, of course, the money!  But that proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  We remained friends with him and ha jajo.

I can forget many people that came into my life; but our next roommate, Alfred, I never will.

Alfred was not Israeli; he had just come from Egypt.  He was learned person and had a good job back home.  He had taken accounting courses, and worked as an accountant for many years; thus he had no problems securing a good job in Canada.

Alfred talked of doing many things with me, but was totally unreliable.  He can arrange to, say, meet me after work to go to a restaurant, but he may or may not show up.  He had a large inventory of excuses, and they made perfect sense – until I got to know him better.

He was very well versed in the Talmud and the Zohar, and a discussion with him was definitely thought-provoking.  In time though, I had a strong suspicion that some of his “information” was made up.  Put another, yes, he was well versed in religious matters, but tried to come across as a gaon (a wise man in matters of religion).

I still remember his fierce arguments with Foufou related to the afterlife. Alfred expounding on the evidence supporting the survival of the human soul; and Foufou replying that humans have invented these fables because they were afraid to die.

The cherry on the cake was the fact that Alfred, to fit into the Israeli group, spoke in Hebrew, and he did know Hebrew, but it was the Biblical Hebrew, very different from the modern one.  Simply put:  His Hebrew was hilarious; he sounded like the prophets of old!

If I was with him on the bus, he would comment on Canada and Canadian in French.  He felt somehow that the crowd around him would not understand him – in Québec, a French province!

Alfred eventually disappeared from my life, only to resurface a few years later.  I was already married and the father of two children.  One night we got a phone call; it was Alfred; he had located us in the phone directory; he wanted to say hello, and introduce us to his wife; he had gone to Israel, and had recently married.  And so we invited him for supper, and we all had a great time.  Before leaving, he extended an invitation to go to a nice restaurant in Place Ville Marie; his treat. Of course, we accepted.

I warned Norma that he may not show up.  And sure enough, we waited and waited in a drafty street corner.  No Alfred.  We did go to the restaurant after all and had a wonderful evening.

The good news was that Alfred disappeared from my life; this time for good.

Subsequent events forced us to leave the apartment on Côte des Neiges.  I will come back to that, but first let me tell you what we did to entertain ourselves.

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