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 – CVI. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Strolling Through The Streets of Cairo (2 of 5)

Cairo’s streets were narrow, dusty, dirty, but, oh, so lively.

Main thoroughfares and downtown streets were wide as befits a city like Cairo. The rest was a different story. The sidewalks were narrow, the roads had barely enough space for 2 cars coming from opposite directions. A four-lane road (highway) is something I never knew existed until I left Egypt! But the main problem were the pushcarts used by the different street vendors, two-wheeler carts pulled by a donkey, and the four- wheeler carriages pulled by one or two horses. The latter generally transported goods from one place to another, they were the “trucks” of Cairo.

And then we had the hara. What on Earth is a hara? It’s a dusty, generally very dirty, passage between two structures (buildings, stores, etc.). Not all haras were created equal. Some were so dirty and muddy, you only walked through them if you absolutely had to; others were, in relative terms, clean. For instance, between 12B Rue Khantaret Ghamra, and the makwagi (dry cleaner) was a relatively clean hara; if necessary, I used it to cut through. Across the street was a filthy hara; I only entered it when I was send to buy baladi bread, for that is where the bakery was. It was a very long hara, and I did walk through it once. What I saw were dilapidated houses where very poor people lived; I never, of course, entered any of them, but I can assure you that you wouldn’t even put a dog there; and yet, that is where many Egyptians lived – if they were lucky, for many were simply homeless.

The hara begat many appellations. Bab el hara means the door of the hara, but, of course, the hara has no door! It simply meant the beginning of the hara. But wait, some haras had two entrances; if you lived there (or close by) you knew which entrance was the “door.” If not, you simply asked.

There were no street numbers in a hara, indeed the hara itself had no name except for an unofficial one bestowed by the people in the area. So if you’re not a son of this hara, how do you find your way? Enter Sheik-El-Hara.

Sheik-El-Hara is a person who knows everything about a given hara. To be more precise he is familiar with a given area of the city. Our area had one, and although I never met this gentleman, I am sure dad knew him. The Sheik functions in an unofficial capacity, it’s a volunteer position, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get paid. If you need an information, you had to be ready to pay a bakshish. And it was generally worth it, for his knowledge of the area and its inhabitants was encyclopedic.

The Sheik is not expected to know every household, especially for a large hara (area). So how do you find a person if, say, he or she has received an important letter? I’ll tell you if you promise not to laugh! (What will follow is the honest truth, but, of course, you retain the right to disbelieve me).

A town crier was hired. He went through the hara with a big bell calling that person. For instance, he will yell at the top of his lungs: “Said Younes El A’rbagi (coachman), you have a letter from South America from your sister Nahama.” Sooner or later a person who knows Younes will take the crier to the right house. The crier, even though he was paid for this service, will expect a bakshish from Younes. Once he delivers the letter, he is generally not finished. Chances are Younes is illiterate and he will ask the crier to read him the letter. Another bakshish. If there a response, the crier generally does not attend to that. Younes will need to go to a khateb who will write to Nahama in South America.

These “professionals” can be found at a nearby post office branch; they sit at small desks with an inkpot, steel pen, and papers. They will write the response, but first the price is negotiated; since this is a service, the original price agreed upon never holds!

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