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 – CVII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Strolling Through The Streets of Cairo (3 of 5)

I said that Cairo was dusty; the reason is that it is close to the desert. It’s a short drive from downtown Cairo to the pyramids in Giza; and once in Giza, you’re already in the desert. The municipality, and stores along the streets, hosed down the roads and sidewalks, but it was a constant battle, for because of the heat, the water quickly evaporated.

Cairo was dirty because people threw a lot of garbage on the street. Here again, the municipality cleaned the streets, and again, it was a never-ending struggle. There were numerous campaigns urging the people to put their trash in the proper rubbish bins, but it was like preaching in the desert!

But garbage was the least of Cairo’s problems. It was not uncommon to see men (never women) relieving themselves on the sidewalk; they would lift their galabayeh (the ample robe they wear) and either “hose” the sidewalk, or simply crouch and eventually leave a substantial “deposit.” The humans were joined in their “efforts” by the numerous donkeys and horses. They in turn left numerous unsightly piles on the road. How bad was the problem? Let’s take the horses as an example. “The scoop on horses’ poop” follows.

An average horse of 1000 pounds, will have from 8 to 12 “bowel movements” a day. Put another way he produces approximately 50 pounds of manure in a 24-hour period. The liquid side of the equation is about 2 gallons of urine per day. The “silver lining” here is that, as a general rule, horse manure is not smelly, and does not carry diseases. It is also 75% water. Cars going by flattened the excrement, and after a few days, only a bit of straw-like material was left. But of course this was a continuous cycle, a mess that never went away.

The moral of the story: You carefully watched where you stepped when walking in Cairo.

Additional aspects: Most people were so poor, they couldn’t afford shoes, and they went barefoot. The children were often partially clothed. Only when there was a mouled (fair for a major holiday) did most people dress properly.

Despite these adverse conditions, I did walk a lot, and believe me it was worth it; for Cairo was (and still is) a place where the show never stops.

In every nook where you could locate a coffee-house, rest assured that one will be there. There you can order coffee or tea and a chicha (water pipe). Men can sit there for hours and talk while enjoying their beverage and drawing on their chicha. More often than not though they played tawla (backgammon) or dominoes. On occasions, they played chatarang (chess).

It was not uncommon for them, as I walked by, to call me to arbitrate a disputed point in the rules. When I protested, and told them that I was only a child, they countered that I was a smart and well-educated khawaga. One way or another, I was never going to take sides, that would have been foolish. I diplomatically told them that they were harifa (professionals) and were far better versed in the rules of the game than I was. In time, I learned to profess total ignorance; my parents did not allow me to play those games (not true, I played the above mentioned three games) and therefore I knew nothing regarding the rules.

Next to our house was a big coffee house where my father and the neighbors went. It had a huge outdoor terrace and it was simply called Le Casino. I loved to go there with my elders, order a helw awi (very sweet) Turkish coffee, and observe the adults play shesh-besh (another name for backgammon). Each throw of the dice was given a funny name by the players, but after all those years, I do not remember any.

Right across from Le Casino was a milk bar called Astra. Astra was supposedly a more refined meeting place in our area. I do not recollect what you could order there except for their sublime chocolate milk with ice-cream (similar to a shake here). The patrons could be businessmen, young people on a date, or simply a group of people seeking to relax in a more “refined” environment. Late at night, Astra came into its own, it became a place for a discreet rendez-vous; if you had a young family, this was not the time to bring the children there!

When I was in university, I went to coffee houses with fellow students and always ordered a chai fort. It’s a tea where honey is placed at the bottom of a special pot, and the tea cooked there. The taste was unique, I have never tasted anything like it since.

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