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 – CX. Alexandria – My Maternal Family (1 of 5)

The city that Alexander the Great founded many centuries ago has received many complimentary appellations; for me though, as a child, it was simply an enchanted city. The moment I arrived in Alexandria and breathed the salty and algae-laden air, I felt intoxicated and fell under a spell which would not be lifted until my summer vacations ended two months later.

To talk about the magic that was Alexandria, what better place to start than to introduce the relatives who made our holidays unforgettable. As it happens, most of my maternal family lived there. So, let us go and meet them one at a time.

Nonna Bida

In the course of this narrative, I had numerous occasions to talk of my beloved grandmother, mostly though in the context of her long winter stay in our house. Here, my reminiscing is in an Alexandrian context. I am also recapitulating some of the previously mentioned details.

My grandmother was widowed at a relatively young age. Since she had only one son – all the rest were daughters – it was a given that he would support her, and that she would live in his household. In effect, she shared her time between our home, and her son’s house.

There is a difference in the memories I have of her in Cairo, and the ones in Alexandria.

From an early age, in Alexandria, she took upon herself the responsibility of making my stay as agreeable as possible. Actually, let’s call things by their name, she spoiled me! Because of this, she was accused of favoring me. But I doubt that; she was a loving person capable of loving all the numerous grandchildren God had blessed her with. Love cannot be measured, or at least it should not be.

Whether it was Cairo or Alexandria, Bida made herself useful. She cooked, supervised the domestic help, and assisted in the upbringing of her grandchildren.

Victoria had a proverb(s) for virtually all of life’s circumstances. She also had numerous stories. In subsequent parts, I will provide you with some of her proverbs and stories.

When she baby-sat us (my cousins Michael and Gaston, Robert, and myself) we would ask her to tell us some ma’asot (it means happenings; they are actually stories with a moral). And she did it willingly. Of course, since she didn’t know an infinite number of stories, some of those tales were repeated over and over again. And we loved it, for she had always a way of changing the nuances every time.

Another treat was when an Arabic movie was broadcasted. We would all gather around the radio and followed the movie. We would hear the dialogues, the singing, and the voice of the announcer quietly describing the action. He would for instance say, “she just opened the door and …” or, “you should see Samia Gamal dancing, truly she is in a class of her own.” At the end of the movie, he would urge his listeners to go see it; and my grandmother, most of the time, did just that. There was a charm in a broadcasted movie that cannot be duplicated in a telecasted one.

I said that nonna Bida spoiled me. Let me tell you of a scene I made when I was 8. Really, the incident is a testimony of the love of a grandmother for her grandson rather than a matter of merely spoiling him.

The previous week, I had gone with aunt Rachel and my cousins to the cinema. Before the movie, they showed a trailer of the upcoming program. No less than “Lassie Come Home” was coming. I made a mental note of the day and time, and was determined to see it as soon as it came out.

On that fateful day, I woke up and announced that I had to see that movie pronto. Fine, we could all go and see it tonight. Nothing doing, I had to attend the matinee. Here was the whole family ready to head to the beach except for aunt Rachel who was busy preparing the lunch. Who the hell was going to take me? Faced with a hysteric child, Bida volunteered.

Consider the following: The cinema was not air-conditioned; during the evening, the exit doors were opened, but during the day, it was hot as hell. Few people bother going for the matinee. How exciting can a doggie movie be for my grandmother? To add insult to injury, she neither understood English nor could she read the subtitles in Arabic or French.

But she did dress, put on her habara (the wrap-around) and spent the afternoon in a stifling theater, instead of at the beach.

Her stay in Cairo was one where there was little friction with the other members of the family. She occasionally had a tiff with Fola, but almost never with Nisso. Not so in Alexandria.

Maurice’s house was small; there was his wife, Renee, 3 children, Rachel, Bida, and 2 servants. Therefore, tension and occasional scenes were inevitable. Add to that the fact that uncle Maurice was stressed since he run a demanding business, and you can appreciate that the household, at times, could be quite strained.

A comparison of the life of my two grandmothers is called for.

Victoria did not have any financial responsibilities. Indeed, uncle Maurice gave her a generous spending allowance and any money she needed for clothing and other items. Yet, once her husband passed away, she never had a home she could call her own. She had to adapt to various family circumstances, not always an easy thing.

Helene had a huge apartment that she shared with only two other people, Angele and Joseph. She had a lot of freedom as to how to run her household, it was her own domain. Yet, her financial plight was the stuff of nightmares. How often did she cry when again and again she could not balance her budget and had to buy her food on credit?

During most of my life, I considered nonna Bida as being the lucky one. Today, I realize that both – in different ways – had a hard life (after they lost their spouses). If I learned anything, it is that life is never easy. We all, in one way or another, travel down a rocky road.

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