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 – CXII. Alexandria – My Maternal Family (3 of 5)

Uncle Maurice

When he was a young lad, his dad used to tell him in his heavily accented Arabic (he emigrated from Poland), “you Maurice will be a gazmagi (shoe repair-man)!” A weird psychology no doubt intended to spur him to do well in life. But it was certainly not conducive to lift his self-esteem. A child development expert would cringe if he heard that.

But Maurice did very well indeed, surely no thanks to nonno Michael’s reverse psychology!

I am proud of all the members of my family, but in my mind, oncle Maurice holds a very special place. He was an astute and self-confident businessman. He always tried to expand his horizons. God knows he had his flaws, but his attributes far outweighed his shortcomings. He was generous to a fault, hospitable, and always willing to help financially or otherwise. I know that dad had, over the years, long talks with him about his business and other matters. Nisso was comfortable with Morsi (his nickname) and consulted him when he had a difficult business decision to take.

Morsi was in the schmati (textiles and clothing) business. His company was located in the old section of Alexandria, and I understand he had one or more partners, and at least two salesmen. He also had one other employee. All were treated well by Khawaga Maurice, and received generous bonuses when there were holidays.

Early in his career, uncle Maurice moved into a house on Rue Hehia. From that point on, his business took off. Being a superstitious person, he never consented to move out of his apartment, this despite the fact that it was too small, and over time became grossly inadequate for his growing family.

Maurice was a firm believer in the teachings of Dale Carnegie (I believe his books were the first self-help books). If you’re from my generation, you will instantly recognize the name; if not, let me give you a tip, read his books, his advice is still relevant today.

Dale Carnegie (not to be confused with Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist and philanthropist extraordinaire) was a writer who was born in 1888 and died in 1955 at the age of 66. He has to his credit many books which to this day remain unmatched in the advice they give.

Maurice had (the French translation of) two of his books; he had read them, reread them, and his annotations were all over the books. He quoted them the way some people quote the bible. To make a point he would often say, “Carnegie said this or that.” Thereafter, it would have been futile to argue with my uncle, for him, it was heresy to contradict the great man. The books in question were: – How to Win Friends and Influence People. (His favorite). – How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

When he had the time, he would gather us (his two children and myself), ask questions to test our knowledge, and then do his best to educate us. His two sons made it clear that they didn’t want to be enlightened; school was more than enough, thank you very much. I suspect that it was more a case that nobody is a prophet in his own country. Whatever the case, Morsi was left with only one willing student, me.

He explained to me the principles of supply and demand, the intricacies of the world of commerce, the stock market, the ins and outs of importing and exporting goods, and a host of other matters related to the financial world. He also talked of the incomprehensible opposite sex. Later, he expressed concern when I told him that, as yet, I didn’t have a girl-friend. This at the age of 13!

The fly in the ointment was that he explained many things to me before I was ready. Later, Nisso would expound on those topics, and he did it at the right time.

For instance, to this day, I have to think for a moment when faced with the concepts of importing and exporting merchandise.

And, no, uncle Maurice is not responsible for my confusion regarding the opposite sex. It’s apparently a malady that affects all the males in the world!

Uncle Maurice, unlike the rest of his family, was not a strong swimmer. As it happened, one day when he was in the sea, he found himself in difficulty. No members of the family, nor indeed anybody else, was around. He was getting tired and was swallowing water. His situation was getting worse and worse, and eventually he lost consciousness. The ever alert lifeguard quickly noticed that a swimmer was drowning. He, and another lifeguard, jumped into a boat, and in no time reached my uncle. As soon as they reached the shore, they administrated first aid and succeeded in reviving him. Maurice had just used his first life and from that day on recognized that God has given him a second chance. The two lifeguards received from my uncle a substantial monetary gift. For me, the lesson was quite simple: A human life hangs from a thread, and never, ever, should we take even one day of our lives for granted.

Aunt Renee, his wife, came from a Halabi family, meaning that they originated from Alep, a part of Syria that is rather different from the rest of this country.

I have, early on, provided you with the attributes of a Halabi woman. Don’t refer back to that section! Tante Renee was a sweet, sensitive, and patient person; she was, lucky for all concerned, unlike you typical Halabi female.

Because of circumstances outside her control, she was never mistress in her own home. She found herself in a household run by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law. The ironic thing was that her position was envied. “Renee never had to put her hand in hot water.” “Renee brought her children into the world and, thereafter, never had to do anything for them.” “Renee has a telephone, a car with a chauffeur, two servants, a beautiful cabin at Stanley Bey, and enough money to fulfill all her wishes.”

The sad thing here is that nobody asked Renee if that’s what she wanted. Nobody asked her if she was happy.

I know next to nothing about her life in Italy where they settled after Egypt. However, I can safely surmise that her artificial world in Alexandria had left her totally unprepared to face the vicissitudes of life after the second exodus.

Maurice and Renee had three children. Michael, the oldest, was 3 months younger than me. He was rarely called by his real name, Michel; rather we all called him by his nickname, Micho. His brother Gaston was 3 years younger; here again we all used his nickname, Gasti.

Micho and Gasti are an integral part of my childhood, and are associated with many wonderful memories. But I also had other cousins in Alexandria who meant a lot to me.

After their two boys, my aunt and uncle decided to try a third time in the hope of getting a much desired daughter. They were not disappointed; this time, it was finally a banouta. Bent means girl in Arabic, and banouta is an endearing term for bent. Needless to say, our new cousin, Viviane, was much loved and coddled. She is 8 years younger than Micho.

In Italy, the two brothers of aunt Renee were in business in both Italy and Switzerland. Uncle Maurice was asked to join them and he did. But he was a fish out of water. He has lost all his business contacts, the oxygen of any businessman. Worse still, this was another universe; the Egyptian approach did not work here. He was dealing with Europeans who conducted their business in a manner that was totally different from the Egyptian way.

The whole family with the exception of Gasty – who immigrated to Brazil – stayed in Italy.

In 1967, uncle Maurice was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage. He was in his early sixties.

Michael died of cancer in the late ’90s, he was in his early sixties. Shortly thereafter aunt Renee passed away. She was too ill to be told of Michael’s passing, thus she never knew that her beloved son had predeceased her.

Viviane became a successful businesswoman, and  is now retired.

In Brazil, Gaston – who always liked to keep busy – is semi- retired.

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