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 – LXVIII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Death (6 of 6)

Professional Criers

Kasr el Aini was the largest hospital in Cairo. It was a government hospital, and it was reputed to be poorly run; you went there only if you absolutely had to; you may walk in, but chances are you would come out feet first! If at all possible, you were strongly advised to go to a private hospital.

This was – as has been pointed out in numerous newspaper articles, at a time when the press was largely uncensored – an undeserved reputation. Egypt produced top-notch doctors; and the latest medical technology was used whether you were in Kasr el Aini or in a private hospital. Kasr el Aini, however, was more crowded, and the risk of secondary infection was higher. At any rate, my discussion here is about the Professional Criers who used Kasr el Aini as their “headquarters.”

All around this hospital, you found clusters of women sitting together casually chatting. They are the professional criers whose function is to increase the level of hysteria (even though it’s already high following a death in Egypt) in the course of the funeral and, if required, thereafter.

For many years, I studied near Kasr el Aini (both my Faculty of Pharmacy and the Faculty of Medicine were close by). I had therefore many occasions to observe these “professionals” in action. Follow me, if you will, while I describe a scenario which is in turn a composite of the many transactions I have witnessed both near the hospital and at funerals.

A “client” approaches a group of criers:

Client: “My dad just passed away and I will need you for the funeral.”

Crier (the spokeswoman): “Allah yerhamou.” (May God have mercy on his soul).

Another crier will add: “El baeya fe hayatak.” (May his remaining days be added to your life; in other words, he should have lived longer, but may the rest be added to your life!)

Clients in general will not ask for a “sample” of the services offered; these women are professional after all with many years of experience behind them! However, let us assume that this gentleman asks for a sample.

The crier will scream: “ma kansh yomak ya habibi.” (This was not your day my dear; put another way, he died ahead of his time). The crier will then slap both cheeks vigorously, and tear at her hair. It’s all a big act; if she is really good at her job, her face will not be marked at all by her “slaps.” Nor will the act of tearing her hair will cause her to lose much hair.

If the parties are in agreement, a price is negotiated. By now, you’re well acquainted with the art of Egyptian haggling. The difference here is that all sentences will start with, “because of your loss, we are willing to …” As well, since this is a service, the agreed upon fee is subject to changes: “We thought we were getting a bigger bakshish.” “We stayed longer than anticipated.” “My voice is hoarse from all the screaming.” “Your dad was a good man and we honored him, surely we deserve more.” When you’re talking of a service, the renumeration agreed upon is long forgotten. And again this is taken into consideration by the person buying their services.

The next consideration is the clothing required. These women had a large wardrobe that could accommodate most situations. After all, they needed to project a proper professional image!

Finally, when business was slow, these criers could offer their services for weddings! They could ululate, clap their hands, sing, and even dance baladi (belly-dancing).

Mind you, I have only been told of the fact that a crier could play this “double-role;” but I have never personally witnessed it and will therefore not vouch for the accuracy of this information.

What I do know is that some of them have been used by the Egyptian film industry as extras: in weddings, funerals, crowd scenes, etc.

Did any of them ever became a big star?

Not that I know!

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