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 – XIII. Societal Context (2 of 4)

It has been said many times that Egypt was made of societies within a society.  If so, the Syrians in Egypt were societies within the overall Syrian society residing in Egypt.  Confused?  Sorry, but it gets even more involved.

Syrians in Arabic is Chawam (plural).  If you tell a friend that your neighbor is Chami (singular), you haven’t told him much.  He will probably ask you if he is Halabi – a breed apart.  He will have many more questions.  So let’s start at the beginning.

Halab (Alep) is a region in Syria.  Its inhabitants are rather different from the ordinary Syrians.  They are strong- willed, very stubborn, and are not afraid to immigrate.  Many of the Syrians in Egypt were Halabi (the people from Alep).  Many Halabi were Christians, with Muslims and Jews thrown into the mix.

Halabi are good in business; if your partner is Halabi, your chances of success are substantially increased.

A Halabi bride?  You’re getting a strong-willed woman who will take nothing lying down (well, with one exception, of course!).  But she will be a reliable partner who will confront with you the inevitable problems of life.  Halabi have their own cuisine (they use fruits, especially apricots).  And what cuisine! I am getting hungry just thinking about it.  You will be treated to sumptuous meals.  And, oh yes, Halabi do reproduce themselves!  You may want to look for one of them.  They are all over the globe.  But remember that there are exceptions to every rule!  As well, keep in mind my previous warnings!

Your Chami neighbor may not be Halabi.  The next question from your friend will then be, is he a Muslim?  If the answer is yes, the next question will be, what religious denomination?  There are a few, but I only remember the Druzes; their practice of Islam can be quite different than the commonly accepted Islamic rituals.

He is not a Muslim.  Fine; then he is one of the Nossara- Chawam (Syrian-Christians).  Here again there are quite a few.  He could be Maronite, Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox.  There are more, feel free to research it on the internet.  (But don’t attempt to research the whole Syrian spectrum, unless you intend to write a book on the topic!).

Nossara-Chawam have their customs and their cuisine.  They are hospitable; if you’re lucky enough to be invited to one of their meals, their food is to die for.  They are astute in business, gregarious, and make very good friends and/or neighbors.  They are good raconteurs, a social gathering with them is a pleasure to behold.

Generally, for all Syrians:  They are sociable and good companions.  But beware, they tend to exaggerate.  Take what they tell you with a grain of salt.  They mostly belong to the middle class (but quite a few became wealthy).  Their Arabic is somewhat different from the Egyptian Arabic; and they manage to pass it on as is to future generations.  Many went to French schools, and are accordingly proficient in French.

If I research the Syrian diaspora, I could tell so much more.  But I have no intention of doing so, for I have other groups to tackle.

The next group is the Afrang or foreigners.  What are their origins?  Name a country on the planet, and chances are some of their members were part of the Egyptian Mosaic.

There was, for instance, a small Finnish community in Alexandria.  However, I never got a chance to meet any of them.

Australia was represented by a few Aussie families who, God knows how, have found themselves in Egypt.  And, yes, I did get a chance to meet an Aussie lady.

I was doing my internship in a pharmacy.  (A requirement before I could get my pharmacy degree).  One of our patients was an attractive and shapely lady from Australia.  While we appreciated her business, we had major problems communicating with her.  She spoke neither French nor Arabic.  The owner spoke Armenian, French and Arabic.  Ditto for the pharmacist except that you substitute Greek for Armenian.  There was a clerk, but she spoke Turkish and Arabic.  Five languages, but no English.

When I was working, I was called upon to translate.  My English, at the time, was nowhere near what it is today, but I could talk with her; understanding her was another matter.  Her thick Aussie accent made her English a foreign language!

Next door there was a mercerie (a boutique selling sewing supplies such as threads, ribbons, buttons, etc.) owned by a British lady.  We could, and did, call upon her to translate.  The problem was that she was often busy with her customers.  There was another difficulty; she frankly told us that the English of that lady was for her a foreign tongue!

Often, sign language was used.  She would, for example, point at her head and grimace in pain.  Translation:  I am looking for Aspirin.  She would show us a cut on her arm or leg.  Translation:  I need a disinfectant.  There were, however, places she could not point at, let alone show us!  In this case, she came back with her requirement written in French on a piece of paper.

Finnish and Australians were a minority.  The majority were Greeks, Italians, Armenians, French, and British (I believe) in this order.

A lot of these foreigners were concentrated in Alexandria.

How did they get along?  Reasonably well I would say. Inevitably, however, there was labelling.  “Remember, he is Greek, be on your toes at all times!”  “Deal with him if you must, but always keep in mind that he can sweet-talk you, he is Italian after all!”

The good news was that there weren’t too many internal divisions.  Certainly, nothing equivalent to what you hear in Canada and the U.S.  For example, you could get the following “explanation” from a Canadian-Italian:  “What do you expect?  He is from Sicily; if it weren’t for the Milanese like me, where would be no Italy today?”

The final group of foreigners were the Apatride or Stateless.  They were born in Egypt but had no passports of any kind.  But weren’t they Egyptians then?  No!  Egypt was a strange country, being born there didn’t automatically make you an Egyptian national if you were not a true Egyptian!  You could apply for the Egyptian nationality, but even after bribing assorted officials, your chances of getting it were slim.

Mercifully we had an Italian passport and were therefore not considered stateless.

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