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 – XL. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Father’s Business (4 of 4)

I was drafted when I could take time off, in other words, no school and no homework. During the summer, I was in Alexandria for July and August, but in September (we had 3 months vacation) I was asked to help. At least once, I came back to Cairo for 2 weeks to replace Maurice who had gone on vacation. I did not resent having my vacation interrupted, if anything, I was immensely proud to contribute.

I was not paid for my services. That would have been unthinkable at the time. Indeed, I babysat the neighbors’ children and never received, or expected, money or even gifts. The neighbors helped out when we needed them, and we reciprocated. But there were compensations.

First and foremost, it boosted my self-esteem to do adult work.

Second, I was treated as a member of the team. As soon as I arrived, the employee ordered a coffee for me, he would go outside the store and yell at the top of his lungs: “A coffee for the little khawaga Ezri; and make it very sweet please.” Soon after a server would arrive with a tray on which was placed a small tanaka (the container used to make Turkish coffee) and a small cup, he would then pour my coffee and looks in dad’s direction; after he got his tip, he left. I would then sit quietly and enjoy my coffee. (I should point out that no milk or cream is ever added to Turkish coffee. However, some coffee could be added to flavor a glass of milk. Personally, I hated coffee-flavored milk).

There was a mystery here that I resolved at a later date. How can the people in the cafe hear the order? We were at one end and they were at the other end. One day when I was coming late, I heard a person halfway through the street shouting: “3 coffees for Najjar Effendi, 1 sada (no sugar at all) and 2 mazbut (just the right amount of sugar).” So that was the secret; stores halfway through the street relayed the order. You might wonder why I couldn’t ask my father, Maurice, or the employee; I did ask, but all I got for my effort were mysterious smiles. Well, on that day, I came back triumphantly and told them that I had elucidated the mystery on my own.

The ultimate reward was breakfast. My dad gave me money and I went to a lady who made the best fried cheese in town. The cheese was put in a pitta and tehina and hot sauce was pored over it. Pickled vegetables were served on the side. With that I had a Citro (a delicious lemony soft drink). My concept of heaven, at the time, was a place where they served fried cheese and drank Citro! But what is fried cheese? There is a special unripened hard cheese which can be fried in oil and eaten with bread or as a sandwich. It’s absolutely delicious.

With the benefit of maturity, I realize today that above all I exchanged my labor for knowledge. I had once asked my mom how could dad make any money and support us if he bought a plate for $1.00 and resold it at the same price! She explained that he sold it at a higher price, say, $1.25, the difference of 25 cents was his profit. At that moment I understood the profit concept. When he had the time, dad elaborated on that.

He explained many other concepts: insurance; expenses such as rent, electricity, and the wages of his employee; storage costs; allowance for breakage; a general idea of double entry bookkeeping, he then told me that he had an accountant that wrote up the books and determined his net profit. One day he took me to the makhzan (warehouse), and showed me the area he had rented. I was totally taken by surprise, for I have always assumed that all his inventory was in the store. However, such was not the case, for he needed extra storage space.

When I matured, I graduated to Commerce 201. He explained the difference between gross and net profit. For instance, if he bought a knife for 50 cents, and resold it at 60 cents, his gross profit was 10 cents, but his net profit after all expenses have been paid was perhaps 2 cents! The concept of volume was next expounded. Two cents is not a lot of money, but by selling hundred of knives he can make a tidy profit. Other subjects on the curriculum were the khamal (slow-moving inventory), and la casse (breakage) and the resulting losses. Not all sales were profitable.

Later, he discussed supply and demand; and the difference between importing, exporting, and buying locally. I was greatly surprised to hear that some businesses both imported and exported goods. Dad imported his merchandise, and occasionally bought locally

When Robert was old enough, he also went to help. And he was also repaid with a fried cheese sandwich, a memory he cherishes to the present day!

When we left Egypt in 1956, the business was liquidated, and the proceeds deposited in a bank account.


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