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 – XLIII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Brother (1 of 5)

My brother, Robert, couldn’t have picked a worse time to come into the world. World War II was raging; relatives from Alexandria had come to live with us in the apartment we had rented on Rue Tour Sina; finally, dad had just lost his job at the bank.

While my parents wanted another child, because of the above mentioned circumstances, they were apprehensive. My two grandmothers were overjoyed. Nonna Bida told her daughter: “ya Fola, this may be the girl you’ve always wanted.” Alas, further “scientific” observations from both nonna’s indicated a boy. And a boy it was.

Soon after Robert was born, everybody predicted that he would bring us luck. Indeed, within a year, dad started his new business; a business that, as already indicated, thrived.

But Robert brought us more than luck; our family now included the sweetest little boy you could hope to have. The adjective that stuck to him for many years was henayen which approximately translates to goodhearted, affectionate or compassionate.

I made it clear from the beginning that I didn’t care for the little intruder. The truth was that nobody could resist Robert’s charm. I contradicted myself daily by visiting him and reporting how cute he was. Even as a baby, I tried to play with him, to no avail, of course.

As soon as he was old enough, he was given a toy, a weza (goose). The head quickly separated from the rest of the body, but Robert didn’t care. I laughed myself silly watching him play with his “disabled” goose. There is an adorable picture of him with the goose’s head.

When he grew up, we played together by the hours. I also constantly worried about him. And all along, I thought I didn’t care for the little interloper!

My mother when raising me took the initiative away from me. The kind of things you allow your child to do so that he can learn and develop properly, she did them for me, thus avoiding the mess a child will inevitably make. For instance, she fed me until I was 6. To the present day, eating properly with company is not automatic; I have to make a special effort. My brain was not given a chance to wire itself properly while it was still pliable. The good news is that Flora learned her lesson and Robert benefited. All of which brings us to a scene that I remember to this day.

Robert is sitting on his small chair and eating a spaghetti meal at his table. There is spaghetti, tomato sauce, and meat everywhere. On his clothes; on his face; in his hair; on the floor; on the table; on the chair; on the wall; on the furniture.

To make matters worse, he is eating in the nice dining room. I am laughing so hard, I am unable to go tell mom of the catastrophe taking place under our roof. What is making this impromptu skit so hilarious is the fact that Robert is oblivious to the whole thing. The fact that a long strand of spaghetti is hanging from his hair doesn’t bother him at all. There is also a soiled glass of water that’s sitting so close to the edge of the table, it is destined to wind up, sooner or later, on the floor. Eventually, I managed to calm down and run to my mother to apprise her of the fact that Robert was making a huge mess in the nice dining room. I expected her to run down in a big panic, but it didn’t happen. Yes, she expected a big cleaning job after Robert was done. But, no matter what, she was not going to repeat the errors she made with me.

It must be nice to be the younger brother. Your upbringing will benefit from all the test runs your older brother undertook!

Soon after, an incident that could have deprived me of my little brother for good took place. We were already living on Khantaret Ghamra. The Germans have been ousted from Africa, and Egypt was (we hoped) safe. Nevertheless, there was still air raids, and more than once, the ominous sound of the ghara (siren) woke us up from our sleep. On such occasions, we would put our robes over our pyjamas and go down to the landlady’s house; there, a room has been converted into a shelter by adding beams.

Sometimes, it was the real thing, at other times it was a false alarm. There came a time when we had one false alarm after the other. One night, my mother announced that she’s had enough, she was not going down to the shelter. Dad ignored her, he told me to stand by the door and started wrapping Robert in his blanket; Flora protested that there was no need to disturb the little one, Nisso never answered her, this was not the time to get into arguments. Within minutes, she rejoined the three of us downstairs. By so doing, she avoided getting badly hurt, or even killed.

It proved to be a terrible night. We could hear whistles and explosions all around us. One bomb hit so close to us, the building shook, and glass shattered everywhere. People who were already praying raised the tone of their supplications to God. It took forever for the sound of the amana (safety) to be heard. (The siren had two sounds: one that meant that an air raid could be imminent, and the other that the danger has passed).

Nobody slept on that night. When we went back home, there was glass everywhere. Robert’s crib being near the window was peppered with glass shards.

The mess was eventually cleaned and the windows replaced. The incident, as far as I know, was never discussed. Dad was not the kind of person to subsequently say: “If it wasn’t for me …”

But that was part of the story. A plane has dropped a torpedo near a garage that was a few meters away from our building. Lucky for the inhabitants of Khantaret Ghamra it never exploded. To quote the people, “it fell on its tiz (bum).” Does that mean that the wrong side hit the ground? I don’t know or care. Had it exploded, I probably would not be here writing about those faraway events.

Rest assured that many people in the area, in their mosques, churches, and synagogues thanked God for having spared them.

As for me, months after the torpedo has been defused and removed, I refused to walk by that garage. My parents had to make a big detour to avoid it.

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