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 – XLIX. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Paternal Family (2 of 9)

Nonno Zaki

In those days, a child was lucky to have even one grandfather alive. So short was the life expectancy of a male. (Then as now, wives, in general, survived their husbands by many years). While nonno Michael was deceased by the time I was born, nonno Isaac (Zaki in Arabic) was alive, and he became a part of the first 10 years of my life.

I can close my eyes, and easily summon back the memories. I can remember him carrying me and giving me a light kiss on the cheek. His moustache tickled me and I giggled. About him was always the smell of the cigarillos he smoked.

When we went to the cafe, he introduced me with great pride to his friends. He then ordered a coffee for himself and one for me; I liked it very sweet, therefore, he stressed to the Greek owner that my coffee should be malo glicki. When the coffee was served, he would wink at me, and remind me not to say a word to my grandmother; for young boys were not supposed to drink coffee. Of course, the moment I walked in the house, I proudly proclaimed that nonno bought me a coffee. Nonno pretended to be indignant that I had revealed our secret; and nonna would have mock horror written all over her face!

Another must was the cheese borekas. Borekas are a dough confection filled with potatoes and cheese. (They also come with spinach). I loved them so much, I would eat two of them. Here, there were no secrets to keep, I could let the cat out of the bag. Helene, nevertheless, disapproved for, because of the borekas, I was full and could not eat “good” food.

I loved to go to the cafe on lottery day. The lottery in question was a small affair, certainly not the Irish sweepstake! I believe the top prize was 100 Egyptian pounds (at the time, equivalent to $500 U.S.)

The draw took place in a selected coffee house. When it was the turn of “our” cafe, nonno made sure to take me.

On such a day, it was standing room only. The numbers were put in a big container which was shaken vigorously. A child was then summoned to draw the first number; when the number was announced, it was registered by 2 officials. This was the top prize. Then, the draw continued for the smaller prizes, and these in turn were registered. I was sure to be allowed to draw a number, sometimes more than once, for there were never enough children.

The two officials lists were carefully compared; one official locked away his list and the other took his to a printer. The list was then distributed to the agents.

The agents were really street vendors who sold (on the street, by going to coffee houses, or by going from house to house) the lottery tickets. They were known as the ya nasib purveyors (a rough translation: The Merchants of Destiny!). When the ya nasib men received the list of the winning numbers, they personally went to notify the winners. How did they know who bought the winning numbers? It’s a mystery; most of them could not read and write and could therefore not keep records. The official list was also displayed in all the coffee houses of the district. (As far as I remember, there were many lotteries, one for each district). One question remains: Why did the ya nasib guys personally went to notify the winners? To collect the bakshish, of course.

Nonno faithfully bought a lottery ticket, but never won anything in his life. Nonna was luckier. It was just before the holidays and she badly needed money. One day there was a knock on the door, it was the ya nasib vendor who told her: ” Mabrouk ya setti, kesebti.” (Congratulations ma’am, you won). My grandmother thought she had won the top prize. But, no, it was a smaller prize: 5 pounds. Nevertheless, she was beside herself with joy. She certainly could use the money.

Comments are closed.