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 – XXVIII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Food (13 of 18)

The second option for my mother was to send the maid – if she could spare her – to buy the meat. The maid was not shy; she ensured that the butcher gave seti (ma’am) Flora exactly the meat she needed. The drawback was that the maid invariably “benefited” when she was purchasing anything for us. The meat cost could be $4.85, the maid would tell my mother that it was $5.60 and pocketed the difference. My mother knew that, and the servant knew that seti knew it.  It was an accepted practice among domestic help. They were making a pittance, and we understood that somehow they had to increase their income in order to survive.

Another practice was to request a bakshish (tip) if company was coming and they were asked to stay late.

Finally, you could buy shokok (on credit); you would run a tab with the grocery store, with the butcher, and so on. You would thus ensure that the help could not rip you off. Such practice, however, could backfire. He or she would simply quit for more “lucrative” employment.

My mother served small portions. It proved an invaluable legacy, for throughout my life, when I ate, I reached satiation fairly quickly.

In a society plagued by obesity, diabetes, and heart conditions, can you put a price on that?

But why did she served small portions? Firstly, as you’ve been informed, putting a meal together was no easy matter.

Second, the lack of refrigeration meant that she could not cook on a large scale; excess food could not be stored, therefore, she would have wasted time and money.

Finally, at times, she was cooking for 7 people; the four of us, my grandmother if she was in Cairo, the maid, and her son. The last maid we had stayed with us for 7 years (a record); one of the conditions of employment was that we were to provide her with a meal for her son. With so many people, my mother could not ladle big quantities of food on our plates. We could request and get seconds if my mother determined that there would be enough food for all of us. As well, there were other foodstuff if we were still hungry. Before I go any further, let me assure you that we did not go hungry! That would have been impossible in an Egyptian household!

Ultimately, we rarely ran out of cooked food. Indeed, on most nights, we called the janitor (he was responsible for the security of the building, cleaning, and running errands for the tenants, in exchange for a nice bakshish, of course) and gave him what was left. We were not the only tenant doing so. Therefore, he received far more food than he could eat. He ate a portion, and gave the rest to poor people inhabiting the area. He would later confide to my mother that her food didn’t go to the poor, but rather in his stomach! He wouldn’t dream of giving away such delicious food! I wish I could say that he was discreet about the whole thing, he wasn’t. Who in the building was a cordon bleu, and who was a lousy cook, was by no stretch of the imagination a well-kept secret!

A final point. I believe there was an intended health aspect behind my mother’s small portions. She was ahead of her time, and suspected that there was no virtue in eating beyond your needs.

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