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 – XXXII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Food (17 of 18)

Religious impact

If you ate food cooked by Jewish people in Egypt, and compare it with Muslim and Christian cooking, you will instantly realize that there is a major ingredient missing in Jewish cooking.

Jews cannot mix milk and meat, and in most dishes samna (clarified butter) could not be used. Actually, we only used oil, and Egyptian Jews, unlike the rest of the population, could not abide anything cooked with samna.

Samna is made by melting butter, and continue heating over low heat. Some milk solids will drop to the bottom of the pan, while others will rise as foam; you can then skim them off. Next, let it cool, and pour your liquid butter in a jar; the remaining milk solids will remain in the pan. Another option is to pour the hot melted butter through a cheesecloth to filter out the foam and solids; your container will now have almost (some milk solids will probably remain) pure clarified butter.

As you can see, it’s a bit of a procedure; as well, you risk burning your butter if you don’t pay close attention while it’s heating. Not surprisingly, therefore, samna was manufactured and sold at grocery stores. Not many people bothered to prepare it at home.

In exchanging notes with non-Jewish housewives, Jewish cooks were pitied since they were unable to use samna.

Decades would go by before the world of medicine would vindicate us. (Did the authors of the Talmud knew of the connection between excess fat in the diet and heart diseases?!)

Garbage collection

All this food produced a tremendous amount of garbage. Its collection was the responsibility of the zabaleen (garbage men).

A number of families have taken upon themselves the responsibility of collecting and disposing of Cairo’s garbage.

At regular intervals, a man came on our street with his dumpcart and donkey, took our garbage, and dumped it in the cart. No payment was required for this service (although conceivably my parents gave him a bakshish from time to time).

The zabaleen took the garbage to a central location, sorted it, and sold items such as paper, jars, cans, and bottles to recyclers. Organic matter was fed to their chickens, goats, and pigs. I don’t know if the concept of composting existed back then; if it did, then compost was produced and sold as fertilizer. At any rate, very little garbage was left out, and this leftover trash was eventually burned.

The work of the zabaleen was obviously very dirty, and they made their money by recycling, by raising animals for consumption, and perhaps composting.

Cairo’s zabaleen today boast an 80% recycling rate! What city in the world can make such a claim?

But, despite their willingness to do such a messy job for free, the zabaleen of Cairo are going through a crisis. More and more, the government is frowning upon the pigs they are raising. (Pork is forbidden in the Muslim religion, but Christians can consume it. Another concern came about after the Swine Flu epidemic). Sanitation problems (for themselves and others) are becoming an issue. Finally, Cairo with 18 million inhabitants is overwhelming even its experienced garbage men. European companies specializing in this area were called to the rescue. But even they eventually gave up. Despite all their knowledge and years of doing that work in various European cities, they were confronted by a task they could not tackle.

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