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 – XXXIV. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Cleaning (1 of 3)


By the 1950s, our newspaper was apprising us that in the U.S. people were beginning to use dishwashers. It was to be sure a primitive piece of equipment which couldn’t measure up against a human laboring over a sink full of dirty dishes. Nevertheless, this information generated quite a few sighs in our household.

Our meals produced mounds of greasy dishes. You couldn’t ask any one member of the family to do this chore all the time. We all, in turn, had to pitch in. From my mother, to my grandmother, to the maid, to my dad, and on to myself, we all tackled and hated with a passion the very sight of the sink when filled with soiled dishes. If an extra person could be spared, he or she dried the dishes and put them away; otherwise the designated dishwasher was responsible for the whole process. As soon as Robert was tall enough to reach the sink, he was drafted too.

Back then, we didn’t have the dishwashing liquid, sponges, and soapy pads we have today. We used bars of (Sunlight, I believe) brown soap; it came in a package that contained two bars, and with a knife, you separated them. We use a fibrous material in lieu of sponges. We called it lifa (loufa), but it was different from the loufa we used for the bath. Finally, we had steel wool to deal with stubborn stains, and caked and burned food.

The primitive means that were available to us made the task even harder. That damn brown soap not only had an aggressive smell, but it didn’t produce enough suds. I guess it was made to last! The lifa didn’t absorb very well the meager foam produced by the soap. It was a hard and frustrating exercise; but it had to be done.


Cleaning the house was another nightmare. Mercifully, the males in our household were not involved. The maid assisted by my mom and my nonna were responsible for keeping a clean house.

Cairo is a dusty city. Because the climate was hot, there were tiles throughout the house. In summer and winter windows were kept open for most of the day. Not surprisingly, therefore, the house needed constant cleaning.

Dusting the furniture and sweeping the floor was not different back then than the way it’s done today. Washing the floor was another story.

A bucket was filled with water and a khechah (a large piece of material made out of jute; jute, in turn, is a strong glossy fiber used for making sacks, mats, ropes, etc.) was plunged in the bucket, wringed, and used to wash the floor with the help of the aforementioned brown soap. It was then dried using another khechah. When it was particularly grimy, a brush was used. It’s a chore that you did on your hands and knees. There were no mops and no liquid detergent that could be added to the water.

Thursday was the day dedicated to the grand menage (major cleaning). Sometimes a manservant was hired for the day to help out. Before major holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah (New Year), the house was cleaned from top to bottom.

On cleaning days, cooking was kept to a minimum. The wise course for the men was to lie low, be almost invisible! Nessim, Robert, and myself were fully cognizant of that fact and avoided the women. There was, however, an amusing ritual that repeated itself every Thursday.

My dad would come from work for lunch and asks, “so, how is it going?” Either my mother and/or my grandmother would answer him in an angry voice, “don’t ask!” Even the maid would sometimes gives him a dirty look. In reply, Nessim would simply offer his trademark half-smile and nod. He would then quietly eat his lunch and go for his siesta. The obvious question was, why was he asking? When I was old enough to realize the absurdity of this scene, I did raise the question with my dad. Based on past experience, he knew he would get hell if he didn’t ask; therefore, he was better off inquiring even if he faced a hostile reaction. It was definitely a case where you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t!

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