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 – XXXIX. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Father’s Business (3 of 4)

My father followed a set routine. He would wake up around 7:00, wash, shave, have a coffee and a cigarette and dress for work. Nisso was a snappy dresser; dressing stylishly came naturally to him. (This gene got lost on the way to my genetic package!) When he went out with my mom, his clothing brought out his good Humphrey Bogart looks. But Hamzaoui was not the cleanest place in the world, and so he couldn’t put on his best clothes for work. Once dressed, he would wait for his partner to knock on the door. They then took the streetcar to Mosky and from there walked to Hamzaoui.

The first priority was another coffee (always Turkish) and breakfast. Dad, Maurice, and the one employee they had, sat together to eat, talk, and exchange pleasantries. Only afterward did the working day began. If new merchandise has been received, they took the china out, and checked it against the packing slip. Their wares being breakable were packed in straw. It was hard, dusty, and dirty work. When they were finished, they packed the orders for out-of-town customers. Customers in Cairo gradually picked their own goods. Next, Nisso sat at the desk to do his administrative work. Through the morning, they dealt with an endless stream of street vendors.

At 12:30, they closed the store and went back home for lunch (the main meal of the day) and a siesta. By 3:30 they reopened the store and worked until 6:00 or 7:00 depending upon the amount of work.

Upon his return home, my father had a light supper, talked with my grandmother and mother, listened to the radio and went to sleep by 9:30. There was a time when he helped me with my homework, but this created too many explosions. Eventually, my mother and a tutor took over.

I would be deceiving you if I told you that Nessim was a slave to his business. There was a time to work, and a time to relax. The sense of urgency that exists today was unknown back then. Long chats with customers, and time devoted to reading the newspapers were the norm. While I said that he went to sleep at 9:30, he could stay as late as 10:30 if neighbors were visiting us. But he did grumble if he had to stay late. Sometimes, during the week, neighbors organized a poker game; he did stay up till 11:00 and beyond. In this case he never complained since he loved gambling.

The fondest memories I have is when I went to help out at the store.

I must have been 8 when I was asked to come and lend a hand. I was limited as to what I could do at such a young age, but I did make myself useful. I could unpack crates and put the goods on the low shelves. Above all, if dad and his partner were busy, I kept an eye on the street vendors to make sure they didn’t pinch anything. At a later date, I learned to got their (the street vendors)  orders ready and received payment. Nisso or Maurice – at least at the onset – double-checked the transaction.

Often, these same street vendors would chat with me; at times, out of the blue, they would ask me the cost (to us) of a given item. In some cases I knew the information, but never opened my mouth; I simply smiled politely. They would then go on to complain that while they really like khawaga Ezri, they felt he was overcharging them; this despite the fact that my dad knew they had so many children to feed.

That aside, I found these men remarkable. Here they were with little or no schooling able to juggle figures in their head, figure profit margin, and manage to fudge the “books” to “prove” to Nessim or Maurice that they were losing money. They also had their complete inventory in their head, and knew what they needed. They couldn’t prepare a shopping list, nor did they need one. I asked dad how they could manage that, but even he didn’t know.

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