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 – XXXVIII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Father’s Business (2 of 4)

Being in the import business, my father had to be in touch with the rest of the world; that in turn meant being able to correspond in the Lingua Franca of the globe, English. Occasionally, when he required goods from France or Belgium, he corresponded in French. But, at the beginning, he could not write a proper business letter in either languages. Enter nonno Zaki.

My grandfather had been educated in a French school. Upon leaving school, he worked for a major department store, Cicurel. His job required him to write to a variety of foreign suppliers, sometimes in French, but mostly in English. It must have been a struggle at the onset to do so; but he educated himself and became a proficient communicator.

When Nisso started his business, Zaki passed on his knowledge to him. At times, my grandfather either wrote letters on behalf of my father, or dictated them to him.

One day, while he was dictating a letter to his son, he fell silent. His son asked him to carry on, but the silence prevailed; Nessim looked at him and realized that something was terribly wrong. When he went closer, it became clear that his father had died!

Even though he was grief-stricken, he had to keep a cool head. He asked his employee to call a taxi, and the two of them carried the body to the cab, as if he had just lost consciousness. The taxi driver, of course, realized what was going on, and was given a substantial tip to keep silent.

But why was all that necessary? If you died outside your home, the authorities automatically conducted an autopsy, something that, as far as I know, is forbidden in our religion, unless it’s absolutely necessary. My poor nonna Helene and aunt Angele received the shock of their lives when Nessim brought back the body of nonno Zaki.

Once on his own, Nisso realized that his dad had taught him well. He had become a proficient letter-writer in two languages. Of all the countries he got in touch with, two stand out because of their unusual merchandise. To my dad goes the credit to be the first in the china business to put these two nations on the Egyptian map.

Czechoslovakia was a country cobbled together out of the Czech and Slovakian people. The Czech segment produced high- quality merchandise. Their plates, cutlery, and crystal glasses were more work of art than ordinary goods. After he wrote to some suppliers, dad started receiving samples. Both Maurice and him were awestruck by the superior quality of the Czech wares. After viewing the samples, their customers couldn’t wait to get such goods in their stores. And so it was that, despite their high prices, the partners started importing Czech goods. The magic never waned. At a later date, dad told me that he very rarely lost money on Czechoslovakian merchandise; most of the time, he made a tidy profit. But it was more than money for him. It was a matter of pride of being the first out of the gate.

And he was also the first out of the gate with Japan. Despite the fact that Japan was a member of the Axis, and has proven to be a formidable foe, few people in Egypt have ever heard of that country. But Nessim who was closely following the war, had heard of them. Sometimes in (I believe) 1946, he wrote to his business counterpart, not quite sure if he would even get a response. It should be remembered that in 1946 Japan was a country utterly devastated by the war. It was not even clear how many businessmen could speak, write, and read English. But to his surprise, dad not only received an answer, he was advised that a representative was coming to meet with him and other businessmen in Egypt.

And so, new possibilities opened up for Ezri et Kaire.  The merchandise coming from Japan (and not only in the china and household items line) was incredibly cheap. Not surprisingly, the quality was poor. Yabani (Japanese) wares became a synonym for inferior goods. In the mid-’40s, Japan was not the financial powerhouse it is today; light-years separated 1946 from 2011! Whatever the case, gradually, retailers fell in love with Japanese goods. They were such a good value even though the quality was inferior. By the early ’50s, the quality improved, and prices went up. But Japanese wares continued to be a bargain.

When dad started receiving his first Japanese goods, he warned both retailers and street vendors not to charge more than the normal gross profit margin (it usually meant doubling the wholesale price paid). Most retailers heeded his advice; but the street vendors were another story. Many quadrupled the wholesale price charged. Their customers soon discovered that they overpaid for second-rate merchandise and came back to complain. They (the street vendors) in turn complained to khawaga Ezri; and dad then reminded them of his original warning. They’ve proved greedy and have unnecessarily created problems for themselves.

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