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As was the custom of the time, our household was made up of many domestic help, some live-in and some daily, with one or two who came in weekly or bi-weekly. Our live-in help were our nurse, Gizelle, and our cook, Abdu, but we had an assistant to the nurse, a young girl who came in daily to do the grunt work like washing the children’s clothes, cleaning up after us and generally doing the bidding of our nurse who had the upper hand. Another daily worker was an assistant to the cook, who also did the house cleaning and ran errands. We had two weekly helpers, one was the washer woman who came every Monday for a full day of washing, up on the roof of the apartment building, where she hand washed everything that needed to be washed, clothes, bed sheets, linen tablecloths and napkins, curtains, chair and sofa covers, you name it, she washed it. As it was on a weekly basis, the washing was not as much as it sounds, when the time came for washing the curtains, the chair and sofa covers, she came in an extra day. The other helper who came on a weekly basis also was the man who on Tuesdays, ironed all that was washed on Mondays. This man used to iron everything, handkerchiefs to bed linen, curtains to shirts, dresses to tablecloths, everything that was washed and needed ironing, this man did.
Though the washer woman worked upstairs on the roof, as she needed the clothesline to put the wash to dry, the ironing man set up his work station in the kitchen, as he needed to heat the irons, which incidentally were made of iron, on the stove. So every Tuesday we had no cooking, the kitchen had to be cleared for Samy our “makwagy” or ironing man.
What I did not know about this man at the time, but later found out, was that he considered himself a ladies’ man. It seemed that my parents noticed that he was starting to pay too much attention to our nurse, and fearing complications, as this man had a wife and family, they thought it best if these two did not become too friendly. So my parents devised a scheme by which to put a spanner in the wheel of this budding relationship.
Our nurse, Gizelle, was not very bright, and her Arabic was not very strong, so could be easily persuaded as to the meaning of certain expressions. The scheme devised by my parents to cause a rift between those two was to convince Gizelle that Prince, our dog, would feel chastised and would obey her orders if she called him “makwagy”! She took it at face value and my parents waited with bated breath for when she would use this epithet in front of Samy, the original “makwagy”.
A few weeks passed and nothing happened, my parents were getting desperate,when one Tuesday, with Samy there ironing away in the kitchen, and Gizelle heating up our food, in prances Prince and starts jumping up and down trying to get her to give him tidbits of food. He was yapping so loudly, he got on her nerves, so she turned round and sharply called him “makwagy”. Total silence. My parents held their breath for the expected storm to follow. But to the surprise of all, Prince stopped his yapping, lowered his ears and tail and slunk out of the kitchen, thoroughly cowed. Samy laughed his head off, and Gizelle felt vindicated in controlling the dog. My parents, after the initial frustration at the betrayal of Prince, saw the humor of the situation and went into peals of laughter.
From that day onwards “makwagy” was a very strong chastisement where Prince was concerned.
17 April 2014

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