Differing Sensibilities

To state the obvious: when people of different cultures and differing sensibilities meet for the first time, there can be life-changing outcomes.

I am thinking here:

of the literary fame that followed  Flaubert’s romp through Egypt; of  Maxime du Camp’s ground breaking travel photography;

Stele at  Karnak, Egypt, Calotype taken by Maxime Du Camp, French writer and photographer (1822-1894)

Stele at Karnak, Egypt, Calotype taken by Maxime Du Camp, French writer and photographer (1822-1894)

of  Edward Lear’s beautiful sketches of the Nile;

Edward Lear, near Malatieh, 1867.

Edward Lear, near Malatieh, 1867.

and of the courage of New Zealander, Ettie Rout, who, though demonized in her own country, fought strenuously and eventually successfully for the issue of free prophylactic kits to our World War One troops.

On a quieter, more gentle scale, there is my own life-changing encounter. It goes like this: –  with music if you wish, by  Omar Khairat  https://youtu.be/re78QlR0rhI

                                       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 I once lived in an apartment complex in Cairo. At the front of the building there were two small, square gardens, separated by hedges, and a concrete slab path, leading to the five storey stairway, at the building’s entrance.  One of the gardens became MY garden. It actually belonged to all the apartment dwellers on our side of the building. No one seemed to mind that I supervised its care. The garden opposite ‘mine’ was claimed by the building’s caretaker and his family. It was their domain.

Our caretaker or Bowab, Ahmed*, was of a weather-worn, indeterminate age. Perhaps in his 60s,  perhaps not. He had lived in the city for many years, yet he remained a country man at heart.

"The Banks of the Nile" by Sayed Mahmoud http://www.wissa-wassef-arts.com/bm.html

“The Banks of the Nile” by Sayed Mahmoud http://www.wissa-wassef-arts.com/bm.html

He didn’t have much time for the refined and tidy rows of my city garden. Grudgingly, he would admire the salvia, the gazanias, or the begonias, or whatever was the flower of the season, but it was his own garden that held his heart.

He was very proud of his creation, and knew each plant within it. He delighted in introducing me to the new, and usually self-sown, arrivals in his garden. But Ahmed’s greatest pride was reserved for his small collection of ‘baladi’ roses.

He had a half-dozen of these ‘baladi’ rose bushes growing in the centre of his garden, under the partial shade of a small pine tree. I don’t know how to translate  ‘baladi’ precisely.  I like to think of it as meaning an ancient rose of Egypt, as opposed to the newer  varieties that grew in my garden.

Baladi kittens with a touch of Egyptian Mau http://www.emaurescue.org/index.php

Not Roses but Baladi kittens with a touch of Egyptian Mau ? http://www.emaurescue.org/

 

Ahmed was rightfully proud of his ‘baladi’ roses. They were exquisite in their shape and colour, and scent. And, almost every morning, after I had walked my children to school, Ahmed would be waiting in his garden to give me the first rosebud, or buds, of the day.

Over time, this early morning meeting developed into our own special ‘baladi’ rose admiration society. In honour of the rose, and in the best tradition of meetings, our proceedings followed a protocol. Each meeting began with the presentation of the rose. I, then, gave a vote of thanks, after which the floor was opened to discussion. The words were almost always the same, but, to the utmost limits of my limited Arabic, we extolled the virtues of the ‘baladi’ rose. We exclaimed over its merits, and we expressed sorrow for the poorer relative who inhabited my garden.  We shook our heads over my outwardly lovely roses because they could never know the true joy of being a ‘baladi’ rose. In quiet accord on the overwhelming superiority of the ‘baladi’ rose, the meeting would end with another vote of thanks from me, accompanied by  an appreciative inhalation (aka a jolly good sniff) of the rose’s perfect perfume.

We loved those roses, Ahmed and I. We were devastated when the ‘baladi’ roses, perhaps tired of city living, decided to curl up their roots, and die. We talked about buying replacements, but, though Ahmed seemed to search everywhere, no new ‘baladi’ roses came home.

Strangely, the loss of the ‘baladi’ roses did not herald the end of our admiration society. Each early morning, as I returned from the school trip, Ahmed would present me with a rose or two picked from my own garden. The thanks would be the same, but we would wrinkle our noses over the paucity of the rose’s aroma, and we would commiserate over its deficiencies; its lack of integrity and stature, when measured against the one true standard of roses; the ‘baladi’ rose.

That same year of the death of the ‘baladi’ roses, my family and I left Egypt. It was hard to go; to leave my on-loan garden, our street,

Trash collection, our street, Cairo

Trash collection, our street, Cairo

our friends.

Shopping on our street. What's on Gallivanta's list?

Shopping on our street. What’s on Gallivanta’s list?

It was hard for them to let us go, too. The night we departed for the airport, Ahmed was there, by the taxi, waiting to say goodbye.  He first shook hands with my husband, and then crushed him in a bear hug. As he released my husband, I saw Ahmed surreptitiously wipe tears from his face. I turned away. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t know how to say goodbye to the giver of roses. As a woman, I couldn’t offer him the bear hug hiding shyly within me.   That was out of the question. I had not, in all our day-to-day contacts, even dared to offer a hand in greeting.  Perhaps a smile and a thousand thanks would have to do. But, before I could prepare my face and words, Ahmed stood in front of me, hand outstretched. Briefly, but firmly, we shook hands.  I didn’t hear his words. I didn’t hear mine.  I was conscious only of tears and the rough, earthiness of his palm.  There were no ‘baladi’ roses to give, yet, in that short, final meeting, we exchanged a priceless rose in a class of its own.

*Ahmed (real name not used )

© silkannthreades

 

 

 

199 thoughts on “Differing Sensibilities

  1. tableofcolors

    What a beautiful friendship you had with Ahmed…such a special post. I do think that I have one or two similar relationships and they leave a print in your hear forever.

    Reply
  2. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.

    I love the way you are able to bring cultures together and paint such visual pictures with all senses fully engaged. I particularly loved the music you shared. I opened your blog while having my first cup of coffee this am and it’s pure delight to start my day visiting with you. BTW, the song you have featured on the rt side of your blog, is it by Jewel? I’d like to add it to a play list for both Tom and myself.
    I enjoy your blogs so very much.

    Reply
  3. restlessjo

    How beautifully you’ve put this post together, Ann! The lovely music and video, the Lear sketch and that glorious ‘Banks of the Nile’. But most of all the lovely story. Not many of us have an experience like this in our background but many would envy you the warmth of this exchange. 🙂 I hope life is continuing to treat you kindly.

    Reply
      1. restlessjo

        I wondered about your health. Glad to hear that all’s well 🙂 I remember seeing that poster in the shop window but having something else in mind at the time. Thanks for pointing it out. I might well schedule in a day to do it 🙂 Hugs!

        Reply
  4. Born To Organize

    I would love to see this story in its entirety in a magazine or journal some where. It’s beautifully written, personal, culturally enriching and touching. Everyone should read it.

    You’re an amazing writer with a gift for story telling. I loved this story.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh, that’s sweet of you to say so. I would like to write more but don’t have the physical and emotional energy most of the time. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Lavinia, I have had some adventures along the path of my life. Even in the past decade which has been mostly spent in NZ, I have had more adventures than I really wanted! But, for me, everyone has a fascinating life. It’s one of the wonders of the world. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Britt Skrabanek

    Gorgeous story, honey! The exchange of beauty is something we do not do enough in this world. I try to be as friendly as I can to my neighbors, but some of them just don’t even make eye contact…they don’t even give it a chance. I’ll keep smiling, since I don’t have any fresh roses to give out. 😉

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Britt, I have encountered some of the difficult neighbors too. One has kept his eyes to the ground for nearly 10 years. I am determined to get a greeting from him. I haven’t given up hope yet.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Arrgh. I have been trying to use my mobile phone for blogging. I am sure I responded to your comment but it seems not. Do you use your mobile or your computer for blogging? Reading blogs on my mobile is fun but commenting is tricky and slow! But, yes, I will bear the rose throwing strategy in mind. 😀

        2. Steve Schwartzman

          “Arrgh” is my reaction, too. I’ve occasionally used my iPhone to reply to comments, but it hasn’t been fun, and one time I accidentally sent my reply out as a new post. I’m waiting for a “smart” phone with a button I can press to make the phone get much larger. In the meantime, the speech-to-text feature has come in handy; I find dictating is a lot easier than typing.

        3. Gallivanta Post author

          That’s a thought. I will try the text to speech. Typing was a pain. Also some of the blogs are less mobile friendly than others. Yours is excellent to view on the mobile.

        4. Steve Schwartzman

          Thanks for letting me know that my blog shows up well on your mobile phone. It works well on mine in the WordPress app, but that’s not the same as having it show up on other people’s phones, especially those with different operating systems.

        5. Steve Schwartzman

          That’s good, because one disadvantage of your commenting via phone was that each reply appeared as a new comment separate from (as opposed to indented under) the one it was meant to answer. I still got a notification of your reply, and I’m assuming other commenters did too, but a third party reading through the comments might have a hard time matching up your replies with the comments they were the answers to.

        6. Britt Skrabanek

          I usually stick to my computer for commenting. Seems like typos are all too easy with my mobile. Plus, with my little bit of free time, I have to focus on blog related fun in chunks from home.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I love that I could. 🙂 It intrigues me that common sense would dictate a drought tolerant garden for a desert space but NO!, in Egypt wherever there is a little water, all effort goes into lush extravagant gardens.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I do miss those morning exchanges. However my neighbours and friends here are very kindly. The other evening I came home to find some fresh baked scones in a bag on my doorstep. I also found a young hedgehog trying to open the bag. Made me smile. 🙂 I got the scones. The hedgehog lost out. I suppose I should have offered it a crumb. 😉

      Reply
  6. Sheryl @ Flowery Prose

    Oh, I so loved your story of the baladi roses – what an incredible friendship.

    I don’t always have time to comment as I would like to, but I love to read your wonderful posts – your passion for art and music and history is always so inspiring and your stories are so heartfelt. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you Sheryl. It’s not always possible to comment on posts, as often as we would like to. I appreciate your readership and your blogs. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Letizia

    What a touching, and beautifully written, story. I have connected with so many people through a shared love of gardening. If you haven’t already (and I may already have told you about this, I apologize if I have), you should read ‘Two Gardeners: A friendship in Letters’.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      “Two Gardeners: A friendship in Letters” would be a lovely read. I will keep it in mind. My to read list is almost to the ceiling. Have you ever written a blog post on how to cope with ‘to read’ lists? They get scary at times. 😉

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Indeed. And we could use the unread books to decorate the bookshelves in artistic ways; like trailing ivy can make walls look attractive.

        2. Letizia

          Scaling the walls. I like that. In a fairy tale work where it didn’t rain, we could have them scaling the chimney just as ivy does. It would be a little house of books to be read. And when we were ready to read our next book, we would just pluck it off the house like a leaf.

          I’m getting carried away with this but I love our little ivy-book house!

  8. aleafinspringtime

    Dearest G! I had no idea that you lived in Cairo once upon a time and that you spoke/speak Arabic!!! Oh I could hug you right now. For your story and that bond across cultures you shared with dear Ahmed. If I may be so bold as to say that no one loves roses as much as those in the Middle-East. And how carefully gardens and roses are prized. You have a rare heart. I am sure Ahmed felt that. Kindness and honour was exchanged in those roses each day. I am sure that after all these years, this friendship stirs your heart. It stirred mine. Love, Sharon

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      When I read your latest post on your garden and your roses in Afghanistan I knew you would understand my rose story. We have shared the preciousness of the rose in the ‘desert.’

      Reply
  9. Kate Johnston

    Lovely post. Not enough of us are so openly kind to our neighbors. The tradition of giving roses each day is so sweet and touching. I can imagine how difficult it must have been to leave such a warm atmosphere and genuine friends.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, Kate. I don’t know many people in the street where I live now. But I do try to be a good neighbour to my immediate neighbours. I have been lucky to have the same neighbours for all 15 of the years I have been in this house.

      Reply
  10. shoreacres

    I need to re-read your post and respond to that, but I just came across this, and don’t know whether to shoot myself now, or wait just a bit. Perhaps NZ is more sensible? I remember when Half Moon Bay, California, banned homework, because not every child had a home. Sometimes I honestly believe …. well, I don’t know what to believe.

    Now, back to your lovely reminiscence. 🙂

    Reply
    1. shoreacres

      OK — there was one school board member who argued homework should be abolished on the grounds that some kids didn’t have homes. The ban on homework didn’t take place, but it was the Half Moon Bay school board that started a bit of a nation-wide furor by proposing an end to homework. You can read about that here, if you’re interested. You may not be, and that’s just fine. I just am continually amazed by the wacky proposals that are abroad in the land these days.

      Your own story is at the other end of the wackiness scale. It’s tender, and poignant, and human. Perhaps, in the end, the “baladi” roses were not only the flowers themselves but also the ritual of exchange. Just as the practice of baksheesh, in its more positive forms, oils the wheels of human interaction, the giving and receiving of the baladi roses made possible the development of a relationship.

      When I left Liberia the first time, there was quite a long walk across the tarmac to the steps that had been rolled up to the plane. By the time I reached the steps, I had teared up, and by the time I was settled in my seat, I was openly weeping. Suddenly, one of the baggage handlers who’d been loading luggage popped through the door (what a different time and place that was!) and asked what was wrong. When I told him I was crying because I didn’t want to leave Liberia, he gave me a look and said, “You be coming back.” When I asked how he could be so certain, he said, “Nobody cry to leave Liberia. If you cry, you come back.” And by gosh, I did, for a wonderful six-week visit. Why, I even have a little tear or two now, remembering. Maybe I’ll make a third trip. 😉

      Reply
      1. Gallivanta Post author

        Your Liberian farewell story is lovely. It reminds me that in some of our farewells our household workers cried when we left, not so much because we were leaving but because they weren’t. I have, somewhere in my files, a heartfelt letter from our Nepalese/Gurkha night watchman asking us to take him with us to New York. Broke my heart, reading it. I hope he and his family are okay.

        Reply
    2. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh goodness!A very interesting take on how to reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots. Many news articles suggest that we, in any case,are reading less to our children and talking less to them, so perhaps inadvertently we are reducing the advantages of the ‘have’ children. In recent years, I have heard of some schools in NZ experimenting with a no formal homework policy. Don’t know how it worked out.

      Reply
  11. Sheila

    Such a beautiful story and reminder to cross borders and reach out to others. It’s easy to picture the two of you standing there in the garden, smiling and admiring the roses.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Definitely a reminder to cross borders. Flowers/plants do it all the time and look how successful they are, most of the time. 🙂 A trend in NZ that worries me is the building of high walls around our homes. Makes the streets seems unfriendly and unwelcoming. What I loved about Cairo was the way people and homes engaged with the street and all its colourful life.

      Reply
  12. Virginia Duran

    Hello “Gallivanta”. Always glad to return to your blog after a while being absent 🙂
    This story is very moving. Thanks for sharing your memories in Egypt. The pictures brought me there for a while. Hope everything is good with you 🙂

    Reply
      1. Virginia Duran

        It’s been crazy two months of being free 🙂 Starting a company of my own now! How are you? How is your family?

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          All the best with your company, Virginia. I am well, thank you. I have been out of my usual routines but am hoping to return to more regular blog reading and writing soon.

  13. Robbie

    what a beautiful friendship..it is memories as these that make life so precious. A garden draws people together + how precious that you shared a love for a flower:-) beautiful post:-)

    Reply
  14. lensandpensbysally

    Your memories are filled with layers of experiences in a country that offered you another view of life. Everything comes alive with fondness and warmth from you. Every memory becomes a visual treat for the reader.

    Reply
  15. Zambian Lady

    What a heart warming story. Coming from a poor neighbourhood where the have nots rarely had meaningful contact with the seemingly haves, it warms my heart to hear of your conversation with Ahmed in your halting Arabic. It is interesting how such small everyday contacts are deeply etched in one’s memory.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      ‘Seemingly haves’ is a good way to put it! The ‘seemingly haves’ sometimes have insufficient humility! Many of us in NZ would be like me; descendants of immigrants who didn’t have much. We eventually ended up with enough, but I can’t forget that my own mother had to leave school at 13 because the family didn’t have enough money to pay for her secondary school education. As the saying goes “there but for the grace of God go I “. By the way, my Arabic was terrible. Ahmed probably laughed inwardly every time I opened my mouth.

      Reply
      1. Zambian Lady

        I guess you made his day just like he made yours – and your Arabic made the chats more interesting. I too have said to myself innumerable times: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.

        Reply
  16. quarteracrelifestyle

    Lovely memories Gallivanta. My nephew is in Egypt at the moment and loving it, he won a ballot to go for the Anzac ceremony so is making a holiday of it. I would love to go… your gardener/caretaker sounds a sweetie.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      How exciting for your nephew. Is he visiting any of the war sites in Egypt? Our NZ troops have so much history in Egypt. My grandfather was in Egypt for a short while before he was sent to France. He sent postcards from Egypt, but I am not sure where they are now. Maybe with my cousin. I hope the caretaker, if he is still alive, has good memories of us. 🙂

      Reply
      1. quarteracrelifestyle

        Yes, he has been to different sites. he was in the army for years and still takes cadets so he has thoroughly enjoyed it and a very worthy winner for the ballots. He would’ve found it very interesting and is a sentimental soul so I imagine very sad also. Roger’s father was in Egypt in WW2, he kept diaries which unfortunately were given to the oldest grandchild much to Roger’s disappointment as his only son.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          That’s lovely to know he is making the most of his time in that region. I have been learning more recently about family connections with El Alamein. Personal diaries of that period would be so precious.

        2. quarteracrelifestyle

          Yes, they would be such treasures wouldn’t they. Mind you, Roger read some of his dad’s diary that had been scanned and put online and he cried so much he couldn’t read it all so I guess in a proud grandson’s keeping it’s possibly better. He is an adult and cares greatly for them.

        3. Gallivanta Post author

          Oh dear, the comments and responses for this post are in such a mess. I was doing some of the commenting and reading on my mobile and seem to have missed some comments and answered others twice!
          In a way, it’s lovely that someone in the next generation has taken over care of a family treasure. I worry about all my papers and treasures. I expect I will need to place them in a museum/archives, unless some of the younger ones suddenly develop an interest in our family history.

        4. quarteracrelifestyle

          I know what that’s like 🙂 Maybe one of your grandchildren will develop a love of all these old and recognise your things as the “treasures” they are Gallivanta.

  17. Wendy L. Macdonald

    Gardeners make good neighbors. I imagine you’ve made other wonderful friends over a garden fence. Some of my favorite neighbors were people I met while outside weeding and trimming beloved plants.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Indeed they do, Wendy. My neighbour here is a great vegetable gardener. And we both hold similar views about encouraging bees, and non-use of sprays. Our gardens work well together. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      One can. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the Egyptian music. I like the combination of Egyptian/Middle Eastern and western classical influences. I included the music because the media tends to only focus on strife in that region and rarely mentions the rich musical scene/heritage. Having said that, it was the BBC who gave me this marvellous story http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32042375 about the restoration of a grand piano in Gaza, and gave me information on the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. So the media is not all bad. 😉

      Reply
  18. clarepooley33

    I liked this post very much – Your story of Ahmed and his roses is very beautiful and affecting. We in the west, for the most part, have lost the art of ritual. It can be comforting and can make difficult situations easier.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That is sadly true, Clare. A remnant of greeting rituals remains in the much despised supermarket check-out exchange. I am not one of the despisers! I enjoy having a chat with the check-out person. And when I am out walking in smaller towns of New Zealand I love the exchanges with passersby; ‘lovely day’ or ‘nice weather for ducks’, that sort of thing.

      Reply
      1. clarepooley33

        I also enjoy talking to the check-out people and certainly where I live most people exchange greetings when we pass in the street. My husband used to do a lot of hill-walking in the Lake District and he says that above 1000′ everyone says hello – his walking friend called it the ‘hello line’. Bad weather also makes people talk more.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Oh, I like that; the hello line. And, yes, bad weather does seem to make us more friendly towards each other. Or any kind of adversity.

  19. anotherday2paradise

    A beautiful and very moving story, Gallivanta. How sad that Ahmed couldn’t find replacements for his Baladi roses. The kittens have such sweet little faces, and I love the artwork, especially the Edward Lear sketch.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am not sure why he couldn’t find replacements. Perhaps he needed to get them from his home town which he only visited about once a year. I offered to pay for new plants, so the problem wasn’t lack of finance. Or perhaps he was resting the soil, and didn’t want to risk new plantings so soon after the others died. Many questions arise when verbal communication is limited. 🙂

      And, yes, I love Edward Lear’s art. How about using the sketch in this post as an inspiration for your next painting? 😀

      Reply
  20. Tiny

    What a fascinating and touching post! I have tears in my eyes as you brought me there into your garden and the waiting taxi. I’ve had these goodbyes in several countries too, and could literally see your street and the two gardens after being in Cairo so many times. Thank you for bringing beauty into my Saturday morning.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ah, Tiny, you know how it is. There have been many goodbyes in my past. The saddest part is that you know your chances of meeting again are slim to nil. Will you be going to Cairo again some time? Is your work there on-going?

      Reply
      1. Tiny

        Unfortunately I’m not going back any time soon, unless I get a new project there. The one I was working for quite a while (now latest) concluded in October.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Well, the saying is that once you have drunk the waters of the Nile you will always go back. Hmmm…..I wonder when that return will happen for me. 😀

  21. Steve Schwartzman

    There are so many resonances here, primarily the nostalgia for a place where one has lived. Perhaps someday you’ll get to revisit all of your main places. My grandmother spent the first 40+ years of her life in a part of Russia (now Ukraine) before coming to the United States. I once asked her, when she was in her 80s, whether she would like to go back to visit the place where she grew up. She said she wouldn’t mind, meaning that she’d like to, but she never did get to go back. I spent 1968 and ’69 in Honduras but haven’t been back to visit since 1978.

    Thanks for the introduction to Edward Lear’s non-nonsense artwork. According to the Wikipedia article about him: “His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as a (minor) illustrator of Alfred Tennyson’s poems.” The sail on the boat in the sample you provided looks like the leaf on an aquatic plant I saw two days ago.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I feel I understand your grandmother’s “I wouldn’t mind.” There are certainly places I would like to revisit, and there are places I would like to visit for the first time. There are people I would be very pleased to meet. But if these things don’t come to pass, I won’t mind either. Travel for me has rarely been for the simple pleasure of it; I travelled regularly for 4 decades, from the time I was a very young baby. Travel was always associated with equal parts of upheaval and pleasure. Travel was about hellos, sad goodbyes and a few fun things in between. Travel for me means emotional effort, especially when it is to places in our past. Staying put ie not travelling is an oasis of calm by comparison; maybe dull but easy on the soul. Glad you know another side of Lear now.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Did I remember to add, nothing much except an earthquake? And even one of those took 16,000 years to get going. 😀 By the way, I tried ‘talking’ to the sasanqua camellias in my garden. The flowers were very reticent and shy. The leaves were slightly more vocal. It was a cold day so perhaps they were conserving energy. 😉

        2. Steve Schwartzman

          You meant that nothing much cultural happens, so the earthquake wasn’t within the scope of your comment, but if your camellias had talked to you, that would have been an earthshaking development.

  22. KerryCan

    Well! Nothing like starting the morning with a few tears! What a beautifully-told story of a great friendship. I really envy the wide range of life experiences you’ve had!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh gosh. I hope you have your smile back now. Did you enjoy the beautiful Egyptian tapestry? And the lovely Egyptian cats?

      I have indeed had a wide ranging life. Which means lots of memories to entertain me in this quieter life I lead now. This past week, though, I have been thinking about our life in Nepal; wondering how all the dear people we knew then have fared. The caretaker of our house in Kathmandu was an amazing woman we called Didi. She could do anything, from fixing watches and radios to cleaning out water tanks. I think she would handle an earthquake well.

      Reply
      1. KerryCan

        The tapestry and the kittens both made me smile! The news of the earthquakes in Nepal must’ve been difficult for you in so many ways–I didn’t realize you had lived there but I know your history with earthquakes makes you extra empathetic to the victims.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          After our big earthquakes, when I was searching for information on liquefaction and other big earthquakes, I came across interesting articles on the 1934 Bihar-Nepal earthquake. As I read, I didn’t think that a few years later, Nepal would experience its worst earthquake since 1934, even though another big earthquake was to be expected.
          On a happier note, I have just discovered that I have family who settled in Millgrove, Hamilton, Ontario which is only about 7 and a bit hours from where you live. 🙂 Don’t know if there are any living descendants; that is a mystery yet to be solved.

  23. Juliet

    What an experience, and such a touching story of how plants connect people. The Edward Lear drawing is exquisite, in both colour and form. Thank you for the way you bring beauty and humanity to your readers.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, Juliet. Your latest post about the kumara harvest is another lovely way that plants connect people. And I am also remembering a story you told of the flowers given to your granddaughter’s other grandmother on her arrival in NZ. Communication; in the universal language of flowers.

      Reply
      1. Juliet

        Yes, I’d forgotten about the flowers story; thank you for remembering. The kumaras certainly brought a lot of people together.

        Reply
  24. Marylin Warner

    Gallivanta, I loved this. The beauty–and continuing lessons–of the ‘baladi’ rose bushes is touching and powerful. And of course you would miss Ahmed as he would miss you. The two of you had a special connection.
    When I was growing up, our neighbors were Italian, and our families developed a warm and sharing friendship. The wife’s parents lived in the next county, in an area where the original immigrants remained, and when her mother came to visit, it wasn’t until I asked her to please teach me to make her tomato with olive oil and garlic sauce that she took me under her wing. She taught me some Italian phrases from her childhood, and I shared with her the short stories I was reading in class.
    Flowers and food open doors to communication and friendship.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am sure the mother was delighted to have someone eager to learn about her way of doing things. How wonderful for both of you. Do you still make tomato sauce her way? Your comment made me think of the lovely Tomie dePaola books about Strega Nona. Perhaps they are stories your grandchildren enjoy?

      Reply
  25. lisadorenfest

    What a beautiful story of friendship and beauty. Sad to know that you never heard from Ahmed again or saw one of those beautiful ‘baladi’ roses, but they will both always be there in your heart.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      YC, in some cultures, religions, societies, any type of physical contact between unrelated males and females is considered improper, and sometimes expressly forbidden. In Egypt because I was a foreigner, and unsure about who would accept a handshake and who would not, I always erred on the side of caution, and kept my hands to myself. For an excellent explanation of Islamic etiquette and the shaking of hands, I would suggest looking at the site of Rukhsana Khan, children’s author and storyteller. http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/articles.html You may also enjoy her lovely youtube presentation on her books A New Life/Coming to Canada.

      Reply
      1. YellowCable

        According to the article, I have not been following the etiquette by waiting for a women to extend her hand first. I hope no one feel offended 🙂

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Most people are very accommodating. And each individual you meet will probably have a different opinion on the subject. 🙂

  26. thecontentedcrafter

    The treasures of our lives, I sometimes think Gallivanta,lie in the memories of these meetings when we are taken out of the humdrum and placed into another view of the world. It is so often the gift of travel and living in a different culture. . Beautifully told and now, though I never have seen or smelled one, I shall never forget the Baladi Rose!

    Reply
  27. Poetsmith

    An interesting post about your time in Egypt. It’s lovely to read about the cultural understanding between the two of you! Must be a joy to receive those special roses, Gallivanta 🙂 Nice photo of you there doing some shopping! Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I hope there was cultural understanding, Iris. I have been guilty of cultural misunderstanding on more than one occasion. And wasn’t I a slim, young thing, all those years ago? Sadly, most of the thinness came from repeated bouts of amoebic dysentery. I loved Egypt but my stomach didn’t.

      Reply
      1. Poetsmith

        Yes, you were slim and enjoying a different cultural experience. As for cultural understanding, there are sensitive issues and sometimes we look back and laugh over it. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Poetsmith

          I used to work with an Egyptian girl at the teaching hospital in Cambridge and we became great friends despite the cultural differences … Likewise in this virtual world. 🙂 Have a lovely weekend, my friend.

        2. Gallivanta Post author

          A good weekend was had. Thank you Iris. As I am a fan of Queen Elizabeth, I especially enjoyed the news of the birth of her latest great grandchild.

        3. Poetsmith

          Yes, it is lovely for Kate and William to have an addition to the family. From the news, the rest of the family are delighted too. Doesn’t the little one look so cute? Glad you had a good weekend. 🙂

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, Johanna. You must have many similar stories! When I wrote this memoir, I couldn’t help wondering what Ahmed might have written about me and the roses, if he had been able to. 😉 He might have had an entirely different take on it.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          They did talk back in a way. I have no idea what they were saying. This probably sounds a bit silly but the plants, or more specifically the leaves of plants, I encountered in Egypt seemed to emit a pulse. Meaning that if I put the palm of my hand very close to a leaf, my palm would tingle as if a little warm current were passing over it. Jagadish Chandra Bose http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagadish_Chandra_Bose#Plant_research probably wouldn’t be surprised. It was an odd, but very pleasant sensation.

        2. Steve Schwartzman

          You single out the leaves of plants: did you ever get a sensation, whether the same or different, from those plants’ flowers?

          I’d heard about Chandra Bose but I didn’t know until looking at the linked article that he is considered the father of Bengali science fiction. I had no idea there was any Bengali science fiction, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: there’s a big world out there.

        3. Gallivanta Post author

          I had no idea either! I don’t remember if I received any sensation from flowers. Different leaves seemed to give off different levels of sensation. And occasionally the close presence of my hand would make the leaf move ever so slightly. Whatever the reason for this sensation, it was very pleasing and comforting to me. Maybe I need to see if I can get NZ plants to talk. 😉

  28. Mélanie

    @”I didn’t want to say goodbye.” – this sentence sums up your impressive, nostalgic and emotional story, Lady-G… you’ve reminded me of Egypt that we visited years ago and that I miss it every time I hear of I read something about this awesome country… I’ve never heard of “baladi” roses, but I did see “mau” cats… 🙂 my souvenirs from Egypt:
    https://myvirtualplayground.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/nefertiti-akhenaten-timeless-and-everlasting-love/
    * * *
    P.S. have you watched Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo”?… 🙂
    * * *
    have a positive and optimistic May! HHH = huge heartfelt hugs… ❤

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am so happy you have met the ‘mau’ cats of Egypt. The little ones who sheltered in our apartment building were only part mau, as best as I can tell. We called them mau anyway.
      I haven’t seen The Purple Rose of Cairo. Have you seen Cairo Time http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Time , starring the gorgeous Alexander Siddig?

      Reply
      1. Mélanie

        I haven’t watched “Cairo Time”, this is the first time I hear of it… – I presume ’cause it’s far less famous than Allen’s movie… 😉

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          I would say it is less famous but it did win some awards. The story is a bit far fetched but it is beautifully filmed, and made me homesick for Cairo.

      2. Steve Schwartzman

        At your recommendation, I took Cairo Time out of the Austin Public Library. Eve and I watched it last night. I appreciated the cinematography: some of the geological features in the scene filmed in the White Desert immediately had me wanting to be there photographing them. Eve had the impression that Cairo is a lot like Manila (heavily populated, sprawling, noisy). She found the film’s pace a bit slow (though I didn’t, it being Cairo time), and she related to your adjective gorgeous (which never crossed my mind). Both she and I felt that you could see something of yourself in the character of Juliette and the actress who played her, and of course so many things in the film must have reminded you of your Cairo time.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Well done, Austin Public Library, for having the film. I had to download it from iTunes. I haven’t been to Manila but I can confirm that Cairo is noisy, sprawling and chaotic, and it does have its own time. Nothing will happen faster than its meant to. I am glad you saw the film. It is sensual rather than sensible but that, too, is like Cairo. Oh I liked Juliette. She was lovely.

  29. couldashouldawoulda9

    Take two…Wordpress just hates me

    But I love this story and got a bit testy at the end. Sad for the Rose snd your neighbour and the special relationship that makes life interesting. I did Google baladi but it says organic? No images

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you for persevering. It’s always lovely to have your comments. It’s odd how difficult it is to find images of baladi roses. I think I even checked the Kew Gardens site. Also a google for Baladi or baladi rose brings up a lot of belly dancing links. I am expecting a leap in spam with this post. 😦

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ah, yes, that’s often the case! He was also on duty 24 hours a day, which is enough work to make anyone grumpy! We were in Egypt from 1994 to 1998.

      Reply
  30. Tish Farrell

    What a very fine piece of writing. Mesmerising. It makes me think of a story Katherine Mansfield might have written. That you have no picture is perhaps the point in a way; takes it to an altogether other dimension 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Hmm Katherine Mansfield…, you are sweet to link us :). Since KM’s work was apparently influenced by nostalgia ( for NZ), I can see why you could imagine KM writing something like my story, which is replete with nostalgia. It’s a while since I have read any of her stories. However, I am looking forward to reading Katherine Mansfield in the Archive, the Persephone Prize winning essay by Eve Lacey.http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/persephone-prize . And, yes, I believe you are right. If I had a photo of the baladi rose my story would be different. Indeed, there may not have been a story at all. I may have been content with the photo.

      Reply
  31. Cynthia Reyes

    Another masterfully told story, written in a way that only Gallivanta can. Brava and thank you for sharing with us a small slice of your life in Egypt, your beautiful friendship with Ahmed and the baladi roses.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I wish I could send you a bunch of those baladi roses, Cynthia. I wish I could send myself a bunch! I used to feel that all the sweetness of Egypt and all the breezes of the Nile were distilled into each baladi rose as it bloomed. In other life-changing cross-cultural news; I was told this week that two of my great great uncles settled in Ontario; most likely in Millgrove, (Wentworth County), where they are now buried. So I am guessing I must have some Canadian cousins. Yay, more reasons to visit Canada. 😀

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Doing my best! Hold on to yours, too. And, in case I forget….keep reminding me that I don’t want to visit Canada in winter!

        2. Cynthia Reyes

          You do NOT want to visit Canada during our winter. Even my ski-loving husband got fed up this year. Anytime from May to October will do just fine. October for the trees and fresh, crisp air.

  32. Joanne Jamis Cain

    What a beautiful story. To have lived in a foreign country for a while and to have experienced such amazing friendships is truly a gift.
    My grandmother had an heirloom rose bush that grew on a trellis by her house. She would pick the petals and, in the nature of her homeland, she would make rose jelly from those petals. My own mother said she searched for this variety of rose bush but could not find it.
    Someday, I’d like to try and find the rose variety and figure out the jelly.
    xo Joanne

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I have very fond memories of Egypt, Joanne. I found an Egyptian research paper on rose jelly made with baladi roses (rosa gallica var. aegyptiaca). The jelly looks gorgeous. I wonder if your grandmother had a rosa gallica variety. Perhaps she made rose tea, too? My mouth is watering just thinking of rose jelly and rose tea. 🙂

      Reply
        1. Joanne Jamis Cain

          When I was in Greece seven or eight years ago, they made candied fruit and all it is really is fruit and sugar that’s been boiled. It’s delicious and this recipe seems very much like that.
          It would be a miracle if your rose is my mother’s. Yesterday was her birthday (86!) and I didn’t get a chance to ask her about it. But I’m seeing her today and I will ask her!

        2. Gallivanta Post author

          That’s wonderful news, Joanne. I have just been over to read your article. You are right the relationships were amazing.

  33. April

    I love reading your writing. It always gives me a sense of calm. I loved your love handle post but was expecting something different 😉 Ahmed sounds like a wonderful man, I’m sure you miss him.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ha! Yes, the love handles post had a slightly different take on love handles, didn’t it? 😉 Ahmed was a good man. He looked after us well. But he wasn’t above being grumpy with me and the other residents, if he thought we were asking him to do too much. As caretaker of the building he was the defacto boss, and we, the residents, fared better if we remembered that.

      Reply
  34. Mrs. P

    What a lovely story and ritual. Did you ever hear from Ahmed again? Ever visit Egypt again? See another “baladi” rose?

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      No, no, and no. And saddest of all, Mrs P, I don’t even have a photo of those baladi roses. I have searched on Google for a likeness of them, but none of the images seems right to me.

      Reply
      1. Mrs. P

        I hope that you find one before you leave this world…that would be such a sweet ending to a precious memory.

        Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, and my apologies for taking so long to thank you. I have been out of my usual routines, for happy reasons, and my blogging responses have been disorganised and belated.

      Reply

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