I am immediately enchanted as I pass through the grand gates of Orman Gardens in Giza. A mere five minute walk from Giza Zoo, the frantic traffic with its drivers honking repetitively, swearing under the scorching sun; motorcyclists revving their engines aggressively, using the pavement as an improvised lane to avoid the wait; pedestrians huddled together at make-shift bus stops on the road, talking to each other at levels louder than normal — this all fades away as I step into this reclusive oasis.
Named Orman after the Turkish word for forest, copious trees planted over a century ago sway as gently as two people in love dancing to the soft tune of ancient leaves rustling in the cool, spring breeze.
Reportedly twenty-eight acres, the garden hosts an annual spring festival every March for a month, where hundreds of companies elaborately exhibit plants, flowers, ornaments, and garden equipment, enticing visitors to add color to their patios, rooftops, or gardens, creating a pleasing contrast against the backdrop of Cairo’s sandy landscape.
But I find myself moving away from the manicured exhibits, roaming deeper into the forest. Listening to serene bird-songs, the madness of Cairo traffic seems a distant memory.
I admire the still pond with its bridges creating soft, wavy reflections below, like the train of a wedding gown, adorned above with the delicate arches of branches flowing softly towards the earth like a veil framing the face of a pretty bride.
Treading softly on the creaking bridge that seems to be strong enough to carry the burden of several bodies upon it, my mind tries to picture the garden in the early 1900s when it was founded.
I could see younger trees competing with one another to rise towards the sun; I could see defined manicured lawns sparkling like jewels, caressed with droplets of water; I could see a pond that shone with pride under the ever-giving Egyptian sun, colorful fishes calling it home.
A distant noise brings me back to the present and as my eyes focus I see what the garden is a century later. Although still retaining its charm, I find myself wanting to go back in time in my mind’s eye and see the garden in its former glory.
Only trees and various plants have survived, growing strongly and firmly. Like a ragged bridal dress neglected in the attic for moths and mice to eat away at its purity, the garden’s pond is decorated with so much litter, not one bird dares to venture in for a bath, not one duck calls this its home, not one frog and other such creatures are found among the plastic bags that suffocate the promise of it ever becoming a home to wildlife.
The once manicured lawns have given way to rough patches of dried grass, worn out from lack of maintenance. The bridges and buildings look tired, having seen enough neglect over the decades.
It is only the trees and plants that are self-sufficient, able to survive the neglect of man. The abandoned, rusty playground is a place where I see ghosts of the past, transparent children screeching on the swings as they beg their parents to push them higher, just so they could embrace the Egyptian sky.
I am no longer in control of where my legs lead me as I wander through the acres of land, admiring the trees that branch out, touching each other in an embrace I thought only mammals knew of.
I see young couples shyly pick at the contents of their lunch as they laugh on old benches under the shade. I see a family walking through the tired, littered paths.
I meet another couple carrying school books in their arms, leaving behind them, albeit outdated, sanctuary of the Orman Gardens, heading back into the real world, negotiating with oncoming traffic to cross the road just so they could make it to their next lecture at Cairo University, opposite the garden, in one piece.
Though I am lost in time and space whilst I roam the tarmac lanes spiralling through the gardens, though I am captivated by the peace and quiet I am pleasurably engrossed in, though I cannot help but feel so humbled underneath the towering trees above me, I cannot help but see, much like how I see Egypt, what this graceful garden once was, and what it could be, if only…
Next to Cairo University and Cairo Zoo,
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