In Mother’s Garden

The villas in Tripoli were generally hidden behind enclosing garden walls. Built of concrete block, workers sprayed the two meter tall walls with tan or cream pigmented cement. Once in a while, the wall might be as much as three meters tall. Other walls warned off would-be intruders with an ominous top: a continuous, permanently affixed array of frightfully large, jagged glass fragments from bottles and such, glinting like steel in the bright sunlight.

The walls between rectangular pilasters typically painted white, featured wide, repeated lacework like open sections, like the exposed viewing section of a woman’s hijab. Perhaps a half meter tall by two meters wide, the ornamental colorful glazed open tile work, added beauty, while allowing visual connectivity between inside and outside the gardens. Gardens would feature stunning, brilliant purple, fuchsia, or tangerine bougainvillea, hot pink and rocket red geranium, “four o’clocks,” velvety and candy striped petunias, nasturtiums, zinnias, morning glory vines, honeysuckles, and one of my favorites a defiantly succulent ground cover called, “camel grass.” I mean what could be more cool than that? Not that it attracted any camels into our garden, though we frequently witnessed camel caravans as that passed languidly down our street.

Tough as they are, no camels dared enter Mother’s loving watered and tended garden. She watered and weeded. I watered and weeded. My brothers mostly weren’t asked to assist us. I didn’t mind so much. I enjoyed spending time with Mother in the beauty of our little oasis. She’d fret over plants crowding one another, so we’d uproot and replant a brash offender off to some safe distance. Like following the flight of a butterfly, much of the time I found it difficult to follow Mother’s conversations. Woe to any of her children who did not keep up with the dizzying change of subjects. Inevitably I’d be met with her sharp flashing eyes after I’d utter a feeble “What did you say?” She might be more conciliatory on hearing me helpfully reminding her, “You didn’t finish your sentence.” She was working. Leading. Teaching. It was my job to keep up.

Occasionally the driveway gate would be absentmindedly left ajar and inviting curious and hungry visitors. Noisy and raucous, various sizes and colors, goats or sheep meandered in, along the side and all the way to the back, nibbling and stripping bare all my mother’s favorite flowers as they went. Aghast, Mother’s commands, “Imshi!” Go away! received no response. Nor was it lost on Mother that the shephard leaning on the outside of the wall smoking a cigarette affected a studious oblivion regarding the havoc wreaked upon her garden. Somewhat reluctantly for me, we’d clap our hands and shoo the exfoliating entertainment out, parading below towering, striated trunks of the breezy eucalyptus trees, out to the near blinding glare of the sandy street.