Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A time for flowers

Spring is the season when no one can overlook the beauty of Egypt’s flowers, writes Ameera Fouad

Al-Ahram Weekly

The beauty you see in their petals, the heavenly smell of their scent, and the smiles they bring to many faces — these are all the gifts of flowers.

Flowers are sought when you want to apologise and when you want to celebrate, when you send condolences and when you mark a birthday, when you congratulate someone and when you need to cheer them up, when you visit a newborn and when you visit an ailing grandparent. They are there when it is time to celebrate Mother’s Day and when it is time to visit a cemetery.

They are what brings beauty to the earth, to nature and to all our lives. They are part of a language that we all can speak and understand — the language of flowers.

With spring knocking on the door and Egyptians celebrating the Sham Al-Nessim (Smelling the Breeze) festival on Monday, the season of flowers and greenery is beginning. Some flower gardens are thriving, thanks to careful planting, while others are struggling for survival as the long summer days begin.

With many people engrossed in shopping and the new emphasis on materialism, however, the importance of flowers in recent times seems to be dwindling. Do people still believe in the power of flowers? Do they appreciate the summer flowerbeds and the garden annuals?

In ancient times, flower inscriptions appeared on Pharoanic monuments. One of the most famous flowers in Ancient Egypt was the lotus, the symbol of the sun, creation and rebirth. Lotus flowers, also called water lilies, open in the morning and close again at night, symbolising rebirth and regeneration.

Egypt is famous for other flowers as well, including violets, narcissus, camellias, belladonna, lilies, pomegranate flowers and many more.

Though Egypt is blessed to have such a wide range of flowers, they are mostly seasonal and are given on specific occasions such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, or personal occasions such as weddings, birthdays, romantic evenings and hospital visits.

Whether this happens today as much as it did in the past is not clear. It is not known whether flowers still play the role they once did in the everyday lives of Egyptians.

“I just got some flowers from my mother two days ago, without there being any specific occasion. It is the mother-daughter relationship, I guess,” Mariam Ibrahim, 20, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“But I love flowers on any occasion — their colours, their smell and even the way they make me feel. Flowers for me are a sign of appreciation. They are a way to express love and care and a way to apologise as well.”

She continued, “Flowers are a reflection of inner beauty and of feelings that we might not be able to say in words. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciate flowers. Many people think that flowers are useless because one day a beautiful flower will become a dead one.

“But I believe this is another sign of beauty and represents the cycle of life. Even when we grow older, we are still beautiful. That is what flowers are all about. They symbolise life.”

For many people, especially those raised in a house that is often full of flowers, there is no better thing than to bask in the glory of a neat home and add the finishing touch with a bouquet of fresh flowers.

“The florist has always brought me a bouquet of flowers every Friday morning since 1950, the very first day of our marriage — the same florist, the same flowers and even the same house. Nothing has changed, except the painful death of my husband seven years ago,” said Hoda Naeem, an 82-year-old widow and housewife.

“In the old days, I used to plant flowers in pots on my balcony. The whole neighbourhood used to have flowery balconies, full of greenery and cuttings that we could collect, such as mint, herbs, tomatoes, lemon, rosemary, garlic and many others. It was not the harvest we sought, though, but the beauty of sowing and then eating our own products, which made life just more beautiful,” she added.

Just as the arrangement of a bouquet of flowers is important, so is the symbolism that every flower possesses. Every flower colour — from a deep red rose to a bright yellow daffodil — carries a story and brings back memories that can date back thousands of years. Red flowers stand for desire, passion and love, while white stand for innocence and simplicity. Pink flowers stand for happiness and grace, while blue flowers represent peace and serenity.

People sometimes get confused about what these colours stand for, imagining for example that yellow stands for jealousy when it actually reflects reverence and humility. Nonetheless, it is no surprise that a bouquet filled with rich red and white blooms knows no restraints.

“The colour of flowers is of great importance,” said Mona Al-Ahmer, a mother and a businessperson. “It simplifies feelings and fills gaps without the need for words. Red and white are my favourite colours for flowers. I always associate them with love and purity.”

Aside from stimulating our sense of smell, flowers also bring beauty to our eyes. “Flowers are the best gifts for the soul,” said Mema Al-Shafey, a jewelry designer. “They make us feel better with positive feelings. I have always included in my collection something about flowers in order to tell people how they inspire me and how they can turn negative feelings to positive ones.”

While many believe that flowers are a great way to liven up a room and make things look more beautiful, some consider them to be a waste of money. Why spend money on something that will die the next day, they ask.

“I think they are a waste of money, and I hate anything that will not last. In fact, seeing them dying make me feel guilty. I would rather someone gave me a cheap box of chocolates than flowers,” said Sara Hisham, 30.

“The only flower I would love to have is a flower that I can put in my hair and that will not fade. The thing is that I hate seeing them dying.”

Flowers are not only meant for vases to embellish homes. They are also put at the site of graves and in cemeteries, not only in Egypt but in many other places around the world. Most cemeteries in Egypt have specific rules regarding the kind of flowers a person can leave.

Eid Mohamed, a florist, recalls an incident when a customer wanted to buy red flowers for a graveyard and another customer who wanted to buy plastic flowers and several teddy bears to place at his wife’s grave.

“We have strict rules governing graveyards in the Islamic traditions, where it is considered prohibited or haram to express exaggerated emotions, to wear loud clothing, or in any way to disturb the dead,” said Mohamed. “The same thing goes for the kind of flowers that are allowed. Selling flowers to visitors paying their respects on Fridays is one of the main businesses of any florist.”

He continued, “People come to buy plants as well, including cactuses, as these can tolerate the hot summer temperatures and do not need to be watered every day. When people buy flowers, they usually choose lilies.”

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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