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“Maousem el-biddinghen” or: the world gone mad

Oooops! The past few days have not been entirely happy in the organic garden. Egyptians talk about “maousem el-biddinghen” or the season of aubergines (egg plants) when – they say – collective madness prevails among humankind. Season of aubergines or not (actually, not), there’s an odd atmosphere hereabouts.

The Engineer is in a huff, and it’s not on account of the half-drowned onions. He was supposed to come on Saturday to plant – guess what: aubergines! – but failed to materialize. Then, the reason was that there were no aubergine seedlings in the market that day. So he promised it would be the following day. Come Sunday, and the reason for not showing up was a broken-down car.

Apparently, he re-scheduled for Monday (today), but that’s the bit I missed. So, when he turned up this morning, seedlings at the ready, I was both mystified and put out. At the time, I was about to leave for a language lesson; not Arabic, as it happens, but that’s another story.

We got off to a terrible start. I had to ask him to come in through the garage gates and, to judge from his reaction, I truly think he, a respectable gardener with a degree in agricultural science, was insulted by the thought that I might be putting him down by asking him to use the tradesmen’s entrance! I was doing nothing of the sort: the front gate had come off its hinges, was precariously balanced, and might at any moment have fallen onto someone’s feet – which would have been a mighty crush if ever there was one.

Next, he told me that he hadn’t come on Saturday because it was… raining. Factually true, but to say this to an English gardener is to flourish a red rag before a bull. I was astounded: whoever heard of rain – yes, rain – keeping a gardener off their beloved patch? I’ve dug beds in pouring rain, snow, and even when the ground was covered in ice crystals (which was pretty silly, it has to be said, and terrible for the wrists).

So I just told him to ditch the spinach – which he didn’t agree with – and plant the biddinghen. For good measure, I suggested he refrain from planting them in the same bed/soil as last season. If I had known the Arabic for “rotation of crops is an important principle in organic agriculture” I would have added that as explanation; but my grasp of the language doesn’t stretch that far.

This raises an interesting point about living and trying to work on equal terms in a country that is not your own, using a language in which you are a touch unsteady. It tends to breed a feeling of insecurity and frustration, communication on the one side being reduced to the banal and, at times, childish – oftentimes the result of a constrained vocabulary and, in my case, an incapacity to get to grips with verbs. This does not, it goes without saying, reflect the speaker’s true mental capacity – well, not usually. Meanwhile, the interlocutor is in a far superior position: the Engineer can, and regularly does, blind me with what may be science in a language in which he is perfectly at ease.

“It isn’t a problem,” was his response to the rotation issue, “we’ve put in plenty of fertiliser, so they’ll be fine.”

I got his point – but he hadn’t got mine. Soil exhaustion wasn’t what I was thinking of. It was more to do with an outbreak of mealy bugs on the aubergine plants late last summer, and the knowledge that the little horrors hide in the soil. But I couldn’t see how to explain “plant hygiene” in Arabic, so I gave up and stomped off.

The only good thing in this ‘agro-frontation’ if such I may call it, is that he appeared not to notice the state of the onions. So I can breathe a sigh of relief even as I fear the Engineer may walk out – a second time.

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