You find them behind the house—secret, closed off from the outside world and carefully tended. They are places where we like to go, places where the work we do is pleasant. Some people make gardens.

They are people who also do other work, of course. They cook, clean house, take care of children, work for money. The work they do in their gardens, though, is different from the other work. There they work for comfort, to make something beautiful, to have an immediate contact with the world. Because, touching the ground and the plants, you touch the life of other beings that are different from us. Those places overflow with energy and beauty. Once, in the middle of July, I went into a woman's house and she gave me a bouquet of ite, pink, orange and red flowers. Colors that usually don't go together. But this bouquet had so much energy—it was as if she put the warmth of the whole summer into my hands.
And I liked to count the plants in her garden. There were lemon trees, orange trees, grape vines, and medlars for fruit, and walnuts and almonds for nuts. There was a palm tree that, even though its dates never ripened because of the cold winter, gave the garden an interesting look. There was oregano, thyme, spearmint, and parsley for cooking. There were strange plants brought in from different countries she had planted there so she could watch them grow. And many flowers, blooming in every season. It was a kind of paradise.
One time I met someone who thought all the pressure and the empty running around in society was necessary. He was as thin as a rod and had cold eyes, but he smiled. "And without being paid, who would work? Who would work?" he asked. "Fine," I thought. "But you're starving." And it's obvious that anyone would work—for something he loved.
Maybe you'll ask, since those places are so beautiful and so pleasant, why they should almost always be surrounded by high walls, so no one can see them from the outside? And the answer is obvious. They are surrounded, hidden, because earlier there were catastrophes in the lives of the people who made them, and they don't want more. They don't trust other people, that is. People come and go, take things for themselves and destroy without reason, you have to avoid them and hide from them. "People are bad" as they say in these parts.
When I think about the gardens, I feel happy and sad at the same time. I'm happy they exist. But I think it's sad that the product of all that work, creativity, and love has to be hidden. Why shouldn't we share it? Isn't that what it's for?
If you want to see the soul of a people, its love and its hope, don't look at the churches or the great artistic works of bygone years. Go see the gardens.

© Margaret Wesseling, 26-11-6