The Tree Lovers Association (TLA) recently did a Tree Walk in the Cairo suburb of Maadi to celebrate 50 years since its founding. According to Asmaa Al-Halwagi, chair of the TLA, the walk marks the 38th undertaken by the association.
“After the 1952 Revolution, some people started to cut down trees in Maadi, a formerly largely British suburb. Moeen Al-Arab, founder of the association, with some others, prevented them from doing that — and thank goodness they did,” Al-Halwagi said. Al-Arab and his wife Safeya, Wahid Bek Rafaat, Saza Al-Arousi, and Warda Blezar established the association.
“Losing trees is like losing lives,” Al-Halwagi said, describing this as one of the main reasons behind her joining the TLA at the age of 23.
The recent walk started under a Ficus benghalensis, the Latin name of the Banyan Fig tree, on Road 83 in Maadi. Therese Labib, a horticulture and taxonomy expert, told the participants that the tree has medicinal uses. “It is considered sacred by Hindus and is commonly planted for religious purposes. It provides shade along roads as well as in parks and gardens. The khedive Ismail brought it to Egypt and planted it in many areas,” Labib said.
Labib and Al-Halwagi introduced the participants to a variety of trees that were planted many years ago, giving the residential neighbourhood beauty, peace, and calm.
According to Samia Zaitoun, secretary of the TLA, the tree walks create a connection between people and trees. “They increase awareness among people of the importance of trees, especially after the increase in population and the cutting down of trees in some places for development,” Zaitoun said.
German siblings enjoying nature
This was the longest walk since she joined the TLA 35 years ago, she said, adding that the participants were mostly Maadi residents and visitors, with the latter increasing thanks to social media.
Ingrid Wassmann is a visitor who was keen to attend the walk. “I have always wanted to come on one of the Tree Lovers walks. I am so grateful to the founders and all the members who believe and fight for this fundamental cause, to respect and protect trees and ultimately try to save the environment from human recklessness,” Wassmann said.
An editor at the AUC Press, Wassmann told Al-Ahram Weekly that she had brought with her a copy of The Street Trees of Egypt, which is now out of print. “It was great having it along because I could refer to the detailed illustrations of the leaves, flowers, and fruit for each tree that we looked at during the walk. It’s a practical little guide that includes the Latin and common name as well as a short description of the tree,” she said.
Wassmann agreed with Zaitoun on the importance of awareness of the vital role trees and plants play in human wellbeing. “It all starts with raising awareness, so that then hopefully every individual might choose to show more respect towards nature and trees. Without trees or water, we are nothing,” she concluded.
Fern tree, Blue Jacaranda
The annual walk always takes place in May, but it is not the only activity of the TLA. “Our main target is saving trees all over Egypt, as Law 367 criminalises cutting down trees. Even during the construction of bridges and new roads, sustainable development should be taken into consideration,” Al-Halwagi said.
She added that a ceremony was held at the Maadi Club to celebrate 150 Maadi gardeners. The event was attended by, among others, Tarek Al-Beheiri, head of the Maadi district. “Improving the quality of life depends on protecting trees as they are the storage system of the ecosystem. They act as shelter for birds that play a very big role in the ecosystem,” Al-Halwagi said.
She added that planting more trees and flowers would increase the number of bees that are the main carriers for pollen.
“Trees keep up the balance of the ecosystem. The TLA’s principles are to preserve existing trees and greenery, to increase space for tree planting, to improve the quality of the environment, to select tree diversity and sustainability and to manage green areas as a resource regardless of ownership boundaries,” Al-Halwagi concluded.
“There is such a stunning mix of flower blossoms —colours, smells, and shapes on the trees at this time of the year. The Tree Lovers walk was indeed a chance to slow down, look up, and really connect with the trees around us,” Wassmann said.
Al-Beheiri and Moawad
Celebrating Gardener Day
Abdel-Samie Moawad, 54, one of the honourees at last week’s Al-Ganaini Day (Gardener Day) held at the Maadi Club, told the Weekly that the main goal of his work was to preserve trees and to care for plants in general.
Moawad said that the work of a gardener is based on sincerity and simplicity. “There is no fahlawa [trying to be smart or clever] involved, as this does not help in cultivating plants or flowers,” he said.
“The main thing is to allow the plants to speak for themselves in all their beauty.”
Because the nature of the gardener’s work may require his working at night, Moawad added that “gardeners should obtain a badge or licence in order to carry out their work with confidence and avoid any possibly embarrassing situations.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 8 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly