Tourist capital but no gardens [Archives:2006/951/Opinion]

June 1 2006

By: Nashwan Dammaj
Although it's the tourist capital of Yemen, Ibb has no gardens; except for one that can't even qualify as a garden. It is situated in the center of the city and it's surrounded with an endless number of cars and buses. The name: Sert Gulf Garden or Khaleej Sert.

It's a relatively new name, attributed to those who immigrated to Libya instead of Saudi Arabia following Gulf War I. But these immigrants failed and came back to Yemen gathering at the park modeled after the Sert Gulf in Libya.

The garden with its limited area and humble components is considered the only resort for the inhabitants of this crowded Yemeni city.

The park as the kids call it, contains traditional games which compared to their counterparts elsewhere are considered nothing if not small. Yet this seems to suffice for these city children and even those coming from the countryside. Those children might find some sort of entertainment at the park as they haven't experienced such games elsewhere.

Children do in fact find some fancy there, especially when the garden's administration introduced a new game a few months ago. They can tower and circle air riding high above the ground where things may seem different to them. The game catches adult attention as well.

The children seem to enjoy the thrill they get out of the game. Even though the machine runs on electricity, the owner of the game prefers to run or crank it manually by hand, a task that demands too much effort with each cycle for the machine. Therefore the owner will let only three children tower it each time in order to make machine's rotation easy for him in spite of the fact that it can hold more and can be automated. Children after the first swing always want to make another round, but this is unattainable as each rotation costs fifty YR and it is too much for a child to afford. Thus, children resort to other games which are free of charge.

One of these games is sliding. It can be both boring and amusing, but one thing it definitely is: overcrowded. Children have the ability to get enjoyment their own way. They can make the game into a race where rivalry is a natural consequence. The one who makes more slides is the winner. The competition rises whenever children get the encouragement from their families, though this encouragement does not go beyond some whispering and winking. The place is very narrow and it is too close to a public bath, so family members don't feel free and comfortable enough to actually voice their encouragement.

After spending time playing these two games, children will ask if there is more or not. They look around them, but they won't find much except for some games scraps, zinc, and iron frames all around them. At another spot in the park, children will find a door with a sign that reads “See the Hyena”. Curiosity alone will push them to pay 10 YR in order to see this terrifying animal.

Before spotting the hyena, the kids ask themselves tons of questions: what kind of animal is it; is it a cat or a monkey? As soon as they enter questions are answered. To their surprise what they will find is contrary to what they have imagined. Lying calmly without moving, they find a hyena trembling out of hunger, fear and cold weather. Even when teased the hyena won't move or try to look at them. Frustrated the children become bored and decide to leave almost always with some sarcasm. The hyena isn't the fierce animal their mothers told them about.

Once they leave the hyena the children realize there are no more games and they have to come back home with their families. They will probably feel their own toys and games at home are far better than those of the garden. It doesn't mean they will never come back: they don't have another option or substitutes.

The park isn't just a children's playground. Adults can always find a place where they can spend some time playing “dominoes” and “Kirum”, the only two portable and available games around. They'll sit around cement tables in groups of four to play these games with the avidity of addicts.

Khajeel Sert is also suitable place for having your picture taken. There is always a photographer at hand with his horse in tow. This creature has nothing to bond it with horse species, except perhaps the name. There is also the choice of taking your picture with a falcon or any other bird that's available. Then of course, you can have a photo taken with the dirty water of the fountain as a backdrop in case you do not want to have an actual background for the photo.

So, our commentary on the gardens of Ibb ends where it started since it isn't the only thing the city lacks. There are no garden projects in the civil planning layout and the concept seems entirely absent in the planners' mind. Projects for gardens are not available save in a piece of land that was supposed to have been a public garden 20 years ago. This place is two kilometers south of Ibb on Mount Al-Mahmol. This plan, at that time, was confined to walling that land and building a room for guardsmen. It is unknown whether this government-seized land will still be a garden in future plans or turned into an individual, private property as is the tradition.

Nashwan Dammaj is a Yemeni writer and a poet. He is Yemen Times correspondent in Ibb.