While I didn’t set a scene at Al-Ahzar Park, my characters visited it between the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. It also came up in conversation a number of times for various reasons. So of course, I had to go. Several supporting characters in my novel belong to the same ex-pat family. While Kate and Michael were visiting for several weeks, the Petersons had been living in a suburb of Maadi for several years. Ex-pats find places that the tourists on their fast-paced tours never get to see. I wanted to show this in a way that furthered the plot.
Al-Ahzar Park doesn’t have great age to recommend it. In fact, this oasis of green in the middle of Islamic Cairo was built less than ten years ago when a centuries’ old garbage dump was bulldozed and replaced with a reservoir topped by a 30 hectares of green space. All of the pictures I found on the net suggested it would be a place of peace and contemplation after the crowded Khan Al-Khalili. It would be like strolling through a palace garden surrounded by an ancient city.
The views were everything that I had expected. The peace and quietness? Um, no.
It was the last day of the Eid, and Al-Ahzar was packed with families who were out for the day. When the taxi dropped us off, we could tell the gardens were swarming with people. My sister and my husband looked at me. Both their eyes and their mouths asked, “Do we really have to go here?”
“My characters did,” I answered lamely. I didn’t explain the part about them going between the ending of one chapter and the start of another. And really, it was important to certain relationships between the characters.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we were probably the only Americans in the park that day. I was so busy looking around at the trees, fountains and walkways that I didn’t notice at first. It can take things awhile to penetrate my rather thick skull. But then kids of middle school age kept saying “Hullo!” and smiling at us. They probably wondered what we were doing there, but we must have looked pretty harmless.
The playground where my characters spent time hanging out shows just how crowded it was.
My characters would have had this place almost to themselves in the middle of a school day.
We left when the sun was still a few handspans above the horizon. My sister let me know that it could get just a bit crazy after sundown during the Eid. Pretty soon, all of the families would probably be leaving Al-Ahzar Park as older people moved in for the last night of a three or four day party.