Madame the Expat and the Gardener

by Miss Footloose

Living the expat life in an exotic country, you often come across these small mysteries and quirky events that brighten your day. Okay, big mysteries as well, and they might not brighten your day, but let’s not ponder those for the moment. The story below is about my conversation with our gardener while we were domiciling in Ghana, West Africa. Having a gardener is one of those wonderful luxuries you can afford while living in some foreign countries. You may not have electricity or water for hours or days on end, but hey, you don’t have to pull weeds or mow the lawn.



Ali the gardener is watering the flowers. Coming to work at seven, he always wears proper pants and a fancy shirt of some sort, and then changes in the garage into ragged shorts and an old T-shirt for work. He’s a Muslim and prays in the garage using a flattened cardboard box as a prayer mat. He’s a mild, modest man who has already done wonders in our garden in a short time.

I skip down the stairs and out the door to speak to him. I’ve discovered a fairy-tale flower growing in front of the house. It’s white and delicate and looks a bit like an orchid. It has a lovely perfumy fragrance that spreads itself far and wide.

“Ali, you know the name of this flower?”

Ali shakes his head and looks regretful. He does not know the name, only that it belongs to the ginger family, going by the leaves.

“It smells wonderful,” I say.

He gives a mournful little smile. “I not hear the scent,” he says.

I look at him, surprised. “But it’s very strong!” I tell him I have one of the flowers in the living room floating in a dish of water and you can smell it all over the room.

He shrugs apologetically. “No, I not hear the scent.”

I bend over one of the flower clusters and sniff. It’s lovely. It’s potently fragrant. “How can you not smell it?” I ask, amazed.

He shrugs fatalistically, saying that’s how God has made him, without hearing scents. “Not even vomit,” he adds.

So I start my day.

NOTE: In the fullness of time I discovered the identity of my mystery flower, which, as it turns out, is not an uncommon bloom at all. It’s called a butterfly ginger or, more scientifically, hedychium coronarium. It grows all over the world in humid tropical places, smells heavenly and can be invasive. Let it invade, is what I say.


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Have you ever been enchanted by a mystery flower?

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