DUBAI MAN INSPIRED BY ‘THE KARATE KID’ AS A CHILD BRANCHES OUT INTO BUDDING BONSAI
▶ Ramy Enab tells Anna Zacharias his love for the Japanese art blossomed during the pandemic
Ramy Enab got hooked on bonsai after watching
The Karate Kid. It was the mid-1980s and he was just a boy, curled up on the sofa in his flat in Cairo, watching the film on video. He sat transfixed as karate master Mr Miyagi cleared his mind by pruning a bonsai tree.
Decades passed before Mr Enab, 37, picked up the ancient art. Now he is using it to help others during the coronavirus outbreak.
During Dubai’s stay-home order in April, Mr Enab posted videos of how to grow and maintain bonsai for his neighbours in The Greens and was honoured as people asked him for advice.
“The art of bonsai is a very creative way to think about things,” he says.
“To look at the tree and think about which way it’s going to go – it’s extremely calming. Whenever I do it, I just forget all of the pressures of the world.
“I’m actually honoured to see that people are interested.”
Mr Enab moved to the Emirates to work as an advertising executive in 2005 after completing his military service in Egypt.
He taught himself bonsai from YouTube videos and entered the world of online bonsai forums, where discussions abound on how to cultivate the curl of a branch, select the right wire or compose the ideal soil blend.
He has 12 bonsai plants at his home, each covered in bits of black wire. His crowning achievement is a 15-year-old cascading jade.
“I used maybe five metres of wire for this one and it is going to be the one that is, hopefully, with me my entire life,” he says.
Mr Enab spends an average of two hours a day with his plants, pruning, wiring and repotting.
“Every day I just go to the balcony and sit for a bit and say, ‘oh, this can be done, that can be done’,” he says.
“It’s really an absolute beauty that you are with a live thing that is always growing, every day evolving.”
Every day, he unfurls a green canvas belt of pliers, shears and scissors ordered from Japan and snips a delicate jade.
Pots are ordered from Japan and China. When imports slowed due to the pandemic restrictions, he stayed in touch with potters as new holders were fired for his growing plants.
Granular soil is imported from Japan, China, the US and Germany and blended with Mr Enab’s secret ingredient to make an ideal composite for the UAE heat. He perfected it over four months under the tutelage of two bonsai masters.
“A lot of people think when they buy a bonsai, it will be with them for ever but if it’s not in the right soil, it will die,” Mr Enab says.
He learnt the hard way – his first bonsai withered after a month because of poor soil.
“It almost broke my heart. This was when I decided, OK, if I love bonsai that much I need to learn how to make it,” he says.
Other bonsai sold in Dubai did not meet his standards.
“When I tried to find a bonsai to buy, they were ridiculously expensive. I told myself, ‘no bonsai of such low quality should be that price’. So I told myself, ‘OK, I’m going to make my own’.”
He consulted masters in the US and Japan. “All of us have the same mentors from Japan and all of us are branching out to do something more,” he says.
His overseas peers go to forests for inspiration but the desert and mountains hold their own marvels.
“Everything we do in the bonsai is natural, but instead of it taking 150 years, it takes two or three months,” he s ays. “Bonsai is not about twists in the tree. Bonsai is how to imitate nature and life.
“For example, if you go to the desert, from Dubai to Ajman or to Oman, there are a lot of trees that show how the bonsai should be shaped.”
He now passes his knowledge on to neighbours.
“I wouldn’t even have thought about doing a video and posting it online if it weren’t for Covid-19 but it gave me the outlet to try something new,” Mr Enab says.
“Usually I’m not very active on social media but when I saw the interest, it motivated me so much.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to stop making bonsai – no matter where I am, what I am doing.”
A lot of people think when they buy a bonsai, it will be with them for ever but if it’s not in the right soil, it will die RAMY ENAB Bonsai enthusiast
Ramy Enab holds his 15-year-old jade bonsai, painstakingly grown and crafted using traditional techniques
PORTRAIT OF A NATION