The Cactus Patch
Volume 8       February 2005      Number 2

A Quiet Christmas
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

We got into the holiday spirit with a choir carol-sing at Game City Shopping center on the 17th of December. We all wore "Santa" hats and were accompanied by guitars, sax and keyboard. Some kids wanted to know if I really was… Hey! I haven't gained that much. Then on the 20th we sang at the Hospital accompanied by Sheila Tlou, Minister of Health. "Goodies" contributed by the Vice President were given to the kids.

On Christmas we sat quietly at home and dined on tacos. On the 26th, however, we went 55 km (about 35 mi) west to Thamaga and had a scrumptious ham dinner with the Cooks, an American missionary family. After dark they set off fireworks in front of the church.

The rest of the world hit with a splash the next evening when we learned of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. There was no direct impact (we have never been to any of the areas affected), but one of the choir members rushed off to Sri Lanka to check on friends and relatives. Botswana has sent what little aid it could. (Symbolically important- as was the Biblical widow's mite.)

On 30th Dec. the few left at the garden went down to the border of South Africa and looked (unsuccessfully) for lithops which are said to grow there. Luckily, however, we had a flat tire at Hebron right next to a small plant nursery. The woman in charge helped us look around at the wild plants and, among other things, we found a plant of Brachystelma foetidum which has a 24 cm (about 9.5 inch) diameter tuber!

Next day there were a few fireworks at 8:30 but most people on our street waited until midnight. It was OK, but not as good as Thamaga The rainy season began on the 21st of Dec. just after water rationing was threatened. It has rained once or twice a week since, but in between, the heat really builds up. The insects also build up. I found a giant longhorn beetle at my office door (unwelcome as the grubs bore into fruit trees) and then found caterpillars of the pearl spangled moth eating the leaves on our coral trees. There was an upbeat, though. I watched a yellow crab spider catch flies attracted to hoodia flowers.

We had another Millennium Seed Bank trip on the 13th January --this time to Molepolole. Twenty km (12.5 mi) north of town we found Aloe littoralis and Aloe marlothii growing together. Unfortunately only one aloe was blooming and it was clearly A. littoralis. None of the reported hybrids have yet been seen by us. (Reynolds mentions them in his Aloes of South Africa.)

I've waded through a number of historic books recently. The most fascinating was Mimi and Toutou Go Forth by Giles Foden 2004, Penguin, London. It is subtitled "The bizarre battle of Lake Tanganyika" and it certainly lives up to this. At the beginning of WWI Germany controlled the east side of Lake Tanganyika, Belgium the west side and Britain the southern tip. Britain had no ships on the lake so the wacky scheme was thought up to ship two small ones to Cape Town and then send them by rail to the Belgian Congo. That went all right, but the scheme almost failed at the end when they had to haul them overland to the lake. The tiny Mimi and Toutou were then joined by a Belgian boat named, believe it or not, Fifi! Despite the greater size of the three German ships, the British actually succeeded in their mad scheme and gained control of the lake! This is the historic basis for the film The African Queen starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. This was based on a novel by C.S. Forester which, we are told, has a different ending in the American and English editions (as well as a third ending in the film). I am going to hunt down both books. (I've seen the film so many times I don't need it for comparison.)

We have seen very little of Lake Tanganyika (Bujumbura, Burundi at the north end and Mpulungu, Zambia at the south), but we have spent a lot of time on Lake Malawi which is quite similar. The first naval battle of WW1 actually took place there when the British got word first and managed to take over the German ship which was still docked. The land battle was just as strange. British troops went north from Karonga and managed to miss the German troops coming south. They discovered the error and met each other upon reversal! There is also a baobab (which we have seen) at Karonga with a hole at the base which leads to a hollow interior. There is a "window" higher up which was used for shooting! A bizarre fort. In the Peace Corps we were 70 miles west of Karonga at Chitipa where there were still visible WWI trenches in 1968. We were told how the villagers fled when the Germans came and when they came back, the British were in trenches. One of my primary school students took me to meet his grandfather who had been a carrier for the British. They followed the Germans all over what is now Tanzania and down into Mozambique but never quite caught up with them. Later I interviewed a man who had served in Burma in WWII. Malawians did get around. More recently (1968) Polly water-skied off of a Portuguese gunboat (supplied through NATO!) on Lake Malawi. Despite such misuse of U.S. aid, Mozambicans eventually did get the independence they were fighting for.

I see I've rambled on, so I leave the other books for another time.

Queen Turner holding Brachystelma foetidum
plus our guide, Rachel Ditlhabe at Hebron, 30 Dec 2004

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