The Cactus Patch
Volume 8       April 2005      Number 4

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

A lot of good things have been happening lately.

Ruth and Monicah (Garden and Herbarium workers) came back from a Millennium Seed Bank trip which included the Tsau Hills on the west side of the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve and brought with them specimens of Adenium boehmianum the western Sabi Star which is a first for Botswana. I looked for it there a couple of years ago because the late Peter Smith said he had seen it, but I failed to find it. Although it is only a shrub (unlike the tree adeniums on Socotra) it has the largest leaves of any adenium - almost like a frangepani.

On the 17th of Feb. we saw "Zimba Marimba", a Swedish group that has learned marimba and African dance well! A good cultural kick. The next day we drove over to Pretoria to visit Isaac Lusunzi and family. Our first stop was the Protea Bookstore which I found by instinct (having been there once). I blew a fortune on antiquarian books, a couple of which are reviewed below. Next stop was the Pretoria herbarium where I looked at a spurge they have from Botswana and we don't! (Unfortunately not succulent.) While waiting out in the botanic garden, Polly ran into an old friend Janet Woods. (We stayed with them in 1996 after "leaving" Botswana to return to California) Finally we checked in with Isaac.

Next day we were taken on a surprise visit to Jo'burg (aka Gauteng & Egoli both of which mean Gold Town). The surprise turned out to be Gold Reef City, an amusement park which has grown out of the older mines. They still have tours of a real (though not working) gold mine. In all these years we'd never actually been down one. The traditional dancing was déjà vu though. Unfortunately I had to pay for a sample of gold - no freebees. Isaac's wife Maureen was the only one to go on one of the modern roller-coaster-type rides. The rest of us watched. We did go up on a ferris wheel to get a good view of Jo'burg.

To end the day we stopped at the Sandton Centre (a huge shopping complex) to see the Cow parade. They had life-size cow models in numerous modes around every corner from Crafty Cow through Moodona to Ndebele Cow. On Sunday we saw an Imax production on South Pacific coral reefs. We've never seen any, but they look an awful lot like the North Pacific ones we've seen from Guam to Hawaii.

Back in Gaborone the Cuban film festival ended with "Guantanamera" (a hilarious comedy centering on a funeral) - with "Guantanamo" cigars raffled and "The Buena Vista Social Club" a documentary of Cuban Musicians who finally made it to Carnegie Hall. This last film was followed by a demonstration of Cuban dancing and lots of Cuban refreshments. A Russian film festival opened on 8th March with "The Barber of Siberia", a hilarious comedy which we had seen on the boat between islands in the Canaries. It was not so well attended but a) itís three hours long and b) they had shown it at the Russian Embassy (for bigwigs) in February. Actually, it just left more vodka for the rest of us.

We also saw the film "Max and Mona" which is again a funeral comedy. Max is a professional mourner and Mona is the village sacred goat. They both travel from their home near Rustenburg (Max is of the Bafokeng I mentioned a while back) to Jo'burg and a lot of comedy is drawn from the incongruity of this. It has a lot of English and the Tswana, Zulu etc. has English subtitles. If it appears in the states we highly recommend it.

A live show on the 26th of Feb. was also poorly attended. "Koitrans" was a CD launch by a group which includes the drummer Myzer who has taught at music camp. The CD was actually better than the live show -- more balanced. Also, this was our first time at the new Botswana TV amphitheatre which has hard concrete backless seating. If we ever go again we'll take cushions.

On the 1st of March we saw Nonofo off to the Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix. Now he'll see what I mean when I say the Kgalagadi is not a desert. (Although he e-mailed about a downpour!)

On the 6th we were on a Bird Club walk (lots of Abdim's Storks and a carmine bee-eater on the nearby Metsimothlaba River when we learned of a talk on Hoodia and Grapple Thorn at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve that same morning. We made it just in time for me to interrupt the speaker Frank Barsch (a German volunteer and a good friend) with constant comments.

All of the above sounds good? So now for the bad. When we went on the bird club walk our car was sitting at the museum with a flat tire! But we changed that when we got back from Mokolodi and had it repaired on Monday. But then it went flat again on Tuesday. This time they didn't charge us for the repair and it has stayed up.

Also on the down side we visited our friend Renee Cook in hospital for a gallstone. Everything has come out all right, however.

Finally, on the bad side, the rains have tapered off and we are facing a severe drought.

And the ugly? On 1st March someone came boldly into the living room and took Polly's purse while we were watching TV in the bedroom. The purse was found within the hour at a house under construction a block away and everything was there except money, but it's still upsetting. The more so because the dogs didn't bark which implies it's someone we know.

Enough of that. The books I mentioned include The Konigsberg Adventure by E.K. Chatterton ( Hurst & Blackett, London). It is dateless but lists a 1929 publication so is probably early 30ís. It describes the trapping of the German Ship the Konigsberg in the Rufiji River on the coast of what is now Tanzania in World War I. The ship was eventually sunk, but the book takes a while to get there. There are also chapters on the naval battles on Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. This confirms what I've learned elsewhere. There are interesting photos.

Another book Marching on Tanga by F. Brett Young (1917, W. Collins, London) is a bit more interesting. It describes a doctor's experience with British Forces in East Africa in World War I. Among other interesting items the Germans used armor- piercing shells from the Konigsberg! There are lots of remarkable pictures and even the mention of "cactus", baobabs and sansevierias. The most interesting event for me is a description of a trance dance used for healing. The hypnotic effect of the drumming is described, but no plant use is mentioned. When I filmed this in Malawi, I, too, found the drumming hypnotic, but, fortunately I was shown the plants which were used (and others seemed to have missed).

There were other books on WW I, but they were on Europe, so I left them. Someone obviously had to sell a valuable collection. I'll comment on two more books (including mention of Bakersfield) in the next letter.

Polly & Maureen in the gold mine.


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