The Cactus Patch
Volume 8       August 2005      Number 8

Anne's Odyssey
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

So spake he, the slayer of Argus, and gave me a herb
he had pluck'd from the ground, and show'd me the nature of it;
'twas black at the root, but a milky white was the flower,
the gods call it a moly, a plant that is hard to be dug
by men that are mortal; but nothing is hard for a god.

When Anne arrived on 13th June, we took things slowly. We had lunch at Wimpy's and left her to rest while we went to choir. Next day she went to Polly's quilting group, we had lunch at the Belgrade (best bargain food in town) and saw "Atlantic City" at the film club. Wednesday, she and Polly went shopping, checked out the museum, and then had a peaceful evening at home. Thursday, was also a quiet day with coffee at Polly's friend Maggie's followed by lunch at Nando's, a spicy chicken chain.

Friday things began to warm up. After a morning at the Thrift Shop, we all went out to Mochudi to tour the little museum there. We then stopped nearby to see "Thighs", a three trunked baobab. Finally we stopped at Odi Weavers and looked at tapestries.

Saturday, we drove west to Gabane and toured craft shops. Then we went to the Livingstone mission site at Kolobeng followed by pottery at Thamaga. From there we went south to a grove of stinkwood trees (Celtis africana -related to elms) at Moshupa. Aloe leutescens was in full bloom and we watched sunbirds feed. Lunch was late at a pie shop in Kanye. We stopped to see a hill full of Aloe marlothii in Lobatse (not yet blooming), had a snack at the Orchard Tea Room in Otse and went out to Mannyelenong to look at the vulture roosts (only a few were seen).

Sunday, we went to Mokolodi Nature Reserve and took an early morning game drive (the first time I ever paid to do so). We saw lots of antelope, warthogs, ostrich, guinea fowl and elephants, but no zebra, rhino or giraffe. We had a good look at the two cheetahs (in an enclosure) and then went to a talk on cheetahs at the education center. We then went to Manyana to see rock paintings and a huge fig tree where Livingstone preached, had a late lunch at Ramotswa followed by a visit to 2.5 billion-year-old stromatolites (fossil blue-green bacteria). We ended at Boatle looking at hybrid aloes and other succulents.

Monday, 20th June, Anne went to Thrift Shop with Polly and they did some shopping. We left Anne to rest while we went to choir that evening. I hope that was enough of Botswana. On Tuesday, the 21st we all went south to Mafikeng in South Africa and saw the exhibit of the start of the Boy Scouts at the museum there. We got takeaways at the Hoofweg Padkafee in Huhuti (formerly Vryburg). It has an old VW beetle labeled Coca Cola up on a pedestal. We had a picnic down the road and stopped briefly to see Tiger Kloof where Botswana's first presidents were educated. Just before Kimberley we stopped to look at lots of flamingos, passed by the Big Hole where diamonds had been mined and checked into the very cheap Formula 1. (Anne did not like the third bed -- a bunk bed.) We ate next door at the Choctaw Spur with its incongruous cement teepees.

On Wednesday, we headed out across the Karoo, stopping at Streydenburg only to find the hotel closed. We still had a look at its succulent garden -- Orbea variegata was blooming. We passed a lot of sociable weavers with their massive communal nests. I don't know what they did before they had power poles to use. Despite a freak rainstorm (the Great Karoo is usually dry with a bit of summer rain) we reached Karoo National Park just after four, got a chalet and then looked at the new exhibits at the Interpretive Center. We also looked at the fossil trail and were dismayed to find the glass cases in great disrepair. (This is a major center for mammal-like reptiles.) We then took a circular drive and managed to see the rare red river rabbit (who looks a bit like a hare). We had an excellent dinner at the restaurant but a cold night at the chalet due to high ceilings which took all the heat.

We drove SW the next day reaching the Hex River Pass with blooming aloes and Tylocodens just after noon. We passed through the Huguenot Tunnel (very long) and had a late lunch at Paarl. By four we found the home of Gilbert Matsabisa, a former student of mine at the National University of Lesotho. He is now with the South African Medical Research Council's Indigenous Knowledge Systems Unit testing plants said to be used against AIDS. He lives out in the Cape Flats and Anne got a good look at some of the worst slums in South Africa. (His house is not bad, but he is moving soon.) Unfortunately he had to go to a funeral in Port Elizabeth, so we saw very little of him.

Next day we drove up to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront and took a boat out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and others were imprisoned. Our tour guide had been a prisoner there himself! We also saw lots of imported Australian trees and shrubs and a few natural shrubs - including Tetradenia, a relative of the mesembs which has four-winged fruit. We saw the lighthouse and a few penguins as well. Next we went past the Green Point Lighthouse, but it was closed. That evening we went shopping and had dinner at the Waterfront.

On Saturday, 25th June, we drove south to Simonstown where there is a lighthouse and saw lots!!! of penguins - including many young ones. They brayed like donkeys to live up to their old name of Jackass Penguin. (Now we are told to call them African Penguins.) From there we drove south to see the lighthouse at Cape Point. Even after riding up on a funicular train we had to climb a lot of stairs. There was a beautiful black spiny lizard on the trail. Polly quit at that point, but Anne had to see the newer lighthouse further on so I went too. The succulents were worth it! Pesty starlings and cute striped mice tried to share our lunch.

After lunch we drove back up the west side of the Cape and stopped at an indigenous plant nursery. The owner said he didn't have Euphorbia caput-medusae (which we didn't see on our hike) but that there was another Euphorbia nearby. I hiked a little ways and found Euphorbia tuberosa in full bloom. Passing back by the nursery I noted a very large E. caput-medusae in a tire-pot. Just up the road we saw magnificent stone carvings and found a little pottery run by Bruce & Polly! We ended our tour with a brief visit to the lighthouse at Kommetjie known as Slangkop (snake's head).

Next morning it was raining as we drove east to Hermanus which is famous for its whales. We were told it was too early, but one sighting for Keiwater at the east end of town was chalked up so we stopped there. We didn't see any, but found lots of shells including several Perlemoens (African Abalone). From there we went down to the Danger Point lighthouse. After that we drove on a lot of muddy dirt roads east to Cape Agulhas. We found the lighthouse there actually open - the only one which was. This was fortunate as this marks the southernmost point of Africa. It was too windy to stay long on top, though. It was dark by the time we met Gilbert and his family at Mossel Bay for a late supper. They went home to Cape Town and we drove on to George where we apologized for our late arrival at the Farmhouse, a lovely bed and breakfast. (Fortunately we had reservations and had phoned ahead to warn them.)

On Monday, 27th June, we drove through the forests and coast of the beautiful Garden Route with Aloe arborescens in bloom and reached Grahamstown in time for the Indigenous Plant Use Forum at 1:25. Fortunately Queen Turner, our herbarium head, had flown down and had already set up the CD. We presented our paper on "lejaja" at 3:20. (Lejaja means useless plants, which makes it ironic that they are used to protect traditional healers.) This opening session was on indigenous knowledge in keeping with the theme "African Philosophy meets Commercialization". After a tea break there was a session on ethnoveterinary medicine and a general session.

On Tuesday, there were sessions on basics and uses of aloes. After lunch there were sessions on Conservation & Cultivation and Medicinal Plants. After tea we learned about plants and poverty. On Wednesday, we had a business meeting. The next IPUF will meet in Gaborone and will include the first Indigenous Plant Products Trade Fair. After that we all drove north through beautiful hills of blooming Aloe ferox as well as forests of tree euphorbias and portulacaria. Near Seymour we observed harvesting of aloes and then toured a factory which processed the leaves. The cape aloes are used for "bitters" as opposed to the gels of Aloe vera. We were greeted by dancers and served a buffet lunch.

We left the group and drove over to Alice, a mission-based town where Lovedale and later Fort Hare University trained many African leaders. It was thus a major factor leading to the downfall of apartheid. We returned to Grahamstown in time

for dinner. The final sessions on Thursday were the usual boring chemistry and biological activity. Important, I know, but not my cup of tea. That afternoon I joined Polly and Anne at a prefestival concert of marimbas by a local girls school. Not quite as good as Gaborone.

Officially, the Grahamstown Festival began on Friday 1st July. We started with a 10 a.m. show based on Amandebele male initiation. It started late due to an important factor having to be flown in. We guessed it was the rather stormy sound track. -We then went over to the Village Green where there were lots of curio stalls. We ate Kudu kebabs while watching an amateur limbo under flames. (We were all waiting for his long hair to join the fire - but were disappointed.) We had meat pies for lunch and found a used bookstore with a delightful volume on the Tradescants. At 4 we watched Elise's Adventures in Congoland, a weird puppet show where she falls down a long drop (outhouse) rather than a rabbit hole. We then had an "American" pizza (not very good) and went to "Fat Ladies" for dessert. This included a lot of plump nudes on the wall. That evening we went to "Spice Roots", an Indonesian adventure in music, puppetry, smells and tastes -- all with a flavor of South African history.

Tired, but still game, we started at 10 on Saturday with "Manthatise", the story of an African Queen - quite revolutionary for her time, and a topic which is still ongoing as women gain more power. Kgosi Gaborone who still has his village next to the town named after him is of the same group, the Batlokwa, as Manthatise. South of us at Ramotswa the Balete installed their first woman last year and north of us at Mochudi the Dutch Reformed Church had a severe split when a woman was ordained. The whole country is busy arguing the new marriage rights act which gives women equal rights. As one man told me, "They will sell our cows and buy furniture!"

We then went to the JLB Smith Institute to see an exhibit of fish-related art. The permanent exhibit on Coelacanths was better. From there we went to the Observatory Museum. Downstairs was an exhibit on optical illusions in quilts. At the top was an old Victorian Camera Obscura that showed us the whole town. After that we saw an odd mixed of India and Africa in "African Bollywood". We ended the day up at the 1820's Settlers Monument. At the tiny fort next door there was an exhibit on plant use (I was interested to learn that the traditional Gasterias that were hung over doorways for luck are being replaced by American Tilandsia) and inside the monument we watched a "Sundowner" - snippets from several shows. It rained that night, but the festival went on. Sadly we had to return to Gaborone.

On 3rd July we drove north through more beautiful aloes, euphorbias etc. to the small town of Cradock. There we found the house of Olive Schreiner (author of The Story of an African Farm, a classic) as well as a well-preserved street of houses from the 1800ís. After lunch at "Buffalo Dan's" (with American golden oldies playing) we drove on to the Mountain Zebra National Park where we were lucky enough to get a chalet due to a last minute cancellation. We saw lots of the rare zebra as well as antelope, and had a good dinner, but were very cold that night because the firewood we were sold was too green to burn! Next morning we saw lots of buffalo tracks and dung, but not the animals.

We drove north to Bloemfontein and were just in time to tour the museum there which has an excellent exhibit of fossils ranging from mammal-like reptiles to early man, all of which are found in South Africa. Anne declined another bunk bed at Formula 1, so we continued north hoping to find a bed and breakfast, but finding none, we finally got rooms at a hotel in Bultfontein and spent another cold night. The food, however, was excellent. Next day we arrived tired but content at Gaborone.

On Wed. 6th July I went back to work with a flat tire on the way and that evening we went to a reception for the Pan African Archaeological Association at the museum. On Thursday Polly and Anne had coffee at Maggie's and we met for lunch at the Belgrade. Friday was another day at the Thrift Shop. Saturday, Maru a Pula, the oldest private high school here, was holding an alumni day which we crashed to see "My Brother's Bones", a local play which we missed seeing at Grahamstown. For lunch we went to the American Independence Day picnic. Security was tighter than ever. That evening we thrilled to the singing of Sibongile Khumalo who once again proved her wide-ranging ability. During the intermission the Maru a Pula marimba band also entertained us. It was a good chance for Anne to see the difference in style from the more westernized group at Grahamstown.

On Sunday we had a poolside lunch at the Grand Palm Hotel. By coincidence, there was a craft fair there. (Polly swears she didn't know.) We also walked around the back pond to see a few birds including some lovely bee-eaters. That afternoon we drove around the Gaborone Game Reserve and saw lots more birds - including a couple of lost-looking juvenile flamingos. There were also antelope, warthogs, monkeys etc. We ended the day with a Chinese Dinner at the Jade Palace.

Monday 11th July was another Thrift Shop one. In the afternoon Anne went to Tlokweng to observe special education in Botswana. She was depressed to find this is only available on a private basis -- and Botswana has some of the best education in Africa. Tuesday Anne went with Polly to quilting and we went to film club at night. Finally on Wednesday 13th July Anne went shopping and packed. We had lunch at the museum Café and bade a sad farewell.

I wish that I had read The Tradescants (Mea Allan 1964, Michael Joseph, London) before our talk at the Plant Use Forum. On p 104 we find "Both of the above molys [the moly of Homer and the Indian moly- said to be types of garlic] are natives of Spain, Italy and Greece, and were procured from thence by John Tradescant..." "There is an interesting sidelight on Homer's moly. The word itself is not recognizably Greek and is almost certainly an imaginary plant. Homer only once, in his Odyssey, Book X, 305, mentions a herb which he says the gods call 'moly'. It was given by Hermes to Odysseus as a protection against the magical charms of the sorceress Circe who had turned Odysseus's companions into swine." This would have made a great introduction for "lejaja" which is used to protect traditional healers against medicine used to harm them.

For the most part, The Tradescants is hard reading, containing endless plant lists and quotes in Elizabethan English. (Think of Shakespeare!) There are, however, bright moments such as, "... a certain plant arrived. It was Ephemerum Virginianum, thought to be the 'Silke Grasse that groweth there' of which so much was told. It turned out to be Flower-of a-Day or Spiderwort. It became known as 'Tradescant his spiderwort' and now is Tradescantia virginiana." Incidentally, I was pleased to note my comment on the Tradescants in a previous letter led to a response at the meeting I spoke at last year. I'm only sorry there was so much else going on at the time.

Penguins at Simonstown, 25 June

Bruce and Anne in Mandela's cell
Robben Island, 24 June

Harvesting Aloe ferox leaves
Seymour, 29 June

Polly & Anne buying Kudu kebabs at the Grahamstown Festival, 2 July

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