The Cactus Patch
Volume 6       May 2003      Number 5

The Festival That Almost Wasn't
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

In January we were told that the Maitisong Festival was probably not happening this year since the major backer had dropped out & no replacement found. This would have been a disaster as this would be the 17th year for it. At the last minute the Dept. of Culture stepped in and the Festival went on. It began on 4th April with Sibongile Khumalo, described as a South African "diva". We had heard her years ago at the Anglican Cathedral here. She can still belt out the songs!

On the morning of the 5th our Gaborone Singers performed as part of the free outdoor shows (something we had never done before). Ironically, our "outdoor" performance was in Game City, Botswana's first indoor mall! Other highlights of the week were "Mukta" a French jazz group with sitar sponsored by Alliance Francaise and "Eita! Botswana", a local talent show sponsored by the German Embassy.

Earlier, on 22nd March there was a day-long celebration of water at Game City in honor of World Water Week -- very important in a country where even the currency is Pula (rain). At the same time Botsalo Books opened a new store there and featured a book signing by Alexander McCall Smith. If you haven't read his "#1 Ladies Detective Agency" series you should rush out and buy all four volumes. They are published by Polygon, Edinburgh [also an American edition but I forget who]. The first (title as above) is 1999, the 2nd [Tears of the Giraffe] 2000, the 3rd [Morality for Beautiful Girls ] 2001 and the 4th [The Kalahari Typing School for Men] in 2002. A fifth is promised for later this year. They all take place right here in Gaborone and, although fiction, are true to life (as well as hilarious). Unfortunately they don't mention succulents, but what can you expect from an expert in medical law (as well as author of excellent children's books).

I appeared on local television news on the 24th of March. I went to a panel discussion at the University on a shopping mall being built in the floodplain of the Segoditshane River which bisects Gaborone. They showed the contractor who seemed to think it was all right to build there, but ignored the other panellists. Instead they made me appear as his opposition (I was only an audience member asking pertinent questions -- like why no Environmental Impact Assessment has been sent to us at the museum as required under the Monuments and Relics Act.)

On the 25th I was back at the University for a workshop for "end users" of herbaria and botanic gardens. I presented slides of gardens of the world followed by a slide history of our garden here and then we all went over to the garden for a tour, carefully avoiding the rapid construction.

The weather has cooled down a bit, but the drought continues. It won't hit Botswana as badly as neighboring countries, but it still looks like a long hard winter ahead.

Among the interesting books I've read recently is War Game by Anthony Price (1979, Macdonald & Co., London). It concerns a re-enactment of the English Civil War lead by Oliver Cromwell. Although it took place a long time ago, I thought one quote interesting: "Then shall men say -'Your storm - your shame; our fall -- our fame'. Depart, thou accursed!"

Did you know that Oliver Cromwell outlawed the use of "Jesuit powder" (otherwise known as Cinchona bark from which quinine is derived)? He later died of ague (malaria) for which quinine is still used!

Unlike the American Revolutionary War re-enactment (see The Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos) there were no succulents in this book. The British Isles in general are botanically impoverished as a result of the last ice age. I learned this when I asked why African monarch butterflies (like American but smaller) fail to survive when blown across the English Channel. After all, they feed on any of the milkweeds! The answer is there are no members of this family (or subfamily) in England.

We have plenty of milkweeds here. One of them, Stapelia gigantea, was blooming in the botanic garden when our geologist, Gabadirwe, saw it and commented that he used to eat the flowers as a kid, even with their smell of rotten meat. We noted that monarch caterpillars also were eating the flowers! (I have seen them eat stems before, but not the flowers.) We also had Orbea rogersii and Huernia verekeri in bloom, but not eaten. I was glad of the latter as this was the first time I'd seen a Botswana specimen bloom.

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