The Cactus Patch
Volume 7       December 2004      Number 12

Trouble in Paradise
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Those familiar with Handel's Messiah will recognise this quote. It is a beautiful bass solo which Gape Motswaledi performed magnificently when our Gaborone Music Society presented this work on 5 Nov. Polly & I sang in the chorus. It may seem a little early for what is traditionally (although not logically) a Christmas performance, but decorations went up at the malls in mid October (thus clashing briefly with Halloween) and, at any rate, these foreign customs are treated rather loosely here.

Some time back when we attempted Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms in the original Hebrew, I was surprized to find that "nations" is a bad translation of "goyim" ("kafir" or heathen). Thus, in its original form, the question ironically answers itself. The division into us and others is the root of conflict.

One of the blessings of living in Botswana is the relative freedom from conflict. Traditionally there has been a straight-forward democracy rooted in the saying, " Kgosi ke kgosi ba batho" (a chief is a chief because of the people) which itself is rooted in the wider saying "Motho ke motho ba botho" (a person is a person because of humanity).

The national election in Botswana was held on 30 Oct. and Festus Mogae was reinstated as president on 2 Nov. Although the ruling party is still in charge, there were some gains by minority groups. Most noticeably, Margaret Nasha, our choir patron, lost by an extremely thin margin. Margaret says she will not challenge this, but the party says they will.

I feel a bit guilty in this. She has been Minister of Lands and Housing and there has been a recent Parliamentary Investigation into misallocations of land. She is blamed, although this happened under previous ministers. The reason I was involved is that our Natural History Division of the Museum is responsible for Environmental Impact Assessment under the Monuments and Relics Act. At a University Forum I had said that the recent allocation of river land for a shopping center was not properly done and this was broadcast on TV. This was not the only questionable allocation, and many more people were expressing dissatisfaction, but I was the one seen on TV.

In general, however, Botswana's election was unremarkable--unlike the one in the U.S. which I will not comment on except to quote from the book Almost Like a Whale (Steve Jones, 1999, Doubleday, London) in which he says,

"Victorian Cambridgeshire was full of hooded crows (as noted by Charles Kingsley, the first person to turn Darwinism to political ends). In The Water Babies [1863!] the crows kill one of their number because she will not steal eggs: 'They are true republicans, these hoodies so that for any freedom of speech, thought, or action, which is allowed among them, they might as well be American citizens of the new school'."

Almost Like a Whale is actually a rewrite of Darwin's "Origin" using modern examples. Another comment on America in this long rambling discourse is,

"Although the new England seemed much like that left behind, it was not. The American laurel is a poisonous heath plant, unrelated to European plants of the same name, and the robin is a thrush."

If he thinks that's bad, he should visit South Africa where those of Dutch descent call hyenas "wolves", leopards "tigers", bush babies "night apes" and China Berry Trees "Syringa". This last is particularly aggravating as "Syringa" is the scientific name of the unrelated European lilac and a scientific name can only be used for one group. Even Steve Jones errs in referring to the monkeys of Gibraltar as "apes" (a common misnomer).

I recently dropped in at the Kalahari Conservation Society to get a copy of "Phane" (a report on a conference on the edible caterpillars which feed on mopane trees). While there I noted a Christmas card with Aloe littoralis on the front. When I turned it over I read "Cactus plant - Kalahari Desert, Botswana". When I complained I was told I was not the first to do so. Incidentally, I have had an article on Aloe littoralis published in the journal "Alsterworthia"(in the March issue but it got lost in the mail). This is the second journal to ask me to write (the first was the milkweed journal "Asklepios"). I am honored. Usually one has to practically beg to get published. Incidentally, the name "Alsterworthia" is a combination of Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia. It is published in Britain.

The promise of rain went unfulfilled and it continues to be very hot. On the 23rd of October we checked into the nearby Cresta Lodge for the weekend. This may seem an extravagance, but it was free! (Actually it cost P100 [$20] for the raffle tickets Polly bought at the Rotary dinner a while back. She's very good at winning things like a free trip to Paris, 3 days in Chicago for the Gospel Fest etc.) We not only had air conditioning and more TV channels than we could use, but an all-you-can eat breakfast was included. (Lunch and dinner were expensive, but we did splurge and have one feast at Chatters, the Parrot-theme restaurant at the lodge. Polly had wild boar and I had trout).

Another way we keep cool is to go see movies. One which we saw recently which I highly recommend is "Yesterday" starring Leleti Khumalo. It is South Africa's nomination for best foreign film in the 2005 Oscars. If it does get to the states, be warned - the dialogue is in Xhosa with subtitles. "Yesterday" (yes, that's the woman's name) is the story of AIDS brought to a village from the mines and the reaction of different people to it. People are very afraid of what they don't understand.

We saw a live show of "Maxy- Queen of Sands" at the Big Five, a new resort hotel near us. It gave us a chance to see the place and to see Maxy in person. (She appears frequently as a singer on local TV.) She can really belt out the songs, but, as usual they are over amplified. The hotel is a complex of thatch and false rocks that looks a bit like a wanna-be Disneyland.

The "kan" tuber which I bought on the way back from Clanwilliam has sprouted. It is nothing like the Piper betle (Pan) the store manager related it to. (I know the genus from Piper capensis of Southern Africa, Piper nigrum which is common black pepper, and Piper methysticum which produces the drug kava or sekau of the Pacific.) "Kan" turns out to be a strange plant with a succulent leaf stalk from the tuber. The stalk divides into three and then some more with an umbrella of more or less pinnate divisions to the leaf blades. I only identified it because I had seen a species related to it when we lived in Malawi. It turns out to be Tacca pinnatifida, the East Indian "Arrowroot". It has its own family, Taccaceae, which is somewhat related to lilies. It is recorded as being used in Africa and Pacific islands for bread and laundry starch. I have never come across any use in either place.

Work has begun in earnest on the old building in the botanic garden.. They are chipping plaster off of cracked areas and mending all the cracks. I hope they are restoring it correctly. I am not an authority on restoring old buildings, but I suspect they aren't either. At any rate they predict they will finish by next February, only a year and a quarter late.

Christmas card with Aloe littoralis mislabeled

John Hargreaves in 1977 with
Tacca leontopetaloides (L) Kuntze

Maxy - Queen of Sands

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