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Dear Family and Friends,
When I received the news of the death of an old family friend this week I felt drawn to the cemetery. It had been a swelteringly hot week and even at six in the morning the thermometer was in the mid 20’s and heading upwards. After just a short walk my arms and face were clammy and I was brushing flies away. Despite the early hour, people were already working on roadside cultivation plots, uprooting the last of the reeds, bullrushes, red hot pokers and sedges that once grew in abundance here. Apparently the diplomatically correct term for this is ‘self apportioned, peri-urban agriculture,’ in reality it’s the illegal, uncontrolled eradication of precious wetlands that has gone unchecked for the last decade.
I deliberately turned my gaze away from the asbestos waste, oil filters, drink cans, broken glass and litter that has been dumped in piles all along the roadside on the way to the cemetery. My feet should have been walking on tar but in many places this has been covered by sand and colonised by grass because there have been no road repairs or storm drain clearing here since 2007. I passed street lights we pay for every month in our utilities accounts but which haven’t worked since 2004.
Arriving at the cemetery I forced myself not to look at the sweet potato beds that have been dug up and planted inside the cemetery boundary wire. I forced myself to walk around and not over the diamond mesh fence that lies rusting in the grass where it has been for over three years since it was pulled down but never put back by municipal workers when they cut down the pine trees that lined the cemetery.
Under the spreading arms of an old Musasa tree are the graves of the family of Margaret Tredgold. I had hoped to be able to sit on the small bench near the graves but it has collapsed completely, so I just stood quietly for a few minutes, remembering. Margaret passed away last week, in England, on the 1st November, aged 102. Lady Margaret Tredgold lived most of her life in Zimbabwe and was known to so many people for her botanical paintings, stamp designs, children’s books and her well loved and often consulted books on wild flowers and food plants of Zimbabwe. Margaret made the most exquisite ‘paper- cut’ cards, inked silhouette drawings, hand-made paper butterflies and illustrated letters that will always be treasured by those that received them. More than this, Margaret loved Zimbabwe and its people, especially the children. Weeding around the edges of the graves I noticed the new stem of a single flame lily. It couldn’t have been more appropriate as it is two beautiful flame lilies, painted by Margaret that adorn the front cover of her book on wild flowers.
Walking home from the cemetery I didn’t see the squalor of half an hour before, this time I saw the first wild flowers of the new season at my feet. All are flowers that are so beautifully portrayed in Margaret’s books and paintings: creeping pink Stud thorns; snowball Sedges; red dwarf Combretums, early blue Thunbergias and a single, bright orange Lions eye. What a tribute to a lady who always saw the beauty in Zimbabwe and the gave it back in her words and art. The new summer wild flowers gave hope, the same kind of hope described by Barack Obama in his victory speech this week: “Hope is the stubborn faith inside us that something better exists so long as we have the courage to keep reaching.” Fambai zvakanaka Margaret.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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