In January I traveled to South Africa on a research trip with my dad, William Beinart, following the story of a wild yam. William is South African and as a historian he has been writing about the social and environmental history of the area for 40 years. Traveling with him is like having a living encyclopedia by your side. He reads narratives behind street names, sees complexity in an apparently vast and empty veld, makes unexpected links between people, plants and animals. Everywhere is a storied landscape. I was lucky to be able to make this trip with him – both for the experience and curiosity he brings to research, and for the opportunity to spend time with him in this complicated, intense, scarred and beautiful land he knows so well.
Through this trip we are learning more about Dioscorea sylvatica, a wild yam known as 'Elephant's Foot' or 'ingwevu' in Zulu, that was heavily exploited by the British firm Boots for the production of cortisone in the 1950s – a story I've been digging into for over a year.Read More