Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Doctor Jimek I presume"

This is a cover I bought some time ago. I collection covers with certain stamps of the Cote d'Ivoire, those that show the mosque of Bobo-Dioulasso.

There are 9 different values of this stamp. They come in different, attractive colours. The stamps are from the period 1936-1942.

This cover was sent to France in 1945 by Wadim Schmourlo, a planter in Sassandra, Ivory Coast.

I found out more about this planter in a book by Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, a German Zoo keeper. He wrote a story about an animal-collecting journey through the Congo in the 50ties. His book is entitled "Doctor Jimek I Presume", published in English in 1956.

He gave me the unique opportunity to get to know the the sender of the letter.

About 10 years later he is still in business in Sassandra, this is Dr. Grzimek reporting:

"I promptly packed my grip and travelled with my informant in his truck 500 miles back to the Ivory Coast colony and the port of Sassandra. There I was introduced to Mr. Schmourlo, the owner of the plantation which the elephants had been devastating. This estate was situated deep in the virgin forest some forty miles inland from the little port, and there he took me.

The farms in Africa bear no names but are distinguished by the nearest milestone on the main road, whence a branch road leads to them. "My place is at Kilo 91," they say. Mr. Schmourlo possessed several plantations, and the farm devastated by the elephants was not one at which
he ever resided, but was in charge of a native overseer. Our host opened up the house and placed everything in it at our disposal, saying that, in his absence, he hoped we would make ourselves at home there for as long as we liked. There were bedrooms with comfortable beds, a large cupboard full of medicines, another full of tools, a French library, weapons, provisions in short, everything we could possibly want. Mr. Schmourlo had been brought up in the Urals, where his father had been a considerable landowner. The Falz-Fein family the owners of the
famous animals' paradise of Askania Nova in the Taurus Steppes had been the playmates of his youth. How small the world is! Unfortunately, he spoke nothing but French.

His farm was well worth seeing. Round the house itself and the labourers' quarters grew banana trees twice the height of a man, normally weighed down by huge bunches of magnificent fruit. A few hundred yards farther on, however, was a complete desert, which stretched as far as the eye could see to the edge of the virgin forest. The elephants had realized that bananas tasted much nicer than the foliage of the forest, and they had really made a thorough job of it. They had not only feasted on the bananas themselves, but had also devoured the broad leaves, which are as tall as a man. These leaves have a hard central stem, from which the fronds emanate. The elephants had encircled the branch with their trunks, stripped off the leaves and left the hard central stem as bare as a pole. They knew all right what was tasty!

The big banana stems looked like bare brooms; and over and above all this the huge beasts had trampled on the bunches of fruit, torn up the ground and broken all the small wooden bridges over the irrigation channels. In the last few weeks alone Mr. Schmourlo had lost more than sixty tons of bananas, which otherwise he would have been able to send to Marseilles. I was astonished at the equanimity with which he regarded this frightful devastation.

"Seven times we've rebuilt that small bridge over there," he told me. "The elephants often come along this little stream, and the bridge gets in their way, so they simply pick up the baulks of timber and toss them aside."

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