Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Botswana on my mind

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a fiction series by Alexander McCall Smith, is a charming, humorous, light read about the life of Precious Ramotswe, the first lady private detective in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe is kind, compassionate and self-assured. She has a clear understanding of what is right and what is wrong with Botswana today. If there arose any new moral situations, she would peel the layers of the dilemma until clarity is restored, just in time for her next cup of red bush tea.

The series, I imagine, captures and reflects the way of life in a “fine African country” that remains largely peaceful in a region so unlike it. The style and pace of the language in the book reflects the picture of a country where people “still spoke to others with the proper courtesy, treated others, whom they did not know, in the way which was proper according to the standards of the old Botswana morality.”

Here is an appropriate illustration, although this particular conversation takes place outside of Botswana, in South Africa, where Mma Ramotswe finds herself while shadowing a subject.

[Mma Ramotswe] approached one of the woman traders and spoke to her in Setswana.

“Are you well today, Mma?” she said politely.

“I am well, and you are well too, Mma?”

“I am well, and I have slept very well.”


The greeting over, she said: “People tell me that there is a doctor here who is very good. Do you know where his place is?”

Women in the book are usually strong and naturally smart in a decidedly simple and feminine way, as in this passage below:

Grace Gakatsla, the owner of a dress shop, had sold a dress on a Friday to a Government Minister’s wife. The Minister’s wife brought it back the following Monday, saying that it did not really fit. Yet Grace had been at the wedding on Saturday when the dress had been worn, and it had looked perfect.

“Of course I couldn’t tell her to her face she was liar and that I wasn’t a dress-hire shop,” said Grace. “So I asked her if she had enjoyed the wedding. She smiled and said that she had. So I said that I enjoyed it too. She obviously hadn’t seen me there. She stopped smiling and she said that maybe she’d give the dress another chance.”

If this subtlety in human relations appeals to you, then the series is definitely your cup of red bush tea.