Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Imagining Botswana

I've just finished reading The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the first in a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. The series features Mma Precious Ramotswe, an African woman of ample girth through whose eyes the reader sees life in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe, an admirer of Agatha Christie, approaches her cases with a mixture of intuition and common sense, not unlike that of Christie's Miss Marple. And she's not one to be intimidated by power—she treats the people she meets, whatever their station, with dignity and respect, but also with forthrightness and spirit.

To see Botswana through Mma Ramotswe's eyes is to experience a country rich in beauty and tradition and proud of its independence. At the same time, Mma Ramotswe's Botswana is subject to the foibles of societies everywhere—bad people take advantage of good people. But it's the good people who come shining through in McCall Smith's depiction of African life. In his novel, I found portraits of honesty, love, perseverence, and reverence for the natural world. Mma Ramotswe cannot fathom wanting to live anywhere but Africa.

Mochudi, the childhood village of the fictional Mma Ramotswe

So often, descriptions of Africa focus on corruption, disease, cruelty, and suffering. I found the picture painted in McCall Smith's novel uplifting. Granted, the author, a white man of British background who grew up in Zimbabwe and currently lives in Scotland, might not be regarded as an authentic voice of black Africa, especially as channeled through a female protagonist. Yet McCall Smith, who lived in Botswana for a year and has visited annually for many years, may be the ideal person to communicate the special qualities of Africa, and Botswana in particular, to white westerners.

After finishing the book, I did a little research and learned that Botswana, a landlocked country almost the size of Texas, has undergone an impressive transformation since it achieved independence from Great Britain in 1966. At that time, it was one of the most impoverished countries in Africa. Today, with a democratic political system and a market society that enables a majority of its citizens to live above the international poverty line, Botswana is considered one of Africa's success stories. I may never actually travel there, but I intend to continue following Mma Ramotswe's adventures. I look forward to many pleasurable hours inhabiting Botswana in my imagination.

1 comment:

  1. A friend sent me that book along with The Sunday Philosophy Club which is the first in a series (The Isabel Dehousie Novels.) I LOVE Smith's characters! bonnie