The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Ask The Author

Word of Precious Ramotswe's expertise has spread far and wide, and now, everyone wants her help. Here, you can see some of the questions she's being asked—and how she responds. Then, send your own questions to Precious. Alexander McCall Smith will respond to e-mails, too, so feel free to submit questions to either of them about writing, about Africa, and all of life's little mysteries. Regrettably, as they are both very busy, they can not respond to every e-mail, but they'll try their best!

Click here to submit your own question. But be sure to read our No. 1 Ladies' FAQ as well, in which the author explains many of the people, places, and things in the world of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Answers from Mma Ramotswe
I love reading about your adventures especially aloud to my husband. There is one problem however, and that is that I haven't been able to read your name properly! I don't know what title "Mma" is an abbreviation for and have tried even to find it in both French and English dictionaries.

Many Thanks,

Dear Mma Kate,
I hope that your husband does not go to sleep when you are reading to him! I have tried reading to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni but I find that his eyes close and soon he is asleep. Men are like that, I find. Perhaps Rra Mayfield is more attentive when you speak to him. Mma means mother or Mrs in Setswana. I am sorry that you did not find that in the French and English dictionaries. I wish that they had more Setswana words in them, but they don't. I can tell that you are a kind lady, and I send you all my blessings, and to your husband too. One day I hope that we shall meet, but until then:

Mma. Precious Ramotswe.

I love my Border terrier dogs and have noticed that in Botswana they are given the same status as they are in other parts of the world. Despite their excessive energy while young do you think that such pets might eventually become more popular in Botswana?

Thank you,
Pet-loving Price in Phoenix

Dear Price:
You are very kind to write to me about your dogs. Many people in Botswana are not very fond of dogs, although we dont have som good dogs in this country. These dogs that you talk about sound as if they would help make dogs more popular in Botswana, even if they are running this way and that when they are young. But that is how children are too; Mma Potokwani know all about that. The children out at the Orphan Farm are always running about and making a lot of noise. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni sometimes says that he would like to have a dog. I f he ever gets round to doing this, I shall tell him to look out for the sort of dog that you have. By the way, it sounds as if these dogs you have would be very good at catching snakes. I would like to have a dog that could catch snakes, although it is very dangerous hobby for a dog. Thank you again for writing to me. I send you my blessings, and those of Mma Makutsi too. She is not fond of dogs, but will look for these dogs you mention.

Mma Ramotswe

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This is not a very important question, but I hope that you don't mind if I ask you about it. Bush tea! Do you think that it is best to drink redbush tea with honey--as some folks do--or is it best to have it without anything added? I notice that you and Mma Makutsi don't seem to add anything.
--Thirsty Thad

Dear Thirsty Thad:
I am very happy that more people are drinking bush tea. This is very good for the people who grow that tea down there in South Africa. I have heard that some of them add honey to their tea, and so if they do it, then it is all right for the rest of us to do it. So if anybody says to you: You should not add honey to bush tea! You can reply: The people who grow that tea add honey, so why can't I? That should end the argument. If the people continue to argue, then you should tell them to keep quiet.

I am very upset. I recently married a nice man whom I have known for two years. During that two years I never saw him looking at another woman. Now that we are married, though, I see him looking at other women. What shall I do?
--Jealous Jenny

Dear Jealous Jenny:
There is always a very big problem with men. Many of them do not know how to behave properly, and this is sometimes because their fathers did not teach them the right thing to do. Your husband is trying to tell you something, and I think that thing is his worry about having given up his freedom. You should say to him: Now that we are married, I am not going to stop you doing the things that you like to do. I am not going to make you a prisoner. But you must remember my feelings too, and one of those feelings is that I do not like to see you staring at other women. That might work, or it might not.

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My son stole a car. What shall I do?
--Worried Wanda

Dear Worried Wanda:
It is very sad when your child does something like that. That boy is still your son, and nothing can change that. But if you go to him and say: I know that you are a car thief, then he will probably lie about it. So I think you should say to him: Somebody has said to me that you have stolen a car. I said to them: That cannot be true. My boy is too kind in his heart and would never do a thing like that. He would never want to take another person's car. He would never want to do that. That may make your son think about what he has done. If you can get people to think about what they have done, then they sometimes change, a little. But that is the only way.

I have a friend who is always coming to see me with her problems. I try to help, but she still keeps complaining and complaining. I do not wish to be unkind to her. What shall I do?
--Fed-Up Fred

Dear Fed-Up Fred:
Sometimes in Botswana we say that your friends are the people you meet on the path. That means that we must be friends with the people who come into our lives, even if we did not look for them. If we do not like some of these people, we may still have to talk to them and listen to them because they are people like us and they would be sad and unhappy if we ran away when we saw them coming. You must stick by your friend, but what you can do is say to her: Please do not complain all the time because nobody likes to listen to the troubles of others all the time. If this does not work, then you should start complaining to her. Next time you see her, tell her of many sad things that have happened to you. Do not let her say anything, but spend all the time moaning. That may make her think. If that does not work and if you get fed up with moaning, then just talk all the time that she is with you. Talk about all sorts of things, but do not let her get a word in. In this way you will not hear her complaints at all because she will not have the chance to make them.

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I know that you were very fond of your father, Obed Ramotswe. I was very fond of my father too, and now that he has died I feel very sad. I loved him very much.
--Sad in Springfield

Dear Sad in Springfield: I think that your father must have been like my late Daddy, and that they were both great men. We are very lucky in this life to have had good fathers, and that is something that you can think about every day. You can be proud. That will help you when you are sad.

I recently bought a used car. It worked for a few weeks and then it started to give trouble. What shall I do
--Stranded Sue

Dear Stranded Sue: Oh dear, Mma, this is a very common problem. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni says that the only thing to do with a car that is giving you trouble is to fix it. I think that this is good advice. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is very sensible.

From the Author
I am reading the third of your books about Precious Ramotswe, and I cannot figure out how to pronunciation the titles "Mma" and "Rra". Although I am only saying these words to myself, the debate between "umma" and "muma" and "erra" and "rura" in my head is growing bothersome. Would you be so kind to reveal the proper way to say them, so that I can pay proper respect to Mma Ramotswe, Mma Maktusi, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni?

Dear Norma:
Mma Ramotswe and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni would both be very touched by your desire to show them proper respect! (They both send their regards, by the way). Mma is pronounced "mah" (that is, with a long a), and rra is similarly pronounced "rar". The double m and the double r slightly strengthen the mo and r sound, but only slightly. I hope that you enjoy the fourth book in due course!

Very best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

How did you begin writing? Is English your first language? Did you tell stories as a child? Were your children�s books anything to do with stories you told your own children? Did you begin publishing spontaneously just like how Mma Ramotswe set out her sign?

Dear Patricia:
Thank you for writing to me. In answer to your questions: I remember writing stories when I was really quite young. Certainly, at the age of eight I had written my first manuscript and sent it off! The title, I seem to recall, was rather melodramatic: He's Gone. What it was about now escapes me. I started to write children's books before I had children myself. I started to write those because there was a competition here in Scotland for a children's book for publication. I tried my hand at a manuscript and it won. One thing then led to another! English is indeed my first language. Did I begin publishing by just setting out my sign, like Mma Ramotswe? I suppose that's a good way of putting it. One has to take the plunge and have confidence that one can do things. I do hope that you enjoy the forthcoming Mma Ramotswe books.

With my warmest best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

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I am so amazed by your grasp on Botswana humor. My friends in Botswana and I really want to know, what is your secret?

Dear Sharon: Thanks for this kind message. I'm not sure how I know about Botswana humor--it's probably a question of keeping one's eyes and ears open. I spend quiet a bit of time in Botswana, and I listen very carefully to what people are saying. A good source, of course, is the newspapers. Amazing things happen it he newspapers--a lot of it rather funny. I hope that you enjoy the future books.

With my warmest best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

Are we reading Botswana English or a translation of Motswana in your books? Secondly, you delicately and obliquely touch on the subject of AIDS in your books. In fact, it is ravaging the country, cutting a swathe through the very middle class that has sustained the country�s well-being and growth. What can I do to help? My financial resources are limited however I have legal and organizational skills and can travel. What can any of us do to help Botswana?

Dear Chris: Thank you for writing to me. In answer to your questions: (1) the characters are talking in Setswana most of the time and I am reporting their speech in English, but with attention to the cadences and feel of African English. That requires a bit of dramatic licence! (2) Your remarks about AIDS are much to the point. It is devastating. I do not mention it too directly because they are very distressed about it and I am trying, as far as possible, to show the positive side of Africa. This is not to deny what is happening, of course; it's just that there is so much about the trails and difficulties of Africa and so little about ordinary life there. Your remarks about wanting to help are very generous. I am not sure how to advise you on this. My own view would be that the best thing for any of us outside the country to do is to associate ourselves with charities abroad which are helping the situation. I suppose that we can individually raise money to help these organizations. In particular, we can help charities working with AIDS orphans or we can help medical charities working in the field. Another thing is to send money to help individuals who are suffering financially because they are too weak to work. That might be more difficult, but obviously can be very rewarding, in view of the fact that one knows exactly who is benefitting. (That is what I do personally.)

Thank you for writing, and all the best in your efforts to help. It is worth doing.

With my warmest best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

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One of the most charming aspects of your stories is the level of geographical accuracy--the towns and streets are real places! Why not include a map of Botswana as part of each book? Plus a page of Setswana language words that occur occasionally?

Dear Tom: Thank you for your kind remarks. And also, thank you for a very useful idea. I think that I shall do just this and shall speak to the publishers about it. Incidentally, when I was in Botswana recently I met an American doctor who was working there (a very good man, who was working on AIDS) and he mentioned to me that he had driven round Gaborone and looked for the places mentioned in the books. He found Zebra Drive, but he did not find Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors (although there is a real Tlokweng Road).

Very best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

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Have film rights to The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency already been sold? I would love to produce a weekly television series with it, me being the lead of course.

Thank you for your kind remarks. The film rights are currently optioned and we are awaiting a decision on what will happen to the story. The movie world is pretty difficult to fathom if one is not directly involved in it, and so I have no idea what will come of it, and when. I don't know what competition there will be to play Mma Ramotswe, but good luck!

Very best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

About Bush Tea
First of all, I want to tell you how much I enjoy your books about Mma Ramotswe. I can see her when I close my eyes and see Africa thru her--what a joy.... Now to my question, what is bush tea? Mma is always drinking it and I need to know so I can envision this also...

Dear Bonnie:
Thank you very much for your kind remarks about the books. It gives me very great pleasure to hear that the books are being enjoyed (and it encourages me to write more!) Bush tea: this is redbush tea, or rooibos tea. It is a sort fo tea which is grown only in South Africa, but may be purchased in the US from health food stores, I believe, under the name redbush or rooibos (rooibos means red bush in Afrikaans). There is a firm called Republic of Tea which sells it. They have a website which will give information on how to order it. It can be drunk with honey added (in this form it is sometimes known as honeybush tea). I do hope that you enjoy future Mms Ramotswe novels.

With my warmest best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith

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I am American and my friends, my daughter and myself have discovered your books, and we all wish to visit Botswana. After reading about bush tea, we want to try it. Do you know of anywhere in the United States where we could buy bush tea?


Dear Mary Jo:
Thank you very much for writing to me. I am delighted that you have enjoyed the books in the series and that they have inspired you to visit Botswana. You would certainly like it! As for bush tea, you can order that from a firm called Republic of Tea (they have a web site). They call it redbush tea. The fifth book in the series, The Full Cupboard of Life, will be published in the UK next week. It will be published in the US early next year, and so you will be able to get it then. That will not be the last--I have already begin writing the sixth! Thank you again for your kind remarks--Mma Ramotswe sends her blessings to you and your family.

Alexander McCall Smith

Where in America could you find bush tea?

Dear Jackie: You can find bush tea at health food shops in the US. There is a firm called Republic of Tea which sells it (I think they call it Botswana Blossom or some such thing). They have a web site.

With my very best wishes,
Alexander McCall Smith