Alexander McCall Smith's U.S. editor, Edward Kastenmeier, recently traveled to Botswana with the author and his literary agent, Robin Straus, where they went on safari in the Okavanga Delta, visited locations featured in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book series, and spent a few days on the set of the new movie!
Read through Edward's trip diary below, and check back soon for continuing updates from Robin, who is still in Botswana!
View the Adventures in Botswana photo album.
Just wanted to send a note to all of Sandy's friends and fans to let you know that Sandy has safely landed in Botswana. He traveled directly to Khwai River Lodge, and his agent, Robin Straus, and I joined him today in one of the most spectacular locations Southern Africa has to offer. The Kwai River lies in the Okavanga Delta, in the northeast of the country. It is home to a phenomenal variety of wildlife, attracted because it is one of the few sources of water in this dry region. The camp is also home to some absolutely lovely people.
After an uneventful trip, except for the fact that Robin and I both walked into the propellers of the airplane which brought us here (Sandy really does need to pay attention to quality of company he keeps), we arrived to find Sandy supporting the whole staff of Khwai River in a traditional African song of greeting. Next, we had homemade lemonade and a tour of the Camp. I immediately noticed what a truly breathtaking location it was, a mere 200 yards from a river frequented by a huge range of wildlife. And Sandy said that yesterday he saw a magnificent pride of lions with a three week old cub. We marveled at the pool next to the tawny grasses and the beautiful white blue African sky. Sandy took a deep breath and said, "Smell that, the air is like champagne."
Sandy was pleased they seemed to have given him the finest tent in the camp. What he meant by that I had no idea until he took me up onto his porch which overlooks a herd of hippos sunning themselves on the far bank of the river. My, what a sight. Sandy was so thrilled to have them right outside his room. He was also pleased that his "tent," and they use the term rather loosely here because the accommodations are quite grand, also sports a king-size bed an outdoor brass tub overlooking the hippos.
Anyone who knows Sandy's writing can probably guess that Sandy loves to meet new people. He is constantly engaged in conversation with some person he's just met, and so our next stop was the elevated lookout so that Sandy could talk to some of the staff of the Camp. First up was KG, an amazing erudite safari leader who learned the trade from his father who led Safaris in the grand old days. His knowledge of the local fauna was impressive. I especially appreciated his warning that if you run into a Lion look him straight in the eye, but if you run into a Leopard, whatever you do don't look at him. If the situation comes up I just hope I can tell which animal I'm looking at and keep my wits about me enough to remember his advice. Next we met the manager, Kevin, who's from South Africa and lives here because he loves the bush. He actually stared down a pride of charging lions on a 10k night hike. Sandy, Robin, and I thought we'd skip night treks. I guess we're just not that intrepid. In the midst of our discussion with Kevin, a young bull elephant meandered down to the far side of the river, took a drink, and then slowly walked back into the tall grass. Sandy said he thought it is "amazing that we share this planet with these lovely elegant creatures." Finally, we met the chef who trained with Roger Verge in France and has also worked in Spain and South Africa. He then showed us the kitchen and the baboons hanging out on the dumpster in back.
Well, I hear the drums announcing high tea. I must run rejoin Sandy and Robin. Hope to have more to say soon.
Hello again to all of Sandy's friends. I just wanted to send off another e-mail before Sandy, Robin, and I travel deeper into the Okavango Delta and out of communication range.
We just went on a safari with a fabulous guide named Johnson. Sandy had already gotten to know Rra Johnson, a man of virtually limitless knowledge of the Delta, and we later discovered he had almost equal poise.
The roads were pure sand and the surrounding territory was covered with scrub brush. We glanced up, and Sandy commented, "Look at that sky." It was a gorgeous blue-white.
Not two hundred yards from camp, we happened upon two elephants grazing on the grasses. We also startled two warthogs along the way. It was absolutely spectacular. Then we happened upon an elderly bull elephant who was covering himself with mud to kill parasites and cool down. We were within twenty feet of this large bull when he spread his ears and started to snort at us. A six-meter-high elephant acting like he's going to charge your car is surely something to get the blood moving. But Rra Johnson's poise remained unruffled throughout.
Rra Johnson was in constant contact with the other guides, and eventually four Toyota bush vehicles were able to surround a small pride of lions--two adults and three cubs. The adults were feasting on a waterbuck carcass. The cubs nursed for a while until the mother became irritated. We were not more than 20 or 30 feet away, and again we started a bit. But Johnson maintained his calm. We must have sat there watching them lounge for 20 minutes.
We drove off in search of other game, and pretty soon sighted a group of vultures in a tree. We moved nearby to see what prey they were waiting for and started a leopard hiding in the bush with his kill. He was a large, magnificent male. Leopards tend to be shy creatures, so it is somewhat remarkable to see them in the wild.
The leopard never strayed too far, probably because he wanted to stay close to the kill cached nearby. We flushed him out, but he ducked from cover to cover generally trying to stay out of sight.
After seeing yet another leopard and more warthogs we stopped to have drinks next to a large pond as the sun went down. In the distance an elephant was grazing, and there were about six hippos in the pond and a crocodile on the far bank.
After dinner Sandy and I were on our way back to our tents when we heard a loud rustling. Luckily we were being escorted by camp staff, and the guides stopped to wait for an elephant to cross the path not 50 yards from us. We had to take a detour around the other side because he refused to get out of our way. The nerve of that ten ton beast! With a wave goodnight Sandy disappeared into his tent, and my first day in Africa was over.
Best for now,
Last night at 3 a.m., I was awakened by a loud grunt, which ended in a series of short bellows quite nearby. I immediately thought it must be the elephant that had been seen around camp, so I promptly rolled over and went back to sleep.
This morning Sandy said that it was no elephant--it was a lion--and concurred it was nearby our tents. He had heard an animal walking across his deck. As he moved within his tent the animal paralleled his steps. He had reckoned it was either a hungry lion or perhaps a nosy tree squirrel, however the staff confirmed there was indeed a lion roaring just across the river in the early morning hours.
After breakfast, we set out on a safari. Our first destination was a hippo carcass, or as Sandy would say, "a hippo that was late." Rra Johnson wanted to see what scavengers it had attracted during the night. When we got near the site, he noticed my safari blanket was hanging out of the vehicle, and he had me pull it in because it could encourage predators. When we came across the late hippo, we saw two female lions were perched precariously atop the carcass, with a cub watching from the shore. We all agreed that it was remarkable, and Johnson pulled within 30 feet of this mesmerizing scene. The other hippos were clearly agitated and watched intently, occasionally snorting their displeasure.
These lions must have been starving because they don't like water. Apparently they are easy prey for crocodiles. But they kept working at this three-day-old carcass, trying to get at some fresher meat. Even the cub tried to eat some, but he never gained purchase and almost fell off several times. Finally one of the lionesses growled him away. He swam to shore, climbed out onto the bank, and passed within five feet of the back of our jeep. (Robin and Sandy were quite stoic about the whole thing and Johnson was positively blasé.) He then proceeded to a termite mound where he could get some sun and watch his mother. But we were in between the cub and his mother, and he clearly did not like that, so he kept pacing from his perch at the top of the mound, down to the ground, and back to the top of the mound again. Soon he disappeared into the bushes. All the while Johnson remained unfazed.
By now the carcass had floated out into the middle of the river. The mother lioness eventually slid off and had to swim to shore as well. At first, she was submerged almost completely and she bared her teeth in a pronounced grimace as she swam to shore. She followed the cub's path, crossing immediately behind our vehicle. (Have I mentioned that this was an open jeep?) The other lioness, still perched atop the hippo, rocked the bloated barge back and forth while trying to tear an opening in the tough hide.
It was truly nature red in tooth and claw. As our jeep pulled away, Sandy said, "Well, you don't see that every day."
We proceeded past a herd of red lechwe, a smallish antelope-like animal, and a herd of zebra. Next we passed through the small village of Khwai, which was full of traditional rondovals, the round houses, and over a rickety log bridge--the bridge over the river Khwai. Just across the water there was a smallish camp with vervet monkeys. Sandy is quite fond of monkeys, and he held out his fingers and called them over. It turns out Sandy had a pet monkey as a child.
We then found a small copse of trees populated by herds of zebra and blue wildebeest. Zebra and wildebeest often travel together for safety. The zebra have good eyesight and hearing and the wildebeest have a powerful sense of smell, so they make a great team and are quite attuned to the presence of predators.
Finally, we stopped at the edge of a large expansive plain, and Rra Johnson set up a table for tea. It was incredible. We watched another large herd of zebra approach across the wide, open space. One of the lead packs had a three-week-old foal, which was as adorable as a newborn horse and had much of the same tentative gait.
It was a magnificent vista and a liberating experience to be out of the jeep and standing on African soil among the beasts of the veldt.
Sandy, Robin, and I arrived at the Eagle River Lodge, a stunning camp on a smallish island--maybe about a mile long--right in the middle of the delta. The island's real name is Xaxaba, with clicks on both "x"s. (The local language is noted for its clicks.)
A Swedish documentary crew was in attendance to film Sandy, his Botswana, and the making of the film based on his work. They went out on a mokoro ride. Mokoro are dugout canoes that are driven much like a Venetian gondola, although as you would expect they are somewhat less grand. They used to be made of wood, but it took the locals an entire tree to build just one boat, which only lasts a couple of years. Now the government encourages the locals to use fiberglass because it's better for the environment.
The delta is a wide, flat expanse, filled with water that fell as rain in Angola six months ago. It arrives in this delta and slowly evaporates, swallowed up by the Kalahari. Surprisingly, it doesn't let out into another body of water.
The water is lovely and clear with a slightly brownish cast. There are birds everywhere and every now and then you can see little white frogs with black spots or green frogs clinging to the blades of grass. One green frog even jumped into my lap before quickly thinking better of it and disappearing into the water.
Our boatmen steered the mokoro into the reeds, the world around us was quiet except for a gorgeous bird singing in the distance and the annoying buzz of millions of little gnats. Robin and I were shooing the flies away and swatting ourselves the entire time, but Sandy maintained his composure and spoke as eloquently as ever of his love of the country, doing so without a single swat.
The next day, Sandy, Robin, and I set out on a motorboat ride. The mornings here are cool. It's winter, and the overnight lows are in the high 30s. Robin and I covered ourselves with blankets, but Sandy seemed perfectly comfortable. There are numerous passes through the reeds, most of which are hippo trails. We followed them around, stopping to look at beautiful malachite kingfishers; African fish eagles, who look surprisingly like bald eagles--they just have more white, which extends down slightly past their shoulders (assuming birds have shoulders); pygmy geese; grey louries; black egrets; marabou stork; masked weavers, who build beautiful elaborate basket nests out of twigs, many of which are high-rise houses with numerous families; the fork-tailed drongo; and the African jacana, a little brown bird with a white head that the locals call the "Jesus Bird" because as it hops from lily pad to lily pad it looks like it's walking on water.
After a very circuitous path, weaving around and around the delta, we arrived at an island where we were able to take a walk. The film crew went ahead with Sandy and Robin, while I heard more about local flora and fauna. One guide even picked up a matted mass of hair. It was a fur ball passed by a lion. It turns out lions can't digest hair any better than house cats.
Then Sandy waved us over to join him. There at the edge of the clearing was a lion just retreating into the bushes. We were a quarter mile from our boat. But, again, our guides--Mighty and Moses, this time--were completely unperturbed. Mighty said not to worry--lions run off when they see people.
As we scanned the horizon for other wildlife we saw two giraffe walking in the distance. We continued our walk a bit farther and then made it back to the boat and camp.
Goodbye for now from all of us here in Africa.
Today we went on an amazing walking safari with our guides Mighty and Moses. They pointed out the myriad animal tracks, including some from baboons, whose tracks look like a child's handprints. (It was not hard to imagine baboons at this location since we could see a whole troop of fifty approaching.) There were also impala tracks and those of an antelope-like creature called a red lechwe.
Whole mini-narratives revealed themselves in the tracks of these animals. For example, we came across zebra tracks that were about four days old. At first they were at a walking gait, but then you could see where all of a sudden the zebra started to run. There were also four-day-old lion tracks, which also switched from a walking gait to a full run. Moses thought that the lion probably chased the zebra, and it looked that way to us too.
Then Sandy mentioned a little creature called an ant lion, which lives in small conical depressions in the ground. It will come out and strike if the sand around it is gently disturbed. It's not actually an ant at all but the immature stage of a local dragonfly-like insect. We checked depression after depression but were unable to locate them. Mighty, however, was determined. He went 50 yards off the path and found one in a depression at the base of a fallen tree. It was quite a sight--more like a little gray spider with pincers than an ant. It was the first time Sandy had seen one since he was a child.
We also went on another boat trip through the maze-like passages in the delta and happened upon a scientific camp where research on baboons is being conducted.
Sandy was quite excited.
"Is that where Robert and Dorothy [the researchers] live?" he asked.
"Yes," Mighty said.
"Oh, could we go and pay a visit? Would that be OK?"
"I don't know if they are around. They usually leave very early in the morning."
"Well, we don't want to disturb them."
Sandy's agent Robin stepped in, however. "Ko ko, hello [the Botswana way to call to a house]. Is anyone there? Hello..."
Eventually a man appeared on the bank.
"May we come over and visit?"
"Of course, come on up."
She said, "Hi, I'm Robin Straus. This is Edward Kastenmeier. And this is Mr. Alexander McCall Smith."
To which the man replied, "I know who you are. I recognize you from your book jackets."
Sandy said that he had in turn read Robert and Dorothy's book on animal behavior titled Baboon Metaphysics and it had been very helpful in the new children's book he was writing, Akimbo and the Baboons. Dorothy and their daughter appeared.
Here we were in the middle of the remote Okavango Delta, and three authors meet and are able to praise one another's work.
The camp was a wonderful place. There were vervet monkeys in the trees and a tame francolin bird. And the husband and wife team were there with their college-aged daughter.
But pretty soon it was time to head back to camp and on to Gaborone, where fascinating things were waiting.
Being with Sandy in Africa is a bit of a whirlwind, and it has been a challenge to keep up with the trip diary entries! Sandy seems to know every person in the country, and if you know Sandy, it will come as no surprise that he likes to stop and talk to each and every one of them. But since you may be growing tired of hearing me talk, I'll let Robin narrate what happened this morning.
Hello from sunny Botswana from Robin, Sandy's literary agent. Edward has been sending detailed missives about our extraordinary trip. To be in Botswana with Sandy is a dream come true. His love for this wonderful country is evident in each moment we've had together. Edward and I have been so lucky to have a glimpse of what makes Botswana so special.
As I write, I'm looking out of the window of our modern hotel in the capital, Gaborone, at tropical trees and bougainvillea and listening to doves cooing. Fortunately, doves sound the same worldwide, so I have been expert in identifying them here and in the bush. Sandy recognizes many more species and even does a quite accurate rendition of the "go-away" bird's song.
Speaking of "go-away" birds who warn one another and other animals when danger is near, we traveled yesterday morning to Mokolodi. This is a game reserve and educational center run by Sandy's friend, Neil Whitson, and located about a half hour south of Gaborone (Gabs, as the locals call it). Neil is completely at home in the bush, and his love and respect for the animals is apparent. He takes in orphaned baby animals, sponsors animal studies, and offers opportunities for schoolchildren and others to experience life in the wild. This is far from a zoo. As with the camps in the delta, we all signed indemnity forms. In fact, Neil's little Jack Russell terrier has been trained to survey the picnic area for snakes and other creatures that you'd want to avoid.
After a picnic breakfast early in the morning (life in Botswana starts very early: Children go to school at 7 a.m.; offices open at 7:30), gripping coffee and bush tea mugs for warmth, we discovered our bush vehicle wouldn't start. So, there we were, Sandy in the middle, pushing the car until the engine caught. Then we drove on dusty trails viewing the resident cheetah, rare white rhinos, hippos, giraffes, impala, ostrich, etc. Neil told gripping stories about his adventures, about the four African elephants who were being trained by Sri Lankan mahouts to carry human passengers, as well as about the struggle to keep the animals alive in a severe drought like the one now occurring in southern Botswana.
Neil mentioned he had caught a ten-foot python in a nearby village the night before. Evidently, the lady of the house wasn't too thrilled when the snake appeared in the bathroom. Neil asked if we were interested in helping him release the snake into the wild, and we said yes. One of the highlights of this trip was watching Neil break a stick into a fork to grab the snake's head as she (Neil knew it was a she) was released from a sack. He's done it many times (and has a two inch scar on his hand from a python bite to prove that) but I didn't know about Sandy's prowess with snakes. He helped Neil by grabbing the snake's tail as she came out of the bag and the two men hoisted it out. If Sandy was frightened, he gave no indication of it. Perhaps he lifted pythons as a young man in Africa. I must ask him.... But what was even more amazing to me was seeing Edward, who lives in Brooklyn, carry the middle part of the snake around his neck as Sandy and Neil held both ends. I hope the picture of this amazing feat will someday sit in a frame on Edward's desk in his Manhattan office!
Back on the ground, Neil put the snake's head in a water hole to acclimate her to the most important part of her new environs, and we watched her whip herself away in the water. Neil's surprise after this act of bravery was to take us to a new camping area named for Sandy, a great supporter of Mokolodi.
So, our morning with Sandy had begun with him imitating birds over the bomo--an African campfire, jump starting our bush vehicle, and lifting a huge snake. Is there anything this man can't do? He even knows the constellations and showed me the Southern Cross when we were in the delta. And all this happened before we visited the set of "THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY" and met a new star in the constellation, Jill Scott. I'll let Edward describe what happened next.
Goodbye from Gabs,
Hello again--it's Edward. Today Sandy met Mma Ramotswe for the first time, or at least the woman who will be playing her in the upcoming movie directed by Anthony Minghella. The actress's name is Jill Scott. Her accent is spot on, and her voluptuous build, combined with some extra padding, make her perfectly proportioned to play our traditionally built heroine. Sandy was very pleased with Jill Scott who is doing a wonderful job of bringing Mma Ramotswe to life.
He also met Lucian Msamati, a South African actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, who is playing Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. He seems to have the perfect temperament to be a trustworthy, hardworking mechanic. And the two apprentices were completely amazing. They ham it up and goof off and joke around as much off screen as on. Every time someone would go to take their picture they'd have to have a prop, a spanner (what we know as a wrench) or something, and hold it up on display.
Sandy was escorted around the set and introduced to the actors by producer Amy Moore, the person who has done the most to make the film happen and, specifically, for it to happen here in Botswana. In order to film here they have essentially had to create a local film industry. We all hope this can become another important economic sector for Botswana. This is something Sandy appreciates tremendously and something that will be of tremendous benefit to the people here.
As Sandy was talking to Jill and Lucian, Anthony Minghella joined them and they had a warm chat about the project. But pretty soon it was time for them to start filming. Sandy, Robin, and I were given headsets, and we watched as a scene was simultaneously shot in front of our eyes and displayed on the monitors.
It was a scene at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors where Mma Ramotswe drives up and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni introduces her to a potential client, who turns out to be very rude. They were getting wonderful footage.
When we broke for lunch, Anthony Minghella joined us at our table and said that it was a tough day shooting. Two of the actors were to drive cars in a scene and it turned out that neither of them knew how to drive, so they had to take a break while someone taught them to drive. Then on the first take one of them put the car in reverse by mistake and almost took out a camera crew.
Between takes, Sandy and I marveled at the level of detail in the garage. They even had a peg board with outlines for all the different sized wrenches. I commented that they were all neatly in place just as Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni would want it, and Sandy said, "Yes, but of course the apprentices would put them back in the wrong place."
Sandy is staying at the home of Howard and Fiona Moffat, both of whom have appeared in the books. Last night the Sandy, the Moffats, Robin, and I went to the Royal Palm Hotel to have dinner in the Beef Baron restaurant as guests of Botswana's ambassador to the Scandinavian countries.
As we were waiting for our table, the lobby filled with people in strange safari gear--leather chaps and hats, fake guns. Some were wearing bright orange mining gear. One was even dressed as a tribal chief. Some women were even wearing black and white Victorian dresses.
"When you're in Africa, something unusual always happens," Sandy said.
It was a lovely dinner. The head of Botwana's foreign service and his wife were there, the ambassador and her assistant, the Chief Executive officer of Botswana Tourism Board, the Swedish film crew, the Moffats, Sandy, Robin, and I.
When we were dropping Sandy off he showed me the little black book he was carrying and he said, "It's all in here, the new Mma Ramotswe story. I've got it all worked out. We'll talk about it later." Needless to say, I can't wait for that.
The next day we saw one of the most magnificent achievements of this whole film production: They have constructed an entire town square at the foot of the Kgale (pronounced Kali) Hill. They decided to build the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and all the surrounding buildings from scratch, and they have created the most amazing set.
Again, producer Amy Moore escorted us around. They have paid tremendous attention to detail. The agency has not been constructed yet. You may remember at the beginning of the first book she is looking for a building. Minghella and the set designers have chosen a derelict post office building because they have wonderful windows through which Mma Makutsi can eavesdrop on Mma Ramotswe while she interviews a potential client.
Sandy felt the building looked just right--in a comfortable, Botswana way. He commented that the blue paint on one building matched the blue that is used on so many Botswana buildings: "It's the same blue they use to paint the sky." He was also astonished at the attention to detail and at how complex putting together a film is.
After a round of interviews, we all went back to our respective living quarters. Robin and I were ready for a rest, but I suspect Sandy went to his computer to do a little writing. Tonight, we will accompany him to a Red Cross benefit where he is a guest of honor.
Goodbye for now,
Today Sandy took us to Mochudi, Mma Ramotswe's hometown. We visited the national school she attended, which has now been turned into a lovely museum by Sandy Grant (who took the cover photos for a couple of the books) and his wife, who kindly escorted us around. It is high up on a hill with an amazing view of Mochudi and the hills in the distance and the small tributaries of the Limpopo River. This is the hill Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni climb toward the end of MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS. They then sit down and look at the beautiful vista. Sandy read the passage for the Swedish film crew while I looked out on the very same landscape as Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. I could even hear cowbells clanging in the valley. It's easy to see how this might help lift someone's spirit!
Mochudi is a picturesque town of about 35,000 people. Children waved at us as we passed on the streets, and they motioned for me to take their photos. We saw women walking with baskets on their heads and rondavels (round homes like the one pictured on the front cover of THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY), and we observed a Botswana town meeting called a Kgotla. Sandy even pointed to a nice well-kept and clean home and said that is just like the home Mma Ramotswe lived in as a child.
The museum was wonderful with all kinds of memorabilia from old Botswana. We saw an old advertisement for a sign that said "Tea Is Good for Us: Always Drink Tea" that Sandy absolutely adored.
There was a fascinating explanation of the old Botswana tradition (no longer in practice, I'm afraid) of rainmaking. The medicine man blows a whistle to summon the lightning bird from the sea, hoping it will collect water in its beak to create clouds. When it rains heavily, thunder and lightning occur because the bird is sad to release the water. The thunder is the roar of its mouth, and the lightning is the beating of the wings and the look in the eyes.
In Mma Ramotswe's hometown I also noticed Sandy taking more notes for the next installment in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS. There couldn't be a more appropriate place for inspiration.
We then visited the SOS Children's Village, an orphanage for approximately 200 children. We were greeted by a children's marimba band and lots of happy faces. This was a most inspirational visit for all of us—a moving look at the way caring people are dealing with society's problems. The AIDS crisis has affected so many children in this country and in Africa at large. On a lighter note, the director, Derek James, led us on a tour and we discovered the famously temperamental water pump. Where is Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni when you need him?
Best from Botswana,
Now that I am back in Brooklyn this will be my last missive. I think you can tell that my experience was wonderful, and I urge anyone with the slightest curiosity to visit Botswana. Though I must admit, to see Botswana through Sandy's eyes was indeed a rare treat--one I will cherish throughout my days.
Saturday night--our last night--Sandy hosted a concert at the home of Howard and Fiona Moffat, who I have to say are of two of the loveliest people you're likely to meet. The performers were all local musicians under the directorship of David Slater. They played an unusual blend of traditional instruments. One was like a guitar, but the sounding board was made from an old iron oil can. (The old oil cans are very hard to find these days and are like gold to traditional musicians.) The music had a complex rhythm and consisted of lovely ping-like sounds.
Next came a boy with an incredibly soulful voice. He sang a song about the baboon's clothes and finished with a haunting piece about AIDS called "The Rain is Coming." We all agreed that he could be a major success on the commercial scene. He was followed by a lovely tenor, and then by a very powerful soprano, who had a rich, full voice that filled the room. She was about to leave for opera training in Paris. Overall, it was a beautiful and enjoyable evening.
Earlier that day, while Sandy stayed in to relax and hopefully get started transcribing his notes for THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS into text, Robin and I went to two lovely local villages, Gabane, where some of the filming for movie version of THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY will take place, and Manyana. There I had a chance to take some photos of rondavels, and we made the most of the opportunity to talk to some of the locals. They have all the kindness and grace that Sandy so wonderfully portrays in his books.
The towns were lovely, and we learned that most people of Botswana, at least the more prosperous ones, have three homes: their field house, their cattle post, and their town homes. Most town homes seem to have a main house and rondavel in the yard. I asked one nice woman whose principle language was Setswana why everyone had a rondavel in their yard. She said simply, "One should have one. It is tradition." I felt I could be hearing the words of Mma Ramotswe herself.
Bye for now,
A Note from Robin
I know many of you are disappointed that Edward returned to New York before the end of Sandy's stay in Botswana. I'm still in Gaborone and thought you might like to have a brief rundown of some of the highlights of the last few days.
First was a brunch at the beautiful home of Kate Canavan, the American ambassador to Botswana, in honor of Sandy and Anthony Minghella. The president of Botswana attended as did four of his ministers--health, tourism, trade and industry and local governance--and quite a mix of local, film, and diplomatic people. The ambassador is a devoted reader of the NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series and had previously met Sandy at a bookstore reading in Arlington, VA. At the time, she had just been appointed ambassador of Botswana but the announcement was not yet public, so she discreetly said she hoped to meet him again! Sandy spoke to the brunch guests about the series and his desire to describe how "a fine lady' lives her life, and, as always, he was simultaneously thoughtful, charming and funny.
The brunch was followed the next day by a book signing event at the Embassy--a very secure establishment. I stupidly forgot my passport or any photo ID, and the security guards were reluctant to let me enter, but being with Sandy opened doors. We had a warm session with many of the people posted in Botswana--AIDS workers, finance and legal people, diplomats, CDC representatives, marines, etc., who were eager to talk with Sandy about his books. As you can imagine, many of these attendees had very interesting stories of their own experiences living in this remarkable country.
Yesterday, we started the day at Maru-a-pula school at the invitation of the headmaster, Andrew Taylor. For those New Yorkers who are reading this, Andrew had previously worked at the prestigious Horace Mann school in Riverdale. Sandy spoke to the upper school students about the craft of writing fiction and about the life of a writer, and I discussed some of the business aspects of publishing. Maru-a-pula offers a rigorous program for 7th to 12th graders, preparing students for entry to highly selective universities. It is a model of race-neutral education in Southern Africa and has a rich community service program. Maru-a-pula is currently offering full scholarships to 20 AIDS orphans and would like to increase that number to 60. For more info on this school, the website is maruapula.org.
Then we went on to the Sanitas nursery, a forty-acre botanical garden and retail facility, accompanied by the Swedish film crew who are filming Sandy in Botswana. We learned of their experimental work in irrigation (in this dry land, every drop of water used at Sanitas is paid for and comes from a pipe from the dam) and saw everything from ornamental plants to tangelo trees, cacti, and cotton. I was surprised to learn that one of their persistent headaches is not the intense heat of summer but animal pests: the greedy vervet monkeys and porcupines. These are bribed with fruit treats and when caged are taken to our old friend Neil Whitson at Mokolodi for relocation. This is another demonstration of the interconnectedness of the community here. After a tour, we sat down to a festive lunch in a tea garden sheltered by a giant fig tree and enjoyed a shortcake made with strawberries grown a few hundred feet away.
And who knew Sandy was also a cook? We zoomed through the local Pick 'n' Pay supermarket gathering supplies for a home-cooked meal at the Moffats. I bought redbush tea bags--roibus is everywhere here--to take home, and put together chicken with rosemary and lemon and a melange of vegetables (pumpkin, of course), while Sandy created a fabulous tart with cheese, tomatoes, and mustard. I also discovered that he has a secret weakness for the ubiquitous biltong, the local homemade beef jerky!
Today, another visit to the set, lunch at Mokolodi, and a dinner where Sandy will be the keynote speaker.
Where does he get the energy to write with a schedule like this? Yet he told me he has mapped out the next book in the NO. 1 series and is eager to begin writing. Probably, this will happen in Australia, which is where he travels next, after a short return to Edinburgh. As Edward has written earlier, Sandy definitely thrives here and loves to talk to all the people he meets in Botswana. He told the students at Maru-a pula that a writer needed to be curious and absorb all he sees. I think Sandy inhales Botswana!
What a privilege it has been for Edward and me to accompany him here. I'm rereading the NO. 1 series with great pleasure and with renewed appreciation for how accurately Sandy has captured the essence of this very special country and his people. Goodbye from Botswana. Sala Sentlae.