Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

My little moments with Alexander McCall Smith

Tea drinking. I started in earnest in Africa during my five years in Ghana and Botswana. Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series catches the gentle humor and graciousness in this Southern African country with one of the most stable democracies in the world (not just in Africa). Tea is the drink that holds together the world of Mma Ramotswe and her sidekick Grace Makutsi.

On April 16th Alexander McCall Smith came to St. Louis as part of Maryville Talks Books to discuss and sign his 13th novel in the series: "In The Limpopo Agency of Private Detection." (synopsis at end of post)

It was great night for Left Bank Books and everyone connected with the event. Alexander McCall Smith was every bit as charming, incredibly bright, and funny as he is in his books. He didn't use notes. His amazing language and humor just flow as he speaks. He's written over 60 books in several series besides "Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency." He is still active with his law profession and has been the head of two law schools.

To my delighted surprise I had two little private moments with Alexander McCall Smith.

After his talk we were invited to the microphone to ask questions and offer comments. I wore a blue waxprint robe I'd had made in Ghana that looks much like the German print cloth traditionally used in Botswana.

I began my comment with greetings in Setswana and an expression of thanks.

"Ke a leboga tataaaaa"
[Phonetically: Kay a Lay bo ha tata]

Then, switching to English I said: "I am so grateful for letting readers all over the world know about the beauty and goodness of Africa--Botswana in particular--and the people. You have done more to shift the world's perception of Africa than all the agencies in the United Nations put together."

I left the microphone to laughter and applause.I saw him smile. As I passed by the stage he came forward to speak with me. Simple things that I can barely recall. Things like:

"When were you in Botswana? Oh, the 1970s. That was a good time to be there. I see you are wearing the traditional cloth."

Later, standing in line to have my book signed the HEC-TV crew came to interview me. What a thrill!

When my turn came, he signed it to "Naledi"--my name in Setswana--which means "star." We chatted a bit more. Again, it all flashed by so fast. Close up he saw that the fabric wasn't the traditional cloth from Botswana. He asked me where it was from.

Although I can't recall the words from my little moments with him, I really the warmth and cozy feeling. The same feelings, in fact, that his books give us, and that his talk gave us that night.

Synopsis of The Limpopo Agency of Private Detection

In the latest episode in the beloved, best-selling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, a repeated dream haunts Precious Ramotswe, the best apprentice at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors is in trouble with the law, the builder working on the new house of Grace Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti is not on the up and up, and Mma Potokwane, defender of Botswana's weak and downtrodden, has been dismissed from her post as matron at the orphan farm. Can the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency help?

Maryville Talks Books is sponsored by Left Bank Books, Maryville University, St. Louis Public Radio, and HEC-TV.

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