Scouring Gabs for Mma Ramotswe

by | May 10, 2011 | Botswana | 10 comments

Joe’s brother Jim lives in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. I’ve been looking forward to visiting Jim as I’m a huge fan of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, which are set in Gaborone (“Gabs” for short). I started reading the series after my first trip to Africa and have been hooked ever since. I think Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s number one lady detective, is a total bad-ass.

Jim and his family are moving to Maun, a town several hours northwest of Gabs. It will be much harder to visit them after they move, so Joe and I cleared our schedules last weekend and made the four-hour drive to Gabs to say goodbye.

We had a great time visiting with Jim, his wife, and their adorable 18-month-old daughter.

Joe and his niece/goddaughter, who I will call Zoe, peaking over the garden wall at Jim’s house.

Joe and I also devoted a day to visiting Mma Ramotswe’s favorite haunts. (I know that Mma Ramotswe is a fictional character. But just go with it.)

It’s hard to see, but this is the set of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency television series. The set is protected by armed security guards and photos aren’t allowed. 

Mma Ramotswe likes to have tea on the terrace of the President Hotel (now called the Cresta President Hotel, which you can barely read on that sun-baked sign). The hotel looks like a Motel 6 and the terrace is smaller and more metallic than I imagined. I was charmed nonetheless.

I drank tea in Mma Ramostwe’s Tea Corner! Bush tea, of course. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

View of the Gabs downtown mall from the hotel terrace.

In addition to bush tea, I decided to order a big, fat cheeseburger. Topped with fried onions, fried tomato, and a fried egg. It was surprisingly divine — the best burger I’ve had in Africa. (Even better than Spur.) Now I understand how Mma Ramotswe became a “traditionally built” woman.

After lunch, we checked out the stalls and vendors along the downtown mall. I wanted to buy a pair of furry shoes (made from springbok fur) to wear as bedroom slippers. But they were asking too much and, like all the other vendors I encountered here, refused to negotiate with me. The shoes were fun to try on though. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

I bought two lovely pairs of earrings from this stall, for 15 pula (just over $2) each. I think Mma Ramotswe would approve of my choices.

The vendors on the mall cater to locals as well as tourists. I know that Mma Ramotswe hates buying new shoes, so she probably hires this guy to repair her shoes when they wear out.

I was hoping to find someone on the downtown mall who resembles Mma Ramotswe. (I haven’t seen the TV show, so my Mma Ramotswe looks nothing like Jill Scott.) But alas, there was no one who fulfilled my ideal.

This lady is traditionally built but looks nothing like Mma Ramotswe. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Gabs is a quiet little town as far as capital cities go — a welcome change from the hustle of Joburg. It’s unlikely we’ll make it back any time soon after and Jim and his family leave, so I’m glad I got the chance to visit and pretend to be a lady detective for a day.

Mma Ramotswe is very proud of her country and believes there is no better place to live than Botswana. This is the Three Dikgosi (“Three Chiefs”) Monument, which honors the three Batswana chiefs who helped to keep Botswana (then Bechuanaland) separate from Southern Rhodesia in 1895. Read more about the monument and its history here.


  1. Tilly Bud

    The series was charming; you must watch it if you can. Jill Scott was fabulous and the actress who played her assistant (Noni-something; currently appearing in The Good Wife) was great.

    I don’t know much about Botswana but I know a fair bit about tv 🙂

    • 2summers

      I do need to check out the series, although I’m a little afraid that it will ruin my mental picture of all the characters 🙂

  2. Derek Smith

    Great post as ussual Heather, you really get around don’t you? I’ll leave that book for you at the Melville Visitors Centre this week as promised. LOL

    • 2summers

      It’s funny, I don’t FEEL like I get around that much. But looking at my blog posts, I guess I do!

      Thanks for the book — I look forward to seeing it.

  3. catherine

    Hello Heather, this is Catherine in Geneva,
    I envy you so much to have been to Gaborone, Mma Ramotswe has been part of my life since we bought the 1st book in Cape Town in 2006 and I have loved every single one of them…thank you so much for the pictures of the President hotel, i loved the one of you on the terrace drinking bush tea…isn’t it amazing how a scottish man can write so well about an african woman and fascinate people throughout the western world?
    till the next post,
    take care and keep on discovering.

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much Catherine. I’m also amazed at the ability of this man to write through the eyes of an African woman. Glad you enjoyed the blog post!

  4. Kathryn McCullough

    Wow, I have never read these novels. I love detective fiction and am always happy to find a new series to read. Thanks, Heather. This is a great post————

    • 2summers

      Thanks Kathy, I’ll be curious to hear what you think of the books. They are very different from normal detective novels and some people don’t like them. I think they’re great though. Alexander McCall Smith has a really unique writing style.

  5. Krupa

    I stumbled upon this post and want to thank you for showing me the Botswana I had only imagined until now. I have loved the entire series and I admire how Alexander McCall Smith can empathise SO WELL with women! I have read out several passages to my husband – about how men are like cattle and how they like to see women who remind them of things on the dinner table and the like.

    Oh, I have loved Precious and I have grown to love Africa too. It has naturally entered my workshop through the handmade copper wire earrings I sell on Etsy. I did a special series called the African Stripes series : It reminds me of Africa’s tribal motifs and her love for colours 🙂

    What I particularly like about the shot of the downtown shopping area as viewed from the Preseident hotel, is the fantasy afforded to me that my earrings could sell in one of those stalls where you too purchased two pairs. Every Ramotswe fan would like a bit of Africa for herself 😀

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much for the comment and I’m glad you enjoyed my Gabs post. Your earrings are lovely and I’m sure they would be a big hit on the Gaborone downtown mall 🙂


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