Friday, February 17, 2012


The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency books have become my favorite reading these days. I love the picture they give of the intertwined relationships of a small African community in Botswana. I find myself getting so caught up in the stories as I'm listening to the books on CD in my car that I drive more slowly than necessary or take the long route home so that I don't have to stop in the middle of a chapter.

Last night after I returned from a small group at church, I sat in the dark car outside my house for several minutes with the engine running, listening to Precious Ramotswe's adventures as she tries to unravel the mysteries in people's lives with her private dectective agency. The legs of my jeans, the fabric on the passenger seat, and the curved vinyl of the dashboard were all speckled with the shadow of spattered raindrops through the windshield. I had this strange momentary feeling that I was blending in to my surroundings in my little car, like a chameleon changing his color to hide among the leaves, or a cheetah becoming very still and small in order to stalk his prey undetected in the yellows and browns of the African plain. I was almost afraid to move, hesitant to disturb the lovely patterns of spots, and hesitant to leave the world of Precious Ramotswe and her charming life in Botswana. But after a few minutes, the chapter ended, and I reluctantly turned off the engine and got out of the car to return to my very different life in suburban America.

This morning on the way to a substitute teaching job, I listened as Precious Ramotswe, the "traditionally-built" woman of the "Number One Ladies' Detective Agency" of Botswana, sat in the shade of a tree and munched on molasses sandwiches with her friend Mma Potokwane, the director of the orphan farm. As the orphan boys and girls ran and played in the afternoon sun, Mma Ramotswe marveled at how happy they were, though most had experienced such tragedy and difficulty in their young lives.

"We want to make so many good memories for the children," explained Mma Potokwane, "that the bad memories are pushed into a corner and forgotten."*

I pondered this thought as I turned off the ignition and entered the school building. I thought about it as I went over that day's math and history lesson plans for the fifth grade. What a wonderful image - to crowd out any negative memories, bad experiences, hurtful comments, abuse, neglect, rejection or abandonment with an avalanche of positive experiences.

Was I flooding the children that I was responsible for teaching that day with love, affirmation, encouragement, praise, and positive memories? Sadly, most of the day it seemed I was correcting negative behavior and giving lectures. It's so hard to focus on the positive. It always seems to be easier to point out the negative. But I want to remember the wise words of that fictional woman from Botswana in Alexander McCall Smith's book, and "make so many good memories... that the bad memories are pushed into a corner and forgotten."

*From The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith)