The terrace of Cresta President Hotel in Gaborone – along with the bush tea it serves, has gained international fame courtesy of the Mma Ramotswe novel series written by Alexander McCall Smith.
A maitre d at the hotel says that they periodically wait on international tourists, some with a copy of a Mma Ramotswe novel in hand, who ask to be seated in the corner where Precious Ramotswe has her bush tea. These fans would be on the trail of Mma Ramotswe haunts which include this terrace. In the books, when she needs to unwind, Mma Ramotswe visits President Hotel, sits out on the terrace and orders a cup of bush tea. The blogosphere is abuzz with this terrace.
Last year, a blogger, who calls herself “transplantedtartar”, visited Gaborone and just had to make a stop at President Hotel to see the tea corner. “The tea corner, and the hotel dining room behind it, oversaw a market place, not quite at its peak on a Thursday afternoon. Still, the area felt friendly, central, and safe,” she captioned a picture with the said physical features.
Another blogger, “2Summers”, who identifies herself as “an American suburbanite in quirky Johannesburg”, devoted a whole day to visiting Mma Ramotswe haunts. Although she had imagined the terrace to be larger and less metallic than she found it, she nonetheless retained her fascination with it.
“I drank tea in Mma Ramostwe’s Tea Corner! Bush tea, of course,” she blogged, providing photographic evidence of the experience to back up her statement.
Far away in Switzerland, another Mma Ramotswe fan called Catherine was thrilled to bits by this post. She expressed envy about 2Summers having visited Gaborone and thanked her for the pictures of President Hotel. “i loved the one of you on the terrace drinking bush tea,” writes Catherine in the punctuational choice of social media.
The bloggers’ visits were preceded by that of Bob Maddams, a British film-maker working and living in Africa. Maddams also did the Mma Ramotswe trail around Gaborone. Accompanied by a certain Tim, he also ended up drinking “red bush tea on the terrace of the President Hotel overlooking the market square, one of Mma Ramostwe’s favourite haunts.”
As a literary franchise, the Mma Ramotswe series is one of the most successful in the world, boasting an international cult following that monetarily translates into millions (if not billions) of dollars. Botswana businesses would do well to take this very, very seriously. Transplantedtartar cringed with shock when “My guide pointed out that Mma Ramotswe only had coffee at this hotel in the books.” Guides who take tourists on the Mma Ramotswe trail would do well to get their facts right; better still, read the books and become fans themselves. During his visit, Maddams went “to Mma Ramostwe’s favourite shop, the Botswana Book Centre, where, ironically, I couldn’t find a single one of the No 1 books. Perhaps they were sold out.”
The speed at which Botswana is taking advantage of this franchise has generally been languid. President Hotel itself took a little too long to tap off this goldmine because the “MmaRamotswe Tea Corner” sign only went up in 2008 when the shooting of the No. 1 Detective Agency series took place at the hotel.
McCall Smith, who is now back home in Scotland, is a former lecturer in the department of law at the University of Botswana. Catherine from Switzerland marvels at how “a Scottish man can write so well about an African woman and fascinate people throughout the western world.”