All writers have to finesse parts of their main characters’ backgrounds. They have to make the characters believable both with respect to who they are and how they behave.
We obviously had to do this with our protagonist, Assistant Superintendent David Bengu, widely known as Kubu. How were we going to have the only child of a Botswana sharecropper end up as one of the country’s finest detectives?
The solution was simple. Kubu did well in primary school in his hometown of Mochudi. Typically he would have progressed to the local high school, which would have been of a decent but not high standard. But fate intervened, and the local priest in the church his family attended saw Kubu’s potential and persuaded a private school in Gaborone to give him a scholarship. His parents certainly couldn’t have afforded to end him there.
|Founder Deane Yates|
We decided that the school that he would attend was Maru a Pula, which in Setswana means “clouds of rain” or “promises of blessings”. The reason we chose Maru a Pula over several other private schools was that my high school headmaster, Deane Yates went to Gaborone in 1972 to found it, with the encouragement of the president of the country Sir Seretse Khama.
It was an easy finesse. Poor kid gets a great education at a top school through a scholarship arranged by the local priest.
The story would have ended there but for my penchant for frequently moving between the United States and South Africa. One January, I think it was, about five years ago, I was standing in line waiting to board the KLM flight to Johannesburg. I was near the front of the queue and noticed a man a few places in front of me. His profile looked familiar. I racked my brains and eventually decided it looked like my high school math teacher, David “Doggy” Matthews, last seen in 1964 – thirty odd years before. I approached the man and asked him if he were indeed David Matthews. He said he was. I introduced myself, and he immediately remembered both me and my brothers and parents. I was astonished at his recall of a family amongst all the families he had known.
Obviously we chatted while we waited to board. Two things emerged. First, he lived only a few kilometers from my house in Knysna on the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa. And second, he had been the second headmaster of Maru a Pula. This was exciting because it suddenly gave me access to more information about the school and hence about Kubu himself.
Doggie asked me to join him and his wife for drinks one Sunday night at their smallholding near me. When I arrived, he introduced me to an Andy Taylor – an American. He was, and still is, the current headmaster of Maru a Pula.
|Current Maru a Pula headmaster, Andy Taylor|
This was amazing. Now I had a person with a contemporary view of schooling in Botswana and of the country itself. Andy, it turned out, also knows everybody who is somebody, and everybody else as well. Through him we have met everyone we needed to meet in our research for the Detective Kubu books. We have dined with the Commisssioner of Police and the Chief Forensic Pathologist (whose labs we also toured). We have talked with the remarkable Unity Dow, former High Court judge and wonderful novelist (you should read her Screaming of the Innocent) and spent time with the equally remarkable head of the human rights organization Ditshwanelo (“human rights not human wrongs”). The list goes on – all because we chose Maru a Pula as the school Kubu should attend. And because the fates conspired something positive while I was standing in an airline queue.
A word about the school. It is one of the premier schools in southern Africa with students from over 30 countries. It is dedicated both to academic excellence as well as to preparing students to be proactive members of their communities. You can see a short movie about the school at http://www.maruapula.org/about-map/map-movie or read about the school at http://www.maruapula.org.
One of the areas that Maru a Pula stands out is in the area of the Arts:
- Home of Maitisong, the premier centre for the performing arts in Botswana, attracting thousands to our campus every year
- Site of the highly acclaimed Maitisong Cultural Festival, the nation's largest arts festival
- World-class programmes in the visual and performing arts- drama, music and fine art
- Our marimba band has recorded three CDs and toured Canada, Brazil, Portugal and the USA (tours in 2003, 2008 and 2010).
|Maru a Pula Arts Centre|
|Maru a Pula students|
|Maru a Pula students|
|Maru a Pula students|
It is schools like this that are preparing kids to be community leaders in Africa. Should you ever visit Botswana, a visit to the school will be a highlight. Although I can't promise rain, I can promise blessings.
Stan - Thursday