The House of Unexpected Sisters


9781101871379One of the things I love about this series is the reflections that Precious Ramotswe makes about life in Botswana, its traditions, and the way that people around her choose to live their lives. Frequently, in conversation, Precious’s thoughts will stray, based on something that was said, and she will completely lose herself in that train of thought until someone brings her back into the conversation by saying her name. The best digressions are the ones where something has amused her, and everyone wonders why she’s smiling, since what they had been talking about was rather serious. These are quiet books about everyday life, but infused with so much warmth and wisdom, that they function, for me, anyway, as a trip to a spa (although I’ve never actually done that!) for my soul. AMS’s books bring me to a place of peace and comfort, humor and compassion, in the company of like-minded friends.


When Mma Ramotswe was trying to get information about what sort of person Mingie was, she engaged Mingie’s neighbor in conversation. The neighbor was hanging clothes to dry when a hoopoe paused on the grass not far away from the two women, watching them. The neighbor  said that she knows someone who believes that our ancestors take the form of hoopoes to come and visit us. While both women acknowledged that they did not believe the superstition, Mma Ramotswe said, “And sometimes I think it’s a pity that we can’t believe things that would make us feel better.” When I googled “Botswana hoopoes,” I found a piece about a shaman who expressed the opinion of his people that the hoopoe is a symbol of a loyal friend or a good visitor. It is said that if you hear this bird sounding off in the bush, it means that you’re going to have an important visitor who will bring much prosperity to the family. This bird’s wing and tail feathers are black and white; night and day, darkness and light, pleasure and pain. So, if you see this bird, it is believed that you will have a visitor or a friend coming to you, who will stand by you, by night and by day, through suffering and through joy, perhaps toting a six pack! The bird’s general color is like the color of beer, which is why this bird is associated with celebration, and with drinking. I like this bird.



It’s no secret that Mma Ramotswe loves Mma Potokwane’s fruitcake. In book after book, Precious spends a fair amount of time on the page thinking about it, in anticipation of a visit to her friend’s Orphan Farm. The following passage captures Precious’s feelings about the fruit cake:
“She closed her eyes as she took her first bite of cake: Mma Potokwane’s baking, she found, was strangely therapeutic. You might be very tense, you might have all sorts of worries, and then you popped a piece of cake into your mouth and all your issues seemed to disappear- as if they had never been there in the first place.”

Mma Potokwane’s Fruitcake

9 oz dried mixed fruit (cherries, raisins, sultanas, apricots, cranberries)
9 oz soft butter or margarine
4 eggs
4 oz corn flour
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 oz chopped almonds
7 oz sugar
11 oz flour
3 tsp baking powder
icing sugar to dust

Grease a 10-inch baking tin with some butter. 
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Cream butter or margarine in food mixer or large bowl and add sugar. 
Add eggs one at a time, mixing in thoroughly before adding the next 
egg and continue until all the sugar has been blended in.

Sift flour, corn flour and baking powder over the butter mixture.
 Once the flour mixture has been incorporated, add fruit mix, almonds and lemon rind.
 Pour batter into baking tin and smooth over the top. Bake cake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from tin and cool on a rack.

Before serving, dust cake generously with sifted icing sugar.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s