Recently, I have seen three films, each “based on a true story.” First, Lion, next, Hidden Figures. Though I did not know the people whose story is being told on film, I felt a connection with them. And though I’m not sure of the accuracy of the details, it does not matter to me. The message of each film is very powerful.
The third film, A United Kingdom, was a very different experience. I knew the people whose story is told on screen. The film is based on the true story of Sir Seretse Khama and Lady Ruth Khama when they first met in 1947, fell in love, married, and had their first child, Jackie, all the while struggling to take their rightful place as “first family” of Bechuanaland. These events preceded independence from Great Britain in 1966, when Seretse Khama became the first president of the Republic of Botwana.
I had the opportunity and privilege of traveling to Botswana in the 1980’s as a consultant on a project to improve primary education in Botswana. I lived and worked in Botswana for three months in each of 1983, 1987, and 1988. I did not know Sir Seretse Khama; he had died three years before my first visit to Botswana. However, I did meet Lady Khama, once in connection with her work with children, and once on a Sunday afternoon at her farm. Jackie, the first child of Seretse and Ruth Khama, worked with the primary education project team with whom I was consulting. I knew the overall story of the Khama family, but not the details of the early years. When I saw the baby on screen and heard her called Jackie, I gasped. This is Jackie, the woman I knew in Botswana!
There are so many familiar sights and sounds in the film: the village of Serowe, the Palapye Hotel, traditional houses, red dust everywhere. It was the harmonious and spontaneous singing, the shouting of “Pula!”, and the greeting, “Dumelang, Boma” that I found most touching. The greeting is the plural of “Dumela, Ma”, when saying hello to a woman. I did not learn very much Setswana while I was there, though I did learn the greetings, thank you, and farewells. It was in Botswana that I learned the importance of greeting a person first before launching into a conversation or request – a habit I try to practice even now.
I spent some time today looking through my photo albums of Botswana, remembering with great affection the people I met and the places I visited. To my surprise, I found two photos of Jackie Khama! She did not like to be photographed, hence my surprise that I had these photos. We have lost touch over the years, but I try to keep abreast of what is happening in Botswana. There is a group of people who served as short-term and long-term consultants in Bostwana in the 1980s who meet annually in various U. S. cities to renew connections and to review current developments in southern Africa. I have not been able to attend in the past few years, but I am planning to go to the meeting this year in Colorado. Our “homework”? To see A United Kingdom – a very rewarding assignment, indeed.
Whether you have been to Botswana or not, this film is definitely worth seeing.