From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
I MET AN OLDER GUY IN THIS DESERT TOWN IN MOROCCO
A MERCHANT WITH A FURNITURE STORE
MY COLLEAGUE WAS STUCK TRYING TO EXPLAIN THE INTERNET
“LIKE A BIG GREAT LIBRARY OF THE WHOLE WORLD,” SHE SAID
THE MAN SAID “YES! YES!” VERY EXCITED TO KNOW ABOUT MODERN THINGS
HE GESTURED FORWARD THEN BACK WITH HIS HAND
“YOU PUT IN THE… TAPE TO WATCH MOVIES”
WE LOOKED AT EACH OTHER
“YES, YES,” WE SAID
“THAT IS THE INTERNET”
IT MAY HAVE UNNECESSARILY EMBARRASSED HIM
ANYWAY TOO HARD TO EXPLAIN
HE WAS SO EXCITED
HIS WIFE WASN’T ALLOWED OUT OF THE BACK ROOMS IN UNTIL WE LEFT
Book donations for the Camel Library can be mailed to:
Garissa Provincial Library
For Camel Library
Librarian in Charge, Rashid M. Farah
P.O. Box 245
The actual Camel Bookmobile brings books to semi-nomadic people in
Northeastern Kenya who live with the most minimal of possessions,
suffering from chronic poverty and periodic drought. I visited the
region during a period of drought and made several hours-long walks
through the African bush with the bookmobile. I cannot describe how
moving it was to see the people, particularly children, crowding
around as the traveling librarians set up straw mats under an acacia
tree and spread out the books. The excitement is palpable.
The Camel Bookmobile books are primarily in English. The children are
taught the language in outdoor “classrooms” under acacia trees for the
younger students, indoor classrooms for the older students. They
particularly like children’s storybooks, though all fiction is also
sought-after, as well as books about math and astronomy, biology and
other sciences. As you can imagine, the camel library always needs
more books – the trip is hard on books and, as these are a semi-
nomadic people known as pastoralists, not all volumes are returned.
This area, Northeast Kenya near the unstable border with Somalia, is
definitely a region in transition. Due to years of drought and famine,
the elders (many of whom still feel romantically attached to their
nomadic lifestyles) are recognizing that their children must be
educated, so the demand on the camel library is growing. Illiteracy
rates in this region are put at 85 percent. Among adults outside the
towns, my guess is that it is higher than that. We in the West have so
many books; just mailing a single one to the camel library, if done
five-hundred times, would have enormous impact.
masha_librarian_1.jpgThe Camel Bookmobile librarians told me their
patrons also really appreciate the sense of connection they get when a
book is signed from a particular place and person. It widens their
understanding of the world. So send a favorite book or two, sign your
donations with your name and city, and add a note if you wish.
Postage, economy, on a 5-pound box from the U.S. to Kenya is $23.
Sending a 10-pound box is $33.75, and a 15-pound box costs $41.10. For
a 25-pound box, the cost is $55.05. If you cannot afford postage for
your box of books, please contact me.
Visit the Authors for African Literacy donor page to see which of your
favorite authors have donated a box of books to the camel library, and
check out their websites.
Another great organization working to support libraries in Africa:
African Library Project
A percentage of all sales from The Camel Bookmobile will be
contributed to the actual camel-borne library.
“These books of yours,” Jwahir was saying, “are too foolish, even for
the children.” Matani managed – just – to stop himself from
interrupting to clarify that the books were not actually his. “Kanika
translated one for me.” Jwahir pronounced the next words in slow,
stilted English. “A cat. On. A hat.” She shook her head, switched back
to her own language. “If such a book held facts for how to hunt a
leopard, then perhaps – although even then, it’s better for the
knowledge to pass from father to son. But a book about a creature who,
what? Sits on a head covering?”
“In a hat,” Matani said absently, distracted by Jwahir’s mention of
father and son, wondering if it was off-handed, or intentional,
perhaps a subtle female way to show that her deepest desire matched
his own. Too late, he realized that he had corrected his wife, so he
leaned closer, reached for her shoulder, hesitated and stroked the air
above it. “It’s only because I am a teacher,” he said apologetically.
His beautiful Jwahir glared. An apology had never been enough to
soothe her temper. And on this topic of the Camel Bookmobile, she
routinely displayed more thorns than the acacia.
“On or in doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s a story from the space
between one’s teeth,” Jwahir said. “But the true ones are yet worse. I
saw a book with pictures of what they called food. Food? How can they
call that food? It is we, Matani, who should be teaching them what is
important – not the other way around. Even the colors were
unimaginable. And the lists of ways to prepare them – pshhh!” She
pursed her full lips, almost as though she were readying for a kiss,
though her irritated open eyes made it clear that love, unfortunately,
was not on her mind.
“Recipes,” Matani said, using the English since his tribe had no word
Jwahir ignored him. “How many separate foods are wasted to make one?”
she asked, and waited a moment to see if he would be foolish enough to
try to answer. “Ten, sometimes fifteen. How much time is spent on such
a project? A full morning? More?” She opened her palms to the ceiling,
her shapely fingers extended. “What use is such a book, when maize
mixed with camel blood and baked over open fire is a treat for us?”
Wistfulness had slightly softened her indignant tone, and Matani
slipped into that opening. “Perhaps the books’ gifts are in what they
let us imagine,” he said.
He considered, then, telling her everything he believed about the sole
topic besides her that made him passionate. How the Camel Bookmobile
offered the only chance of survival for this collection of half-nomads
with only one toenail in the future, how the children had to make
friends of written words if they were ever to have prosperous
grandchildren. How until the books, he hadn’t really felt himself to
be a teacher – his only supplies, after all, had been a few pencils,
which quickly disappeared, and not even any paper. But now he knew he
could do it, he could help create a generation where, instead of one
man going off to study in Nairobi – as his father had first, and he
had next – there would be ten, or twenty, who would then return to
help their people. He didn’t hope to be remembered as a father of his
tribe, nothing so grandiose as that. He wanted to be thought of simply
as one who helped shape the future and encourage his peoples’ dreams.
Like a father who would teach his own sons. And for that, the
traveling library was crucial.
– excerpt from The Camel Bookmobile