Thursday, March 1, 2007


Listen, I'm just a small town girl. Living in a lonely world. Yesterday, I took the midnight train to the Camel Book Drive.

The writer Masha Hamilton has organized a book drive for a library in an area Kenya near the Somali border. I know next to nothing about Kenya (other than a man I know weirdly prided himself in pronouncing it KEEN-ya, which I thought made him seem like a bit of a PEEN-yis.) According to the site, the people who live in this region are semi-nomadic and get their books from a traveling camel library. They could use more books, and so I signed right up to send some.

I don't normally do stuff like this. I tend to give closer to home where I have an easier time understanding what the giving means. I like a no-strings-attached approach. I don't give to organizations where the recipients somehow have to change their lives to in order to receive help, whether it's accepting a certain religion or give up their vices. I'd feel like an asshole indeed if I were to give some money, trade someone else's dignity for my feeling of altruism, and expect them to conform to my expectations.

So, pretty such any charitable organization can become pretty controversial in my book. I wondered about my gift of books in English--a language these Kenyans know (along with Swahili). But they speak Somali at home. I winced. Hey, kids! Here's a package for you! It contains the destruction of your mother tongue! You're welcome!

(You can send books in Somali or Swahili, although the selection isn't all that. Also, they're pretty spendy.)

Then I found this post by someone who had the same concerns that I did--along with a note from a Kenyan intellectual, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who writes that the kids actually do need the books, and like it or not, English is a prominent (and, actually, the official) language in Kenya. I know he's just one man, but his comments resolved my conflict.

Coincidentally, the book fair at Caleb's school was last night. And not to sound too Deepak, but it really was great trying to broaden my persective, trying to imagine what people in a part of the world I've never been, would like. The pickings about Africa were pretty slim, but I wound up with a couple children's atlases, a book on African-American inventors, books on horses, dinosaurs, Egyptian pyramids.

Caleb picked up a few books for himself and took a shine to one of the atlases. I'm not of the opinion that motherhood is some universal bond, but I did get a kick out of thinking that somewhere, some other woman, might also be watching her kid wiggle his way to the front of the crowd so he could snag a book before other kids got the one he wanted.

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