Friday, November 26, 2010

The Camel Bookmobile

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” ~Dr. Seuss

I finished reading a book called The Camel Bookmobile which is, as the title suggests, about a mobile library on a camel. The novel takes place 3 hours north of my site (the community where I live) by camel. Yes that’s right, the book’s main story takes place 3 hours north traveling by camel.

The story is a very interesting one, and I wont ruin it for you by telling you how it ends or even telling you most of the story line. Instead I will just highlight some of the more important themes of the book.

The book is about a project in which a librarian from the U.S. comes to Kenya’s North Eastern Province with a project: to bring literacy to the children of the hardest to reach areas in Kenya.
The idea of the project is simple: get a native animal (a camel) as a means of transport and set up a system whereby the Camel Bookmobile travels to various small villages in the province every so often with books that the residents would check out for a period of time and return them the next time the Camel Bookmobile comes.

Now the main theme of the book is something most Peace Corps Volunteers are very likely to face: the western world’s perspective as it differs from tradition. Upon arriving to our countries of service each one of us future volunteers is overly ambitious about ‘changing the world’. Yet real, lasting, change takes a very long time and in all likelihood we are not going to change the world. Instead, we can change a small part of the world. We can bring small changes to the communities we live in setting the stage or foundation for future more lasting changes to come in the future. I remember one day last year I had dinner with a Somali and a member of the US military; a Somali, a Mexican-American, and an American soldier having dinner. How often d you think that happens?

During that dinner we discussed the differences between the youth voice and the elders’ voice and how they often conflict. The youth will come with ideas about a better way of life – for example in the book, a member of the tribe was sent to the Distant City (Nairobi) for schooling. Upon return to his nomadic village, the young man brought with him the idea of using buckets and hoses to take more care of the limited water available to their small community. In response, the elders of the tribe thought that ‘tricking’ the water was beyond madness. This is, of course, an extreme example but the principle holds as it is something that volunteers may face.

(Please note that we do receive training on how to approach issues with the community to help community members to become aware of the challenges and come up with a way to address them. The training includes working with the community leaders, etc.)

Though we are not likely to face such extreme opposition as was illustrated in the book, we are likely to experience some.

[PS the Camel Bookmobile is a real effort to bring literacy to Kenyans. For more info visit]

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