Library Books and Big Game Animals
The library at Bahakwenu Primary School had opened at last. Thirteen interns brought with them 750 pounds of books, starter books for two children’s libraries in Kenya. African books were to follow. The big library at the high school was yet to be completed, but the two children’s libraries were about to move from the dream to the reality stage.
At one of the large village celebrations I told the people how I had been a book lover since I was a small child; that it had been the reading of countless books about Africa that had eventually brought me to her shores, never to be the same. I remember going to our summer cabin after visiting the Bookmobile, my arms loaded with my new treasures. Nestled in my favorite chair, I could explore any place in the world that I wanted to go. It was the very feel and anticipation of a new book that brought me the biggest thrill as a child.
Now I was actually in the place I had read about so many times, having adventures I never would have dreamed of. Best of all, I was seeing children get their hands on books for the first time. The excitement was palpable. It had been ever since last fall when we had opened up a tiny library in an old kitchen.
Our intern and librarian, Kelsey Edwards, wasn’t sure how to manage all the enthusiasm. The first day over 200 books left the library. She didn’t know if the children had really understood the concept of returning them, but sure enough, in a large village gathering the next day, the children spotted her tall, lean frame, and one by one the books found their way back to her arms. We glanced at each other as the tears gathered in our eyes. It was the first of many times we felt those tears come. As the days followed the children became so excited that the library became chaotic. Crowd control became the biggest challenge, along with trying to get the children used to putting the books back with their spines out. They seemed to want to put them open-side out, forgetting that their spines had been carefully color coded to match the shelf they came from.
Because our books were few in number, they kept falling over on the half empty shelves. Rocks didn’t seem to do the job as bookends, so when I went into Mombasa to make another run to the airport, I stopped at the Akamba Carvers and got bookends that had been carved into the shapes of the famous big game animals of Kenya: elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes. These magnificent animals, animals that brought countless tourists to this dry land, had never been seen by the children. Elephants occasionally escaped the bounds of Tsavo National park, the largest national park in the world, and were seen in our area, but the other animals were more well behaved and remained within the park’s bounds. Joseph, our host, had just traveled to Tsavo with part of our group on a one-day safari. With untold delight, he saw for the first time the abundance of animals he had heard about all his life; stalking lions, elephant families carefully lined up heading to the water hole, cheetahs silhouetted against the sunset.
But I digress. Back to the bookends. When the bookends made it to the children’s library they worked like magic. Kelsey said it was hard to say if the students were more mesmerized by the books or the carvings. I’d seen these carvings sell for a fortune in import stores. Now here they were, proudly holding the books in place, bringing to the children a piece of beauty from their own land, trumpeting their calls and stoutly assuring that each and every book would stand tall and proud.
To read more about the genesis of our Taru children’s library, click here.