Monday, February 19, 2007

If You Give a Camel a Book...

I love books. I love books so much that when I walk into Barnes & Noble, my heart turns summersaults and I have to contain my joy at seeing so many books in one place. I love books so much that the library for me is more fun that an amusement park. I go giddy with greed when a librarian tells me I can take out 10 books at a time. Books are like a potent elixir for me. They amuse me and entertain me. They sustain me when I feel empty inside and they nourish my creative spirit. I love the way they feel and smell and look piled high on all of the empty surfaces in my house. When I lived in Morocco as a teenage exchange student, my books dragged me out of the depths of a culture shock so intense I thought I would never survive. And now I have found that I can send my most treasured possessions, my books, to save someone else.

Enter Masha Hamilton, an amazing writer, author and journalist who also loves books. Her latest tome is a novel called, The Camel Bookmobile (due out this spring) and it is about an American woman whose life is transformed after spending time with a traveling, camel-borne library in the Kenyan dessert. The story is a complete work of fiction, but the Camel Library is 100 percent for real. To service the nomadic people living in the northeastern dessert section of the country, a librarian travels with a camel carrying boxes of books for the people to borrow and hopefully return. Hamilton visited Kenya and traveled with the camel library to conduct research for her book. She returned to the States determined to help sustain this precious literary resource. In her own words, Hamilton a Brooklynite and mother of three, told the Meltingpot why:

"Going out with the camel bookmobile in the northeastern province of Kenya, and seeing the reaction as the books were laid out under the acacia trees, was extremely moving -- as it would be for anyone who loves reading and books. The region was in the midst of a drought and famine, and even in the best of times, the people live with chronic poverty. Nevertheless, they were waiting eagerly for the bookmobile and were genuinely and deeply immersed in the books.

Many of those who were 18 or 20 years old told me what a difference the camel-borne library had made in their lives, how they felt more connected to the world at large, and how the books and the ability to read made them feel greater possibilities in their own lives."

Today, Hamilton has created the Authors for African Litearcy Project, an opportunity for authors to quite simply send a box of books directly to the Camel Library in Kenya. It seems so simple, but it still takes that first step that many of us, even with the best intentions, never get around to doing. Hamilton set it up so folks just have to take a box of books to the post office and voila, a life is transformed. Says Hamilton:

"Sometimes I get discouraged about the world's problems that seem too big for me to do anything about on an individual level, [but this project] feels like a place where we can reach across the globe to make a real difference."

The Meltingpot loves this project on so many levels -- the diversity of authors involved, the collision of White American and Black African culture in Hamilton's novel -- but most importantly because it's bringing different cultures together through the pages of a book. Read On!

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