Masha Hamilton takes us to the northeastern parts of the East African country Kenya. To many people the name Kenya evokes pictures of peaceful beaches at the Indian Ocean and the ‘hunt’ for the big five and jumping Masai and longdistance runners from the Kalenjin highlands and valleys. However, Kenya is many facetted and there are many more stories to be told about Kenya.
Masha tells us one of these stories. It happened in the hostile region near the border with Somalia. In this barren land people and animals live and survive and live under threat of the roaming shifta who cross the border from Somalia.
In this world where outsiders (including Kenyans from upcountry) fear to enter Fi Sweeney (from the United States of America) is working on establishing a mobile library. She is helped by Abasi, who is the head librarian in Garissa, the capital of the North Eastern Province. Abasi is not convinced about the necessity of this project, but he joins the project and keeps it going. The mobile library (using camels) visits villages and small temporary settlements, children and adults borrow books and when the mobile library visits the next time these books will be replaced.
We visit the the settlement named Mididima, where we meet the young girl Kanika and her granny Neema, who both see the importance of books. Kanika has befriended the young boy Taban, who has been disfigured by a wild animal, and who is a staunch reader. The local teacher (with minimal resources) wants to encourage people to read, eventhough his wife prefers to stay away formj these books.
When I read about the books and the topics covered in these books I thought that these were absolutely unfit for these elementary readers. But reading on I realized that these books with their unfamiliar topics open a new world for these people. There is more than the local trees and the sand and the shifta and the dreams about the big city. There is another world and this world has entered Mididima in the way of books.
When another world enters the present and known world is being tested. Some people try to keep the camels and the accompanying books from entering their lives. Fi Sweeney even decides to live with the people for a dew days in order to find a book that the reader (Taban) does not want to return. When books are not returned in time the mobile library will stop coming to the settlement. Now Fi enters a world formerly unknown to her. Two worlds meet in the hut of graceful granny Neema. Fi is determined to let the roving library be a success, for she has seen the impact of these books and the abilities of the people and their dreams.
This book has been a good read. The chapters carry the name or profession of one of the characters in the book, in this way Masha is able to view the developing story from different angles.
Masha Hamilton – The Camel Bookmobile – 2007