Yay! I finally have the book! I've just finished reading Part 1, and here are my thoughts. I haven't read any other discussions yet, so I hope my answers won't be too repetitive.
1. Do you have a question we could ask the author? It may be about the book, or its characters, or the actual Camel Bookmobile in Kenya, or why she wrote the book, whatever. (Masha, we would be very pleased if you choose to add your own comments and questions to our discussion.)
Since I'm jumping in late, I'm not sure what questions have been asked already or if it's too late. I'll have to check.
2. Fiona Sweeney had found that "the assumptions people made about one another were invariably wrong" (p. 11). If you struggle (as Shirley is struggling) with whether Westerners should disrupt the lives of people like those in Mididimi, ask yourself about Fiona's assumptions, and also about the assumptions made by some of the Kenyans: Mr. Abasi the librarian, the elders who believe it is "far better to learn to read animal scents on the breeze or the coming weather in the clouds" (p. 15), Neema's brother-in-law Elim who believes that "the hours you waste staring at pages ... is a rotten sin" (p. 33). Then compare their assumptions with what the teacher Matani thinks: "How the Camel Bookmobile offered the only chance of survival for this collection of half-nomads with only one toehold in the future" (p. 39).
At this point I do feel like Fiona is overly idealistic (and I can be the same way, so I'm not trying to be too critical), and assuming that she will only be introducing positive change, and that she will make a big difference in their lives through books, and that without her and the bookmobile, their future will be in danger. I'm sure she will do good and make a difference, but it may undermine some of the beautiful and peaceful aspects of their life along with it. Mr. Abasi also makes false assumptions about Fiona and westerners. His view of her is shaped by the television shows he has seen, and he pictures her someday returning to her gowns and love affairs. How easy it is for us to tidily put everyone into some stereotypical group. It takes effort to remember that not everyone fits in to some category.
3. Jwahir, the teacher's wife, thinks the books are "for the foolish or misguided of Mididima" (p. 48), but even she found something good about Library Day. What was it? Do you agree with her assumption that it's a good thing?
Without the bookmobile's arrival, Jwahir would have not begun her closer relationship with Abayomi. To me, the coming of the books and bringing new ideas and feelings to the people is very similar to the new relationship of these two, bringing new emotions that Zwahir that she has never felt before. Which of these situations has more potential to be disruptive to this community?
4. "Mididima ... means Those Rooted in Dust" (p. 25). How is this a metaphor for the lives of the villagers? In what ways are their lives changing, for the better or for the worse?
Being "rooted" makes me think of entrenched in their ways and not easily changed or taken away. "Dust" makes me think of primitive beginnings, I guess like in Genesis--from dust Adam came. I think their lives will change in both ways. There are two sides to every coin. I think in their case it may be a question of survival more than good or bad.
5. Mr. Abasi considered Miss Sweeney meddlesome: "These foreigners couldn't understand that literacy was not the only path to education. In tribal settlements, the tradition was an oral one..." (p. 51). What do you think about a librarian with this attitude?
Well, Mr. Abasi is quite a character! He seems a bit lazy and a little cowardly. It's hard for me to tell if this is how he really feels, or if that's just his excuse. Either way, I do see his point. Foreigners do need to recognize the wisdom in other ways of living and learning. It's hard to not think of interference as arrogance. It should be viewed as more of a mutual sharing, rather than one giving to another.
6. What do you think about Mr. Abasi's rule that losing even a single book means the camel bookmobile will not return to the village? What was Mr. Abasi's ulterior motive for making such a rule?
All I can say is that I would be in big trouble! I rarely lose books, but I do provide my library some financial support with my overdue fines! Mr. Abasi is just looking for an excuse to not have to go to Mididima, and he thinks money for the bookmobile would be better used buying more for the standing library in Garissa.
7. Why do you think educated people are feared by the illiterate? "Mothers watched with a mixture of envy and resentment as she [Kanika] shared some mysterious secret with their offspring. They didn't respect her any more than ever. But they were afraid of her ... afraid of the skill she possessed that they didn't have" (p. 16).
This is something I haven't really experienced in life or ever really thought about (Which is of course one purpose for reading, isn't it? For these people in Mididima, being very superstitious, I can see it as seeming like something supernatural to be able to able to look at markings in a book and come out with completely foreign images, stories, ideas (like recipes!). They can see it as a power, but are wondering if it is good or evil.