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.)
Question: How did you make the transition to writing fiction from news reports? Do you have several projects going at one time or concentrate on just the fiction?
How many people does the camel bookmobile reach?
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).
>>I don't think we have to decide if it is right or wrong. The community can decide to not allow the bookmobile, or families and individuals could decide not to participate. I certainly think it should not be forced upon them. The reading of the scents of animals and lay of the land, etc...is a great wisdom of its own.
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?
No, she's taking advantage of the distraction to be disloyal to her husband, who so wants to please her.
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?
They are nomadic, so travel from place to place like dust, lighting somewhere for a while only to move again when the pressures of water and food urge them on.
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?
He has a point...but should he not be interested in somehow preserving these oral stories?
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?
Well, it may be an ulterior motive, to not have to stop there any more, but the people do have to learn the value of a book, something that may not have much meaning for them if they don't read. I don't think it is such a bad rule unless they have some other way of paying back what they lose.
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).
I can see that words on a page would seem like nothing at all to someone who is not familiar with written language, but then to have someone come along and read it and give the characters meaning...and then another to come along and get the same meaning from those patterns might seem like some sort of magic or telepathy. Reading would seem like a great skill (it is!) that could be used unpredictably for good or bad.