Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Masha Hamilton ~ answers Alison's questions

Alison wrote:
I did finish the book [The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton] earlier this week. I wish I had had more time this month to post about it, but I will do a post by the weekend about some of my final thoughts.

I do think we need to ask Masha Hamilton if she can do cartwheels!

I'd also love to hear her thoughts about the female circumcision and other women's rights issues (such as polygamy, abuse, status as "property") that are only peripheral to the novel but which provide some context for the importance of education and for Kanika's life goals.
Masha answered:

Alison, thanks for your questions. In real life, this region of northeastern Kenya near the border with Somalia is inhabited almost solely by pastoralists who speak Somali and wander the porous border between the two countries. They have generally left Somali because of the ongoing political problems and violence in that country, but they do not consider themselves Kenyan. They are Muslim, illiterate, with a low level of Western-style education and understanding of the world beyond their own.

They practice, in many ways, a very tolerant form of Islam, particularly compared with what I saw elsewhere in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The girls are being educated equally with the boys and this does not seem to be an issue that is even questioned. Of the four librarians who I was lucky enough to accompany into the bush, two were women. The head librarian appointed in Wajir by Mr. Farah (himself a progressive on many fronts) is also a woman, 34, mother of four young children. The women I saw generally wore headscarves, although some wore the full hijab. Neither seemed to be mandated, even within the home; it seemed more a matter of local culture and tradition. The men often wore flowing robes as opposed to pants and shirts.

Polygamy IS part of the lifestyle here – Mr. Farah himself has two wives and is currently looking for a third. In addition, female circumcision is practiced here – the kind of female circumcision that involves removing all of the external genitalia and then often stitching together the vaginal opening, allowing only a small opening for flow of urine and menstrual blood. In real life, as in the book, this practice is easing out as the region becomes more touched by the outside world, including Kenyan and United Nations organizations. So the region is, both in reality and in the novel, in transition on several levels.

Yes, I cartwheel. I cartwheeled a lot, in a field in upstate New York, when I was writing the cartwheel scene. And then, back home, I cartwheeled and asked my family to describe what they saw. Although I was afraid, in some ways, that including the cartwheeling scene and then repeating it at the end might seem improbable, to me it illustrated Fi's light-hearted side and also some of the silly, flirtatious behavior that might surface at such moments, and also a gentle way to show the often-curious results of bonding different cultures.

1 comment:

alisonwonderland said...

Thanks so much, Masha, for sharing your thoughts and insights! I loved the cartwheeling!