Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

It took me a while to get into this book, because it is, in my opinion, badly written. The characters are thin, the story is thin, and yet . . . it is a book I will never forget.

Masha Hamilton writes of a girl with a dream of going to a faraway place; she writes a grant proposal for a Camel Bookmobile, to take books from a remote library in Garissa, Kenya, out to nomadic groups in even more remote locations. As it turns out, the book features a device I like very much – a discussion of what is knowledge, what is learning, what happens when cultures clash and how in every interaction, there is something left that changes those interacting.

As Fiona (“Just call me Fi”) McSweeny follows her dream, there are her actions, how she sees her actions, how her actions are seen from an alternate culture, and how Fi feels she may be missing something in the interaction.

Anyone who has tried to finesse their way living in an alien environment knows that feeling, and the disasters you can bring on with only good intentions. Words, tone of voice, body language – all can be interpreted in ways you never dreamed, blinded by the wisdom of your own culture.

The star of the book is the Kenyan desert. While we do get to know the characters in the small arid desert village of Mididima, it is the way of life that Hamilton captures and which captivates us. The traditional ways are already passing, and the village elders are fighting a losing battle, trying to maintain their old ways. At the same time, there is a lot of wisdom to be learned and stored before the old ways pass, if there is anyone to document, to capture the details.

How can a book be both badly written, so badly written that you are constantly aware of it, and so breathtakingly vivid, so unforgettable?

There is a real Camel Bookmobile, started in 1996, and after visiting, Hamilton began a Camel Book Drive which garnered over 7000 books for the nomadic library. You can visit the website and learn where to donate books for other schools in the Garissa area by clicking here.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Books, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Food, Living Conditions, Weather, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment