Reading this week:

  • The Tango War by Mary Jo McConahay
  • A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

During community entry, one day a kid randomly asked me for a book. I don’t know if this was a thing the previous volunteer had done or something, but I had no kid-appropriate books. I had some books for, you know, me to read, but being an erudite adult and stuff they didn’t have pictures. Pictures are significant because most of the kids don’t read English, and anyways this kid was like, I dunno, four? The ages of kids are very mysterious to me. I handed the kid an issue of WorldView Magazine I had laying around along with a book on raising rabbits, which had pictures of rabbits in the back. The kid seemed satisfied, and sat in my insaka for a bit flipping through the things.

But lemme tell ya, the kid was a little too satisfied. Must have told his friends because more kids would show up to ask for books and flip through the same WorldView and rabbit book. Luckily (I type that but maybe it wasn’t so lucky) another PCV’s mom sent down a whole bunch of children’s books. The PCV offered a bunch up for other people to grab so I got some of them. They were children’s books, so big on pictures which was good. Their favorite had to have been one on snakes; I would always hear gasps of “inzoka!” (Mambwe for “snake,” if you hadn’t guessed) coming from outside.

That’s the happy portion of this story. I suppose it is all happy, really, if you’re not a grumpy fart like me. The books raise several problems. First off, I kept them inside, so every time the kids would want to read them I would have to get up out of my chair, quite a task, pick up the books, and hand them to the kids. Their usual routine was to flip through all the books, which took about 30 minutes, and then hand them back to me. Then they would run off only to return like 30 minutes later and ask to begin the routine again. Continue throughout the day, ad nauseum. Even like, wayyyy too early in the morning and way too late at night. Like damnit kids. They would also ask for the books when I was clearly in the middle of something. I appreciate your dedication to literature, small child, but I’m not stopping in the middle of my brick-laying to go get the books for me, no matter how loudly and often you ask. The books could escalate into a whole dramatic thing quickly, when one kid tried to wander with a book, leading quickly to other kids yelling, then their parents yelling, then screaming, and then someone handing a book back to me with a stern or contrite expression, depending on their age.

The whole problem was briefly solved when some kid just walked off with the whole stack one day. Kids would ask for books and I would just say “I don’t have,” and that was that. But then my parents came to visit and asked if they could bring anything, and I foolishly said children’s books. They made this a mission, eventually amassing 60 pounds (max for a suitcase on the airplane) of children’s books. This was too many books, so I grabbed the ones with the best pictures and offered up the rest to my fellow PCVs, and I was back in the book business. And so the endless headaches began again.

The only candid shot I could get; their absolute favorite thing, even more than books or pestering me for books, is getting their picture taken.

My biggest wish is that I could convey to the kids that I don’t care about the books. The kids, they care a lot. I got the bright idea after a while to just leave the books outside in the morning, with the theory that the kids could just take and return books as they pleased. This is a big fat NOPE. The kids insist on asking me every time they take a book. MPEKWINI MABOOKU, they sound in their way too loud children’s voices. And they insist on alerting me every time they put the book back. Cool, kid. The books being outside means I don’t have to stand up as often, but it attracts more kids so I get pestered about books more often, so I’m not sure if it is the better method or not. I think what the kids dislike the most is that it deprives them of their absolute favorite thing, which is returning the books to me. Since I have taken to just continuing to sit in my chair as the kids hand the books back to me, it means they get to come into my house briefly to gawk at the things on my walls and my white person existence. So they parade in through my house one by one to loudly return the books they will inevitably ask for again in 30 minutes. You’d think they would get bored of the same 20 or so books I have eventually, but again, nope. Today, the whole stack of books was outside, but they kept asking me for the “nice book,” which of course a) I have no idea which one that is and b) all the books are in that stack, man. You have all the books (these kids are greedy little bastards and don’t want to share; if one kid has a book every kid wants their own). Children.

But the kids like the books so I make the books available, and I dunno, maybe one of these kids is learning to read or discovering more of the world. I hope the one kid that wandered off with my first stack is using them well, and not just for firewood or to prop up an endtable. The books have gone way better than the brief time I had coloring books and crayons; that was really a zoo with some Lord of the Flies stuff before long (poor Piggy). And when the kids aren’t being selfish and hitting each other to get the better book, and when their big brother or sister comes out to walk them through the book, it is pretty nice to watch them read out there. When they’re quiet at least.

I also got to hold a baby goat today, hooray!