Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My favorite dialogue from The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton is this speech by Mr. Abasi, a Kenyan librarian who is charged with helping an American librarian, Fi Sweeny, administrate the camel bookmobile project. This is Abasi's response to the project:

"The facts you have in front of you --- the number of patrons reached, the titles of the most popular books, the cost per patron--- do very little to reflect the human costs of bringing a library on the backs of camels to people like this. These people live hard lives by ancient values, and they're proud of htat. They've developed a philosophy to deal with drought and death. When we arrive from the outside and insist that they learn to read --- books that, as it turns out, are mostly about very different places and concerns --- we confuse them. Possibly even undermine them. I think Miss Sweeny will tell you that their young are as sharp as any. And their elders may be wiser. Compared with them, after all, we of the settled, literate society have a kind of inflexibility. So your project raises question. Do they want to be part of what you call the 'larger world'? And whom should be teaching whom?" (Hamilton, 294-95)

I've been thinking a lot about arrogance these days. I wonder if we've become so arrrogant that we've lost the ability to honor and learn from other cultures, even those we perceive as backward or behind, for fear of falling behind ourselves. Whom should be teaching whom? I suppose the answer is everyone.


Helen of SJ said...

I agree. Much of what we learn of history is "western civilization" (a tiny portion of the world at large). And we assume it's the only thing worth learning about. It shows how myopic we are.

eveapple said...

Myopic, certainly an appropriate word for our "western" culture.