When Bookshelves Say Love

One of the most recent lessons I've learned about working in Tanzania is the challenge of getting what you want. Naturally, for most of us foreigners, language is an issue. However, beyond that there is just the reality that things are done differently here.

For example.

African Moons, the organization that we are working with out here, had the desire to provide bookshelves for the 175 books that were brought over for Ngarenaro public school. Having picture books in any public school is a very big deal. They simply don't have them. Bookstores are scarce and the ones here are small and expensive. Most families cannot afford the fee to belong to the small city library. A large percentage of the homes do not have picture books.

Books are a big deal.

I like that.

As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I jumped at the chance to be involved in this project. With funds provided by our church and friends/family who contributed, we wanted to purchase two bookshelves for the public school.

However, there is no IKEA in Arusha, Tanzania. There is no Walmart. There is no Office Depot.

So, you have to figure out how to have them constructed.

But, there is not a Home Depot or Lowe's out here.

So, you drive around and look for someone with a shop that makes what you are looking for. You might drive around for 4 hours and finally spy a tall frame of a bookshelf and stop and ask the owner if they were for sale. You would be told that they were ordered and paid for by someone else, but that some could be made for you.

You agree to a price and ask for a recommendation for a wood worker (because the metal worker doesn't work with wood) and are directed across the street. 

You try to explain to the woodworker what you are looking for and he finally walks across the street to converse with the metal worker about what needs to happen. (At some point you also realize the woodworker plays the keyboard at Calvary Temple church and he recognizes you and your family name.)

You agree on a price with the woodworker. You shake hands and fix a time with both parties that the shelves will be finished and picked up for delivery to the school. This has taken you one hour.

The next day, the bookshelves arrive and as you carry them into the classroom, the children erupt in cheers and clapping. When the books are unboxed, the excited whispers turn into cries of delight. Your uncle wants to pass out one book per desk (which may have 3-4 students on it), but you can't resist handing out more. Everything gets crazy quiet as the kids pour over the books, pointing to Mickey Mouse, the anatomy of the body, and the mouse in "Goodnight Moon."

It makes you want to cry because those 175 books seem like so little in an ocean of need. You think about the abundance of books your children own -- the ones that have been torn apart by careless hands and messy rooms. And you feel grieved that your surplus has resulted in a casual disregard for something so precious.


Words are important.

They are everything.

They tell the story of life. They connect us to a bigger world than we know. They teach us how to dream. They spark our imaginations.

They say, "I love you even though I've never met you before today."

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