Not Everyone has a Library to go to

Clip...Clop...Clip...Clop...Clip... “Mista’!” “Mzungu!” “Rafiki!”

I know better than to walk through the bazaar. I’m hungry and haven’t had anything to eat since the morning- I don’t have much for dinner, I thought. My neck tightens. I drop my chin down and walk faster.

Sometimes the panhandlers get the cue, oftentimes they persist-poverty is tough. They must know how I feel. How could they not?

“Teacher!” shouted the boy. He was running now.

I was wrong. I stopped. Then turned around, smiled and asked, “Yes, how-”

“I want to be smart, just like you. How do I get smart just like you?” interrupted the boy. He was smiling, enthralled to talk to a real American teacher.

I have been a teacher my whole life. Even in the menial positions, the kind where a high school diploma, warm handshake, and promise of punctuality led to a job. I know how to teach others to: clean; cook; work the register (an electronic one); fire weapons...safely; calculous; and here in Africa...

I taught math at Ben Bella Secondary School in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Earlier that day I covered linear programming and optimization. I instructed three classes, all for 17 to 18-year-old students. The Muslim students were quick learners, they had to be. I had one old, worn, and dirty textbook with pages missing- it was the only Math textbook the school had. I was a teacher, the buzz of the town.

“Yeah, well do ya know how to read English?” I said.

“Yes.”

“I would go to a library.”

“What is a library?”

“It’s a place with books that you can read for free and learn about anything you’d like. Do your parents allow you to go to school?”

“I love school! I can’t go all time, my parents need me work some days.”

How do I even answer this question, what would you say? I pause and look up into the sky trying to figure out what I would do if I were this boy.

“Here, go to the internet café and buy some internet time. I’d find where the nearest library is and go there. Read what you like, that should get you started,” I said.

Whether or not he went to the library later did not matter. I believed him when he said he wanted to be smart, he already is- I paid him for my time and advice. And I enjoyed sharing it most with this curious little boy. I learned in 2013 that there are people that simply do not have access to a library.

Kevin Lenahan