Harper’s Magazine had an article not too recently about a teacher’s experience in a disadvantaged school somewhere in the United States.  He had been out of teaching for years and came back into teaching after a long hiatus.  He suggested that the reason some of the students didn’t read was because they had no place to read in their homes.  The homes were overflowing with many family members, usually yelling and there was no personal space.  Thankfully kids know how to overcome difficulties.  Some two kids read the required texts to each other over Skype.

Now to compare the situation with Kenya.  Similar but different.  We all know something about a single bedroom shared by five siblings.  A shared bed with a sibling is an obligatory rite of passage.  No need to mention screaming parents, unannounced guests and loud television sets that are never turned off until everyone sleeps.  I curse the day that the UEFA Soccer Cup came on free-to-air TV.

But the biggest obstacle to reading, when books are available, is electricity.   The lack thereof.  Homes lit by electricity are middle class homes.  The country’s majority is poor.  The poor have few choices, a paraffin lamp, a single candle or a simple Alladin-type paraffin lamp that is made of a tin that formerly carried some foodstuff.  This last type is not bright, and it stinks of paraffin and smoke.

When a family has one such lamp, who will use it?  The kids to do homework or mum to prepare dinner for the family? Obviously the latter, with the help from the kids.  Dinner is made.  Then the lamp can be used for reading, if there’s any paraffin left.  By then it’s also very late in the night.  Of course, Skype is unknown is such circumstances.

Maybe someday, there will be a Kindle.  A Kindle Africa.  A cheap and solar powered screen that kids can use to read at night.  The gadget would then light itself up after absorbing solar rays all days long and kids can read.  Of course, I will not be surprised when dads borrow the Kindle, not to read, but as a torch to walk to the neighbour’s house to borrow something.

I got carried away.  I wanted to speak about the importance even for adults in all countries to have specific reading places and reading positions.  I don’t know why but it matters but it matters.  This brings to mind Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own.  I haven’t read it but the title speaks of its contents.   I wholeheartedly agree but would tweak the book today to read A Space of One’s Own.

No one will get a reading room of their own when there’s seven billion of us sharing this planet.  But we can get a space, that we claim and the rest is a matter of habit.  The space just needs some silence and air and something to sit or lie one.  The space can be under the stairs, on a step, in an airy closet (for kids), under a tree, atop a tree, on a balcony, in the pantry, in a library, dining table, bed.

My favourite reading place is my bed.  All manner of lying positions work best for me.  A sofa or grass will do as long as I can stretch myself and change my position often.  What’s your favourite reading place and position?

(Image from photographyblogger.net)



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