Boxes Full of Books

Last night, my friend Tina and her husband came to collect boxes of Braille books to send overseas. Most were headed for a girl in Indonesia, but there were three for a pastor in Malawi.

Braille is expensive, and most countries don’t have very much of it, especially in the developing world. So after I’m finished reading magazines like “National Geographic,” “Poetry,” and a weekly edition of “The New York Times,” they get packed into boxes and shipped abroad.

It had been a few weeks since we’d gathered the boxes and sent them, so there were a lot, at least fifteen by my count, and I don’t think I was counting very well.

It’s really amazing what a small gesture can mean to someone else. Something as simple as recycling books and magazines brings tremendous joy and expanding education to those who receive them.

It also keeps a lot of bulky paper out of landfills and gets several uses out of an expensive commodity, i.e. Braille.

Too often, we think of the things we discard as just trash. Having worked for six years with the pastor in Malawi, though, I’ve gotten quite an eye-opening. They can and do use things we in the U.S. just unthinkingly get rid of.

I’ve always been fairly practical, and good at distinguishing between “I need” and “I want”. But I’ve learned a lot by reading the letters from Malawi, and as long as I can, I’m going to keep sending books abroad. I’m sure there will always be someone who can use them and who will be delighted to have them.

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4 Comments on “Boxes Full of Books”

  1. ombudsben Says:

    How wonderful that you do this, Stephanie. I’m sure it means a lot for the recipient. My only concern would be how often I go looking for a book I read to look something up!

    My wife, Roberta, works for our county in the recycling and re-use industry, trying to reduce waste (an uphill battle, sometimes).

    Btw, I realize now you said you are coming out to the Bay Area for a conference, not to play–my confusion. I read the comment when you posted it, then confused it with others before replying.

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Ombudsben,

    No worries; it’s hard to keep everything straight.

    The Library of Congress program of Braille and recorded books for the blind and physically handicapped is the largest in the world. So even if I send books to Malawi or Indonesia, I can always borrow them if I need to read them again. Besides, most of these are magazines, although we’ve sent over many books, too.

    I think if each person just donated one magazine a week to some kind of community program, it would not only reduce our waste of paper but also vastly enhance reading programs that don’t have funding to get new or updated materials.

  3. ombudsben Says:

    I’ve traveled abroad a couple times to Europe, once to Central America, and to SE Asia.

    The Guatemalan culture is very different from the US, but Indonesia was the most different I ever dealt with. I would ask directions at least 3 times when going anywhere in Java, then triangulate from the answers I got, get close and ask again if needed.

    I was once in a Jakarta neighborhood with five streets all named the same, for a general. The locals knew how to tell them apart, but it sure baffled me.

    The people are told to be nice to westerners, as we bring in tourist money, so everywhere they greet you cheerily. Yet they also objectify us to some degree, and I and acquaintances were routinely touched or handled by strangers.

    One was a red-headed Californian on a mini bus. Two older men were talking and 1 reached out and picked at the hair on his arm, still talking to his friend. The Californian motioned to his wife: “look at this” as his hair was being tugged gently, for its novelty.

    More than once I heard they consider westerners to be large white apes, in part for how we would get angry and yell about problems or inefficiencies.

    I loved the place and would return in a heartbeat. Especially Bali. But I knew to leave western concepts of time and efficiency behind.

  4. halfnotes Says:

    Ombudsben,

    Yes, cultures everywhere are very different, and I think it’s more fun discovering those differences than getting all hot and bothered because they don’t do things “our way”. When this student comes to the U.S., it will be interesting to see what her impressions of the place are. Sometimes, I think she just sees it as a dream country where everything is better than what she has now. I’d encourage anyone with this attitude to come and try supporting themselves while going to school without benefit of family or friends and with little knowledge of the languate or culture. It’s not easy, and we should always be careful that we don’t overlook the challenges immigrants face when we’re decrying their “unwillingness to assimilate”. Often, their own cultural reference points are all they’ve got that’s familiar her, so to lose them or their language seems like a terrifying prospect.


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