[Thursday afternoon] My schedule demands that I not only present my lectures but also spend a fair amount of my time in preparations. Yet, I am not so busy that there is no time left for other things, in particular the reading of some good books. We did not take many books with us when we travelled to Loma Linda (one suitcase for each of us with a maximum load of 23 kilo brings serious limitations), but a few visits to one of the Barnes and Noble bookshops (complete with a Starbuck corner) had added to the number of books that we now have in our apartment.
Among the books that I read during the past few weeks is the very special story of William Kamkwamba, a boy from a small village in the East-African country of Malawi. It drew my attention when I saw it on a table with books that were especially recommended—perhaps because many years ago I spent a week or so in Malawi. At that time I visited the Adventist publishing house that is located on the same compound as the Adventist Malamulo hospital. And after this visit I also stayed a few days in Lilongwe, the Malawian capital.
The book “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind” tells the story of a boy who was unable to attend the secondary school since his parents could not pay his tuition. However, he borrowed books from the tiny local library, in particular on technical subjects. He experimented with electricity and after a lot of hard work succeeded in collecting sufficient junk and disregarded parts of cars and machinery to build a primitive wind mill that could generate electricity for the house where he lived with his parents and siblings. He not only became a celebrity in his village, but the story also reached the national newspapers and the Malawian television. Eventually, arrangements were made for him to continue his secondary school and he is currently a graduate student at a university in the United States. The book deserves to be translated into many languages. It is one of the most inspiring stories I have read since years. It is a fabulous tale of what you can accomplish if you have a passion you are not willing to surrender, whatever the circumstances.
Just now I have finished another magnificent book with African connections. I have some trouble remembering the name of the author: Chimananda Ngozi Andichie. The book’s title is much simpler: Americanah. It is basically a love story between a Nigerian young woman (Ifemelu) and a Nigerian man (Obinze). But it is much more than that. In a fascinating way it describes how Ifemelu lives where two different cultures, the American and the Nigerian, intersect. Ifemelu leaves Nigeria for the United States for further study and in search of a more promising future. But after fifteen years she returns ‘home’. Andichie describes in a sublime manner what it means for a Nigerian woman to live and work among black and white Americans. It may be that my interest was especially kindled by the fact that I have lived a number of years in America as well as in Africa. And thus, I think, I have a pretty good sense of what Andichie is trying to convey.
In our society many courses are taught for people who prepare to live and to work in a place with a culture that differs from their own, or to work with, and between, people who have another culture. The Adventist Church also provides courses to train people who leave for the ‘mission field’. Between 1991 and 1994 I worked in the USA, at Andrews University, in the institute that organizes these courses. While reading this book Americanah I wonder whether this might not be an excellent textbook for persons who are taking that course. And I would definitely also advise it as compulsory reading for pastors with a multi-ethnic church. (Provided these missionaries and pastors are able to digest a bit of sex that emerges with some regularity in the book.)
But I have, in the meantime, not forgotten about books on theology. Tomorrow morning I intend to visit the theological bookstore of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena—about one hour’s drive from here. Fuller is the flagship theological academic institutions for the evangelical world and it has a superb theological bookshop. It may be a little awkward to take too many books home, but I am sure we can make room for a few extra books!