Cris in Ethiopia

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Book Bouncer

Posted by Cris on April 11, 2007

Saturday morning found us at the Shola Children’s Library, where we were helping out with a book giveaway. The library’s backup organization ( also funds the printing of books, mostly Ethiopian folk-like tales, which are then illustrated and printed in English, Amharic, Oromiya, and other Ethiopian languages. So for this year’s book week, they decided to give away a bunch of books (they had 4000 available) and the same amount of bread to any kid who came to the library on Saturday morning. We arrived at the library at around 7:35 or so, for the event that was supposed to start at 8. There were already kids waiting, “the regulars”- neighborhood kids who come to the library often- by the looks of it. Amy and I were given the tasks of putting them in an orderly line, boys on one side and girls on the other. While they were still small groups wehad them sing some songs and such to entertaion themselves, but as more and more kids kept coming we couldnt keep it up as the lines were 50 yards long or longer. The kids kept coming up through 8, and the lines grew steadily less organized as we eclipsed the set 8 o’clock (not 8, Mom) starting time. We were waiting for the bread: it was supposedly on the way from the other side of town, which meant nothing as far as arrival time. By 8:30 the clamour from waiting kids and unhappy parents grew too persistant, and we started letting the kids in.

I was manning the door, and Amy was outside doing crowd “control”. So I started by letting groups of 20 kids in, first boys then girls. This worked for, oh, about 4 minutes before the lines broke down completely, and the nice orderly group of kids and parents in front of the gates turned into a mass of shoving, sweatybrowed, clench-jawed people desperate to shimmy themselves through the gates. Several whole schools had come, in uniform, and they too were vying to get through, each teacher thinking they had special rights to get their kids in and out quickly. This was fine as well, I didnt really care whether they were in lines or not- they were still coming in fairly smoothly and in a pretty orderly fashion. It worked this way, 20 boys and 20 girls, if we could pick them out of the crowd easily enough, until we realized that nobody had though how the 100’s of people we had let in were going to get out of the library.

We had closed the gates to control the people and avoid an all-out stampede of kids towards the books, but this left no seperate exit area for people to get out of. So we had to stop letting people in, physically barring the door, and try to yell to them to make some sort of path or opening so people could come out. As we let people out the people trying to come in pushed forward more, and soon the pushing grew to a point where the gates were bowed inwards, kids were crying because they were getting smooshed from behind with nowhere to go, and I seriously feared that someone might get trampled or smothered. This was the “crisis point” of the morning, as I think of it now, with a lot of yelling (by me- the others helping at the door, the ones who actually speak amharic, didnt seem so concerned), frantic hand movements, and eventually some stick waving and vague threats of physical violence (not by me, but I cant say I wasnt cheering on the inside). Teachers, parents, journalists- all of them seemed to think that they had special immunity from waiting, so I found myself having a lot of hurried conversations like this:

Them: Im a teacher with So-and-so Academy, and my school is here.

Me: Good, Im glad. Go wait in line with the rest of the people.

Them: But I have a group of ___ kids, and theyre getting tired of waiting.

Me: Im sorry. Go wait in line with the rest of them.

Them: But… Im with So-and-so Academy!

Me: Im happy for you. Go wait in line with the rest of the people.


Them: Im a journalist.

Me: Thats awesome! Youre gonna have to wait until I can get these people out before you can come in.

Them: But Im here to interview So-and-so…

Me: Cool. Wait in line.  

On it went, letting people in and trying to hold back the flood, then holding it back and shooing people out the door, back and forth, until about 10 o’clock. At this point it seemed that we had alleviated the hordes, and there was a small trickle of people still coming and going.   

The somewhat official (dont quote me) number is that 2700 or so kids came, which is absolutely incredible. They were truly happy to get books, too. If something like that had happened in the states people would have left shell shocked and shaken, wondering what had happened. But nobody seemed especially bothered by the fact that they had to fight their way in. They left beaming, new shiny book in hand. I suppose it was business as usual for most of them, and we farenjis were the only ones stunned by how it all happened. I mean, there was very nearly a riot, which was scary from my vantage point. I would have been the first one trampled. But, on the other hand, they wouldve been rioting for books, so that pretty awesome, right?

Oh, the bread truck came an hour late, so they got sent away with a “what were you thinking!?!” from Amy. If we had broken out the bread there would have been a riot, for sure. Amy was less than effective at controlling the crowds, but what can you expect when your security detail is a 4 foot 10 girl who doesnt speak Amharic well and has all the visual ferocity of a twinkie? She took a lot of good pictures though, see the flickr account ——>. 


So it has been brought to my attention that the head of the sheep may actually be the only part that isnt eaten or disposed of in a more conventional way. This doesnt explain why they end up in the street, but its still good to know.

The recent opening of a butcher in our neighborhood has ordained the gutters with a new ornament recently: bags of fat. It seems even the dogs arent interested in this treasure.

Shae: send anything to the PO box, and I dont know how much it is really. My mom recently sent a package, so you can ask her. Thanks for thinking of us! (Dried apple chips would be great in a box, incase anyone is wondering)   



2 Responses to “Book Bouncer”

  1. Shalene said

    Thanks for the great idea of apple chips. I’m going to forward your blog link to the Wenatchee area Girl Scout leaders yahoo group. I really enjoy reading your adventures and I think the leaders will enjoy sharing with their girls. No pressure by the way! LoL Love ya, Shae

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