Twenty-First Stone: At the Library

At our poetry group in the local library there is new member. She is Italian, and speaks English brokenly. She sits and listens attentively to the poems and discussion but beyond some smiles and nods, says little. She is holding a book. One of the group asks her if she wants to read. She tells us it is her story. We look a little blank I suspect. Gradually we understand that it is her autobiography. She agrees to read us part of it, in Italian. She reads rapidly.
I understand odd words, mad, military, afterwards, house, danger, but not enough to make a cherent guess at what she is saying.
Afterwards, with many gestures she explains the book is about a period in her life when she was living in Togo when there was a coup. The passage she has just read is about the daily fear and dangers, that after a few weeks became normality, about potholes in the road created by the military, about the danger of being white at such a time in such a place. That the whole book is about this extraordinary period in her life when she did not know if she would be killed, how to get drinking water, when leaving the house was an extremely dangerous act. We understand this slowly, but although her English is basic, she mimes and we are all listening and watching intently.
She is describing something so far away from my own experience and beyond shocking with smiles and gestures.
And they want to close libraries.
God help us.

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19 thoughts on “Twenty-First Stone: At the Library

  1. Stone within a stone. It is amazing the story or stories people have to tell. Often opposite than one suspects. Interesting your new member chose such a group considering the language, that said I suppose being with like minds makes perfect sense. Did a quick search on allafrica.com. I can now appreciate what her experience must have been like Togo.

    • You are ahead of me. Once I have done some work on the poem, maybe I’ll check out the Togo situation too.
      There’s a Conversation Café on Thursday lunchtimes at the library for people of all languages to meet. She went there, met the library assistant who runs the poetry group, and he suggested she come along. He said he had learned so much about people’s cultures at the café.

  2. How amazing to find a woman with such an incredible story. Goes to show how many people out there have lived lives we cannot fathom. I would love to read her memoir, but I would need an English translation. And you know my thoughts about libraries. They should open more, not close them. We need places where people can learn, gather, discuss, and feel welcome. Not sure how to fund them though. Speaking of, I need to go to the library tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder, my books are due.

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