Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Camel Bookmobile

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The Camel Bookmobile

by Masha Hamilton

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 336 pages

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As a foreign correspondent for a decade, Masha Hamilton chronicled events overseas, first working for the Associated Press in the Middle East and then later, in Moscow, reporting for the Los Angeles Times, writing a newspaper column, and reporting for NBC/Mutual Radio. Hamilton covered the intefadeh, the peace process, and the partial Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, as well as the coup and collapse of the Soviet Union, the growing independence in Soviet republics, and Kremlin politics. Early in 2004, she worked in Afghanistan as a freelance journalist.

Her debut novel, Staircase of a Thousand Steps was published in 2001, followed by The Distance Between Us in 2004. She lives with her family in New York City, teaches for Gotham Writers' Workshop and is a shiatsu practitioner.

She was inspired to write The Camel Bookmobile after hearing about the real-life Kenyan Camel Mobile Library from her young daughter. Set up by the government-owned Kenyan National Library Service, it operates from Garissa in Kenya's isolated Northeastern Province near the unstable border with Somalia (map). Initially launched with three camels in 1996, it now has 12 camels that travel to four semi-nomadic settlements, four days per week. Just as in The Camel Bookmobile, the books are spread out on grass mats, and the library patrons, often barefoot, sometimes with their goats and donkeys in tow, peruse the books written in either English or Kiswahili (Swahili), which are Kenya's two official languages.

More than 175 authors and many organizations have already donated to the Camel Book Drive that Masha Hamilton has set up with the support of friends. For an update on the library's current needs, and reports from the Camel Mobile Librarian, Mr Farah, visit the website. Particularly in demand are children's story books, nonfiction books covering topics ranging from astronomy to geography to history, and general fiction for children and adults. This page explains more about what sort of books are needed, and how to give either cash or book donations.

A short video of the Camel Bookmobile in action.

Interesting to note
Hamilton did not visit Kenya until The Camel Bookmobile was in its final stages of editing. She says, "I didn't go right away because I'm a reporter, and I didn't want the journalism aspect to kick in."

When she did visit she spent several days traveling with the camel library and found it very much as she had envisaged. At the time of her visit Kenya was suffering through its third year of drought. In a place where famine and poverty are chronic conditions, she saw that books are a rare and valued commodity. She saw that children were mesmerized by the camel library's offerings, and several young men and women indicated that the library had allowed them to prepare for exams they needed to take in order to continue their education.

Since returning she has been extremely active in raising funds and books for the mobile library through the Camel Book Drive.

This article was originally published in April 2007, and has been updated for the April 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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