I loved going to the library as a girl. In the summer, after chores were done, we would go to town once a week, a trip that included a stop at the library.
I would always get the allowed quota–four books.
At home I would sit in the tire swing under the elm tree and escape to faraway places in the pages.
I never imagined in the shadow of cornfields, alfalfa, and soy beans, that one day I would travel to a library in a village of stilted houses by the sea:
Our driver parked the van at the curve of a road on the mainland, near a dirt entrance across the bay to a smaller village of sea gypsies, the gypsy part of the name being a misnomer because they don’t move from place to place. They live there, a few hundred yards from the mainland in their simple stilted homes, because the lore of their people states that if they would leave, their skin would become diseased; they would grow sick and die.
“Where’s the library?” we asked our host as we passed a group of boys listening to a boombox, while laundry dried outside a simple house with a satellite dish in the backyard. As part of a literacy program we had been invited to check out the library in this small fishing village in Indonesia.
Our host pointed in the distance, to a destination I could not see, because all I saw in front of me was a series of rough wooden planks, nailed together in a single, rickety path above the water.
Walking the plank suddenly had an entirely new meaning as the boards weaved side to side as I shuffled across one and then another. I peered at the water six feet below as it flowed back and forth with the current. What happens when cell phones get wet? I wondered, as I took step after cautious step, on planks number three, four and five.
What happens when library visitors get wet?
I was thankful for the years I spent as a child balancing on railroad tracks as I imagined being a tightrope walker on my way to our no-boys-allowed fort in a culvert under the tracks, never imagining I would need those high-wire skills four decades later.
Eventually all six of us made it across, some uttering not-very-silent prayers for God’s deliverance.
When we arrived at the library in the village school, we discovered the building was closed. School testing happened that week and the kids had a half day, an education reality that is common around the world. We stood around in the 85-degree heat with 90% humidity. The circle of sweat on my cotton t-shirt widened exponentially with each ticking minute.
“We can come into this home,” our host said, motioning us into a blue house with a corrugated metal roof across from the school.
“Have a seat, have a seat.” The woman and homeowner directed me to a far corner. Our group of six and a dozen children trooped in behind. Candies and other snacks hung down from the ceiling. The home was also a store.
We were invited to tell a story while the woman served crackers and bottled water. My husband told a tale of another stilted house with a boy, his noisy sisters, and their cows. It was a story about gratitude. Our interpreter echoed my husband’s hand motions and side effects, adding a few of his own, while the children listened, entranced.
The homeowner smiled as the children sang a song, moving with the tempo. More children arrived on the front porch, but there was no more room inside.
In our culture, I hear arguments about the relevance of libraries in a digital world, but those debates were silenced for me in a stilted village where children pressed against the metal screen covering the front window in hopes of getting closer to the words, while the sea and the people swayed.
Do you have a library story?
Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.