Exactly two weeks ago, I had a chance to visit a library. Nothing special here so far, since checking out libraries is a big part of my life, whether on the road or at home. So why write a blog post about this particular experience, you ask?
I’m glad you asked because Awjama library is anything but an ordinary library: it is located in Eastleigh, a neighbourhood of Nairobi more renowned for its sprawling shopping malls and its hectic roads than for its cultural centres. Things are changing fast though, with the rise of young driven artists forming collectives such as Eatleighwood.
I lived in section 3 for a while, back in 2010, and I had never heard of a nearby library, let alone a cultural centre focusing on Somali studies. So when I met Fardousa Jama in Hargeisa, only a few words about the project were enough to get my attention…and a promise to visit as soon as I’d get the chance.
Young Eastleigh residents tell me they are happy to have this space to come and study because they find it hard to focus at home. They come in the morning and stay all day reading for exams and for fun, only taking breaks at prayer time.
Fardousa Jama, founder of the Awjama library.
The Awjama Library was founded in April 2013 to engage the community through books as well as a range of activities, from basket-weaving workshops to inspirational talks by Somali elders. It started out as the Eastleigh cultural, research and reading centre but after an extremely well-attended lecture by Awjaama Omar, the organisers decided to honour the late historian by renaming the library after him.
Shortly after coming back from Somaliland, I was called up by Fardousa to find out if I would attend an educational session aimed at children, jointly held by writer Abdirizak Hashi and elder Dahir Omar, also a writer and former chairman of the Somali Academy of Science and Technology. I accepted, and made my way to 6th street on a Friday morning with a certain spring in my step.
A group of children was already assembled to listen to Dahir Omar’s stories when I arrived. As the morning progressed, other participants kept trickling in and extra plastic chairs were brought in from the next-door tea shop, until the room was packed with boys and girls of different ages.
Apart from the odd word or two, I could not understand the talk so my attention naturally drifted away to the bookshelves. The space is small, with one wall stacked from floor to ceiling with books in English, Arabic and Somali. Most of them are textbooks or reference books covering school and college subjects but there is also a fiction section including children’s books.
The mid-morning juice and biscuits break brought everyone back to their chirpy selves and provided a welcome opportunity for the participants to mingle, in a mixture of English and Somali. I found out from Deqa, who was visiting from the US, that the talk merged stories from Mr Omar’s youth in Somalia with sound advice on how to be successful as a student.
During the second round of activities, the group read Somali folk tales in a wonderfully illustrated bilingual edition published by the Somali Bilingual Book Project (Minnesota Humanities Centre). The reading was also a way for Abdirizak to review names of animals in Somali with the younger children and introduce an interactive activity around the camel and its significance in the context of a nomadic lifestyle.
Youth and elders get-togethers are certainly a fixture of the Awjama library and cultural centre but there are many more activities throughout the year, which I plan to follow up on.
Interested in checking out the library for yourself? Here are the practical details:
The library is located in Eastleigh on 6th street (off 1st avenue) on the ground floor of Safari Hotel. Matatu number 9 from commercial.
Getting in touch:
Fardousa Jama, founder (firstname.lastname@example.org)