This past Christmas I received a card from my pal Nancy, celebrating that, in lieu of a gift, she had donated a bicycle, in my name, to a charity which refurbishes and distributes bikes to people whose lives will be enhanced by the acquisition of two-wheeled transportation.
One good turn deserves another: now that Nancy’s birthday is coming up, it has occurred to me to donate some handmade books to students in South Africa whose learning may be enhanced having some new notebooks. Given in Nancy’s name, of course.
These books will be sent to a young man who, as a fourth grader, used to come the book arts classes that I taught at our local library. Back then, this little boy made a real connection to the mechanics and magic of paper-folding Now a college graduate, he is spending two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Africa.
This young man, James Higby, is a lone American teaching in a rural South African school, having committed to teaching for two years. Honestly, I can’t relate to what it would be like to be so far from home, for so long, to have to learn a new language and to make all new social connections. Each one of these challenges in isolation seems managable and exciting, but, all together all at once is something I can not image. Since I have often seen how little blank books encourage children to write (much like water encourages fish to swim) the books I am sending are my modest way of supporting the work that James is doing.
From what I understand, James gets his mail only on the rare occasion that he visits his mailbox in Pretoria. It takes him a full day of travel to get to his mailbox.
From what I’ve been told, James visits his mailbox just about once a month. This leave me feeling nervous about both the time and distance that separates my gift from its destination. To allay my own discomfort, I am going to affix post-it notes to the books: my plan is to write quadratic equations and area formulas on to these post-its, as I imagine, donned with math facts, my books will be cloaked with a protective aura.
I haven’t yet told Nancy that I am sending these books in lieu of her birthday present. However, since James is her son, I am confident that she will approve.