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Tanzania Memories: Deathly Hallows by Candlelight

August 9, 2012

Julia Rogers’s friend Nathan Donovan and a group of students in Iramba, Tanzania

By Julia Rogers

At his storytelling presentations, Duncan reminds kids that reading transports you. At one event this summer he asked a group of kids, “Do you know where I was last week? Madagascar!” He then goes on to describe a book set in a tropical place surrounded by lemurs and other exotic creatures.

The transportive nature of a good book is undeniable. But what about when the book itself leads to a good, old fashioned adventure?

A few years ago I was living in a rural village in Tanzania. I spent nine months working in a community as a teacher, and as the only English-speaker in a place with no electricity or modern gadgets, I had plenty of time to read.

Books provided me with comfort and distraction while I learned to thrive in my new surroundings. I typically traded tattered copies of books with my nearby neighbor Nathan Donovan, a fellow volunteer. But when we got wind that the final installment of the Harry Potter series would be released in Tanzania, we hatched a plan to find a copy.

I could go without ice cream or running water or e-mail, but I could not wait to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Through some investigative work, we discovered that exactly one bookstore in the entire country of Tanzania planned to stock the book on the international release date. This shop was in distant Dar es Salaam, the capital city, which was about 10 hours away by bus. So I, being a frugal volunteer with classes to teach, decided to bide my time and wait for an opportunity to get a copy of the book down the line.

Luckily, Nathan was not nearly as prudent or patient. As I walked back from my school the day before the book release, a village child ran up to me, telling me breathlessly in Swahili that my friend was waiting for me at the road. Sure enough, as I came upon the main road that ran through our region, a huge truck was chugging its way up a hill – with Nathan leaning out the door, beaming and waving.

“I’m hitching a ride to Dar to get our book!” Nathan yelled over the loud diesel engine. I rushed to hand him enough Tanzanian shilingi to cover half the price of this book – an exorbitant amount of money compared to my monthly stipend, but I knew it would be worth it once I was flying on a broom to Hogwarts in my mind’s eye.

Two days later I traveled to Nathan’s village to meet him off the bus from Dar. Even as the bus lurched to a stop, Nathan still had his nose in that freshly cracked treasure, only lifting his head at the last possible moment to get off the bus. He looked exhausted from 20 hours of truck and bus travel in the course of 36 hours, but his spirit couldn’t have been brighter. He excitedly told me about the midnight Harry Potter party he attended at the bookstore, where a few expat kids dressed up and mulled wine was served. I ran my fingers over the cover of The Book, and appreciated it in a way I never would have if I had just run to the mall to grab a copy.

Now it makes me think about how kids must feel as they clutch their new books at a CLiF event.

As I peeled vegetables and cooked them over a small coal stove, Nathan read the entire first chapter of the Deathly Hallows aloud.  He even did the voices! And after we dined, we faced the conundrum of both wanting to read at the same time.  Since Nathan had read all day on the bus, he was already a few hundred pages in. So we opened the book in two places, craned our necks on opposite ends of a tiny table, and read at the same time by lantern light late into the night.

It was a magical way to experience the last Harry Potter book: an adventure wrapped in an adventure that always reminds me to appreciate the simple joy of receiving a good, new book.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    August 10, 2012 1:12 am

    That is an awesome story!! It made me laugh out loud picturing the two of you reading different pages at the same time. You have to really want it to read that way. Thanks for sharing it.

    • August 10, 2012 7:57 pm

      You’re welcome. I also laughed out loud when Julia told me. – Matt

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