Books have always had a bigger impact on my life than they probably should.
As a kid it was Judy Blume who kept me riveted. “Are you there God it’s me Margaret” prompted puberty questions. “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” had me writing letters to a grandmother in a far away land at a time when pre-teen angst left me thinking no one close by could ever understand the childhood drama of that day. (Insert dramatic eye roll here.)
Decades later, books are still having an effect.
This time it’s “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave – suggested to me by the book club I recently joined – that is weaving its magic.
One of our hopes is to spend some time in Africa. I’ve been to Ghana and South Africa in the past and both are places rich in history and culture – key things that I’d love to share with my two boys and their dad. And there are other countries that call to me as well: Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Rwanda. All of them are a mix of well-traveled tourist spots and smaller, off-the-beaten-path (cliche alert: depends on whose path it is, no?) destinations.
Time, costs and the political climate in each place were the only factors we thought would play a role in deciding which countries we visit.
Reading “Little Bee” is changing that.
The story about a Nigerian village girl who overcomes unthinkable odds and is forever linked to a British Couple who chose her country on an impromptu press trip getaway, and how their lives intertwine in ways neither could predict is a great story in its own right.
Even more powerful though are the questions the book leaves in the minds of the reader: What right do we have – in any country – to pop into it , peek out at it from behind the white walls of a hotel complex and leave without ever having tried to understand the people, the problems and the perceptions on the other side? What are we willing to do to help those who are less fortunate in these countries? How much are you willing to expose your own life in exchange?
While I have tried over the years to meet locals in each of the places I’ve visited, this book – more than any other – is causing me to rethink what it is I hope to accomplish by traveling with the boys. Safety is paramount and respect for the places, customs and people we visit goes without saying. But since our goals include taking the family on a journey, and not just a photo – op, I hope we’ll find ways to make a positive impact as well.
Still I can’t help but wonder whether we, like the British couple in the book, can ever be fully prepared to find out what life is really like outside our comfort zone.
Have you read “Little Bee?” What did you think?