I really like living in Baku (really, I do!). The city is fairly modern (for non first-world countries), not that big (compared to Cairo), not too trashy, and the people are nice. I really don't miss that many things about the U.S., and especially when I throw in a housekeeper to sweeten the deal. Sure, I can't find blue cheese... anywhere or go to Target when my stash of diaper genie liners unexpectedly run out or get celery for love or money (it's okay anyway because I never used it much in the first place), but I don't mind that much. I like it.
The one thing I miss, however, is the public libraries. Oh, the libraries. Shelves and shelves and shelves full of books just waiting to be checked out and read and enjoyed - all for free! While in the US we went to the library every week, filling my bag with stacks of books, each one a brand new story just waiting for someone to read it. While driving home from the library, the car would be silent as each child dove into their pile of unopened treasures. Library day was the highlight of their week - and mine. The silence in that car was golden.
The curriculum I use for Kathleen's school is very literature-intensive. For each subject we read a chapter in her textbook and then read supplemental books about that particular chapter. In addition, the reading "assignments" are correlated to the history text. This year she's studying the ancients so she is reading fables and myths and epic stories from all over the world. It's really quite fun - she (and her siblings who always gather round for story time) gets to read about the Odyssey and the Illiad and Beowulf and Gilgamesh. Did you know that there are picture books about Gilgamesh? Very entertaining.
I have a secret love for buying books (okay, well really for buying anything) and so I've spent a lot of money on Amazon finding children's adaptations for all of the great stories. Just last week The Ramayana came in the mail. The children, who love anything that comes between two covers and has pictures have been thrilled. It's like Christmas when Daddy brings home packages every few weeks filled with new stories to be read and hoarded and bickered over. I also get the secret satisfaction of feeding the classics to my children under the radar. To them, they're just fun stories. Only later when they're old enough to realize that classics are things that everybody wants to have read but nobody has, will they realize my deception - and then it will be too late.
However, I can't ever buy enough books to keep ahead of the children, so we have another source. The local American-run international school has been kind enough to let us use their library, so once a week I load everyone up and we make the trek to the library. The selection is... slim... (at least when it comes to Gilgamesh-type things or books about ancient Sumer) so we use it more for supplementary fun literature. It's a good thing for Kathleen's education that the internet exists.
The school also has a playground and so we make an outing of it, checking out books and then playing afterward. This week library day was Wednesday, so I loaded everyone in the car, drove twenty minutes through traffic that included the obligatory road construction back-up, unloaded the ambulatory children, put Joseph in the baby-carrier to navigate the stairs up to the library, got everyone safely across the road, through the gate, up the stairs, down the hall, and to the library. I opened the door to find the lights darkened and a dozen or so teacher-looking people huddled around the director of instruction. Meeting. Evidently the library is the only non-classroom space in the school large enough to accommodate a meeting.
So we went outside to play and wait out the teachers. Kathleen, Edwin, and Sophia had a great time swinging on the swings (downside of living outside of America: Kathleen is six and can't pump her own swing), sliding down various tall slides, and going down the fireman's pole. Edwin decided to throw the dark grey sand about and Sophia decided that shoes really weren't necessary. It was all very fun.
Joseph, however, wasn't happy with anything. He had been fussy for the past few days and apparently being strapped to my chest wasn't doing anything for him. I tried letting him crawl around the equipment, play horsie on my knees, be bounced on my hip, and slide down the slide, but nothing was working. I couldn't bring myself to let him grub in - and eat - the sand, so I strapped him back on and tried to ignore the increasingly frantic cries.
At 4:07 I gave up and trooped everyone back to the library, which was still closed. Hoping to keep Joseph quiet - let him scream at home is one thing, public something else entirely - we wandered the hall looking at various displays. Blessedly, the door opened a few minutes later and we rushed in to return the old books and select some new. I knew already that elementary-level books on Mesopotamia were nonexistent and knew not to even bother to look for anything on Assyria so continued on to the life science section. Nothing on ants or termites, but hopefully there will be something in that DK Insects book?
My stack ready and Joseph slowly increasing his volume and insistence, I looked for the librarian. Gone. I looked at the clock: 4:17. I put Joseph on the floor. He cried. I tried to read him a book. He screamed. I bounced him. He wailed. I shuushed him. I fretted. I covered his mouth. He whined. I put him on my head. He pulled my hair. I realized, too late, that my only coping strategy for crying babies is putting them in their beds, and I had no idea what to do with him. I looked at the clock, 4:21, and announced that we were leaving at 4:30, books or no books.
We drove home that day with no books. Thankfully Joseph was quiet.
So next time you go to a large, free, well-stocked public library with plenty of books about Assyria and Hammurabi and termites and ants and Gilgamesh and dolphins and hours and hours of access time, where the librarians just sit and wait to check your books out for you, think of me.
And when I'm eating a dinner that I didn't cook in a kitchen that I didn't clean I'll think of you.