Book Enthusiasts of Kampala

The Beginning

It took two lovers of the written word to find each other one afternoon and give utterance to the thought of a book club. Nay it took one book exchange for the seeds of the book club to be sown. We were very enthusiastic about our first two-person meeting, a “book date” and we decided to call ourselves just that – Book Enthusiasts.

The day was hot and dusty, so it must have been the dry months of February or March in Kampala. The year was 2015. I was seated at Bistro Café in Kisementi, having just finished a delightful lunch with a friend. While my friend had to rush back to work, I lingered on, finding myself comfortable in a cool shaded spot at the café with the book in my hand. The book that started it all. Over the last few days, I found myself immersed in the lives of Abdullah and Pari – central characters of the novel And The Mountains Echoed. The thought of letting their voices rest for a bit only to fight Kampala traffic and make it home didn’t appeal at all. So I stayed, just a little bit longer, to read. Nay to hear and feel.

Unbeknownst to me, my read was being eyed by another person sitting on the opposite spectrum of my world. I in Kabul, he in Kampala. Maybe that is where the coincidences that came about to initiate the birth of the club seem now to be a divine conspiracy. The letter “K” of the cities where we were living parallel worlds, for Moses and I to be in the same place, at the same time, me living in a world woven by Khaled Hosseini’s words, him standing patiently at the gate of that world, peeping in, waiting for a gate pass. Some minutes, maybe hours later, I came to a point where I could let the words rest. As I stood up to leave, Moses stopped me in my tracks and said, “Excuse me, if you don’t mind, can I borrow this book after you have finished reading it? I have been looking for this book all over Kampala and I am yet to find a copy here. I am a big fan of Khaled Hosseini and I am aching to read his third book.” It was apparent that this man loved his books. He then went onto introduce his colleague, we talked briefly about books and given his enthusiasm to read what I was reading, I was enthusiastic to share this world with him, to have his insight and also to do a fellow book lover a favour. Truth be told we are a different creed and when we know one, we know one. There is a certain respect and a silent ethics-code involved when sharing books.

We exchanged numbers with the promise that I will contact him as soon as I was done reading. I left smiling, thinking “wow! I just gave my number to a complete stranger!” No it was not creepy for a man to ask me for my number on the pretext of borrowing a book. I went home and shared the story of my encounter with my husband. He did not share our enthusiasm at all.

When the day came to close the last page and pick up the phone, I was excited to share this story with Moses. We decided to meet at Prunes Café for a coffee and bring along some of our favourite titles. For the first time, I was meeting someone purely to discuss books, and it was inspiring. We talked about life, where we came from, and how reading a book at a certain point in life gives it a completely different meaning. None of us realised at the time that such a beautiful friendship would blossom thanks to a book. We decided to open this exchange platform to other booklovers - surely there were others who were alone in their love and aching silently. As introspective as the world of books is, there is a collective consciousness that it evokes. The consciousness of the writer, the readers, the characters, the story and the times in which it was written, the times in which it was lived and the times in which it is read. The club is where that consciousness manifests and speaks through us. To take away from one of Hosseini’s book, we are the thousand splendid suns that hide behind the pages, the consciousness that glows from the written words.

I’ll leave you with the words of Sa’ib Tabrizi, a Persian poet whose poem Kabul inspired the title of Hosseini’s second book A Thousand Splendid Suns.

“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye,

Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass,

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

 

Sahiba M. Turgesen

For Book Enthusiasts of Kampala

30 September 2016

Sahiba Turgesen