I have been watching a film called Guernsey’s litterature and potato peel society. It’s a very strange name on a society, don’t you think? Guernsey is the name of an island outside the coast of England, and it was occupied by the Germans during World War II. Why on earth does this society have such a strange name, you might ask. It was an impromptu improvisation, a creation sprung out of a desperate but at the same time creative mind. The Germans had occupied Guernsey and there was a curfew every night. The members of this small society, with its long name, were out in the dark when they were stopped by some German soldiers. Not only was it forbidden to be outdoors in the dark, it was also forbidden to smuggle food – which was what our members were doing. They had secretly managed to save one piglet, when the German soldiers took all the other animals at the small farms on Guernsey.
If the Germans would have found out that these people had saved one piglet for themselves , and now cooked it, they could have been killed on the spot. This small society of six people had met in one of their homes, and had the meal of their lifetime. What was left over of the pig was shared among the members and carried home in parcels. Imagine the panic they felt when they were stopped by the German soldiers. They knew that this could have been their last meal on earth, but they tried to keep their calm. When the soldiers asked them about their whereabouts one of the ladies in the society quickly said that they were on their way home after having had a session with their society. She said that they knew that ”der Fuhrer” encouraged cultural activities so that is why they had created this book club. ( der Fuhrer is refering to Adolf Hitler)
The lady was asked for the name of their society, and that is how they in a haste had to come up with a name that became a bit extra long because of one of the members. This was an elderly man, who had contributed to the feast with the only food he had – potatoes. He had nothing but potatoes but he made a pie of them. No onions, no spices, no cream, nothing but potatoes. The pie was decorated with potatoe peels, there of the name. It wasn’t a good pie, but they ate of it as they didn’t have much of a choice. On the way home in the darkness, this elderly man became feeling sick of too much food together with some home made alcohol. So when the German soldier was questioning the lady about the name of the society, this elderly man began babbling about how he felt and he blamed the potato peel pie for it.
The German soldier thought the name of the society was Guernsey’s litterature and potato peel society. He couldn’t find any name like that on his lists, but gave up his search when the elderly man suddenly vomited on the soldiers boots. This disguisted the soldiers so much so they turned around and went back to their cars again. The society members were lucky to be alive, life can end in an instant.
The German soldiers were controling everything on the island, so the members in this newly baptized society decided to start meeting on a regular basis as they felt that the soldiers were a bit suspicious now. The village book shop had been bombed, but some of the books had survived and were brought to the society.
Reading out loud became a nice entertainment for the members of the society. The only one who didn’t enjoy it was the German soldier who had been ordered to participate at each meeting to see if the society really was about reading. The soldier who was on duty fell asleep on his chair and after a while all soldiers refused to go to the meetings. They hated books and only became bored and sleepy.Coming this far in the story you might think that the members in the society used their time for espionage or something else, now when they knew they were off the hook, but that was not the fact. Instead they had found how much it meant for them to meet once a week, read for each other and then debate what they had heard. They discussed the stories and the authors before they took a cup of tea together. These people had lived all their lives on Guernsey, in the same village, but before the war they had been so occupied with their lives and didn’t have time to get to know each other. Now they had a common goal; meeting once a week in their society that became like an oasis for their troubled minds. At least once a week they didn’t speak about the war, how hungry they were and the sorrows. The books became a light in the darkness, every chapter lead their minds to new and unseen territories.
The movie I have told you a little about is based on a book with the same name. A good book throws you inside the story with its first sentence. It catches your attention and you feel that you can’t leave the book until you have finished it. When I speak about books with my pupils almost no one seems to understand what I mean. They don’t have time for reading, as they say, which actually means that they are so occupied with social media so they don’t even consider reading a book. When I pass through the corridors during recess all pupils are sitting down with bent necks and play games or chat with each other. They don’t speak with each other, not more than some comments about the game or so. Mobile phones has become an addiction, a kind of a drug, and it stimulates the brain in the same way as drugs and other stimulants.
All inputs are so fast so the kids don’t even listen to the teachers because we speak too slowly. That is a sad fact; teachers want to explain things in class and that takes time. Learning takes time, but the kids don’t have that time to give us. They feel that we speak too slowly and they stop listening after some seconds. Research made about 30 years ago told us that people in common are not able to stay focused for more than 7 minutes, then something new has to happen. Seven minutes feels like a lifetime for the youth of today! This is obvious in the classroom when us teachers notice over and over again that our pupils only listen to the first part of our explanation and then their minds wander away somewhere else. This is a behaviour they have learned by using social media too early and too often.
I can see that young parents give their 1 year old babies a phone or a tablet with some games or a video so they are busy for a while. This is madness! What happened to talking to your child, singing for it, reading a book or playing with it? Children need human interaction, not being activated with some kind of digital gadget. All of us need human interaction, we can even die because of loneliness. As the people in the movie I told you about shared their stories as well as their lives, we need to share our lives with someone. For a person living in a society where you are always surrounded by people it might be hard to understand how lonely some people are. Living in a crowd doesn’t automatically make you feel as a part of a context though. There is no loneliness that is worse than feeling alone in a crowd.
If I have any addiction it is the addiction of reading. When I’m on a vacation I have made sure that I had packed at least 2 two books with me. The number of books depends on how long I’m going to stay. When I travel to the Gambia I change plane in Brussels, Belgium. That airport has an amazing book shop which is more important for me than perfume or alcohol. A good book, or two, or three, plus some delicious Belgian chocolate and I am satisfied. Books has kept me company since my early childhood, I have learned so much by reading. A good book should leave you with a sense of missing when it is finished. I read so fast so I prefer really thick books, about 600-800 pages. When I have had this great friend keeping me company for so long, it is a bit sad to leave it.
The thing about reading books is that you create your own pictures in your mind. The pace is allowing you to stop for a while and think about what you have read. Your vocabulary is expanding the more you read which is something I have noticed as I have began to read more books in English instead of Swedish. In the beginning I read slowly, I had to translate a lot of words, but the pace is much faster now. My English vocabulary has expanded, which I notice with a bit of surprise sometimes. The surprise comes when I read a sentence, translate it quickly in my head while I’m reading, and suddenly think to myself that it couldn’t be that easy. I don’t always trust myself when it comes to using English, but I have began to notice the improvements I have made. You see, I am mostly self learned in English. I studied the language for some years, but I didn’t use it that much. My vocabulary was limited which is normal when you don’t use a language a lot. All my reading has helped me with my writing, this is common for all kind of writers – we read a lot. The problem with reading in school is that you never get to really experience the enormous joy reading gives you.
The quote I wrote at the beginning of this article continues with the words:
”You only need a candle to see new worlds unfold.”
The candle can be a metaphor as well as literally. Used as a metaphor you can use the candle to light up a dark mind. I have a very good friend who I use to tell that he is like a torch that lights up all our dark corners. His sharp mind, his intelligence and his committment has opened up my mind for things I wasn’t able to see before. He is a keen reader, as well as I, and he was the one who encouraged me to write. He saw my words and heard my voice before I was able to trust it myself. Madi Jobarteh, I salute you. Thanks to your
never ending ability to see the unseen you are the candle that helps us see new worlds.