Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books For Asia

On Saturday I went to the Asia Foundation’s Christmas Party where I met Sharmini Nagendran who runs the Foundation’s Books for Asia program in the Colombo office. Books for Asia is one of the Foundation’s oldest programs (since 1954) and it provides new texts and other educational resources to schools and libraries around the country. At the Christmas party, Sharmini invited me to come to her office and see the books, so I did that today. The books are gorgeous. They are top of the line text books (over-run stock) published for the U.S. educational market and they are vibrant and appealing, the pages are crisp and clean, the graphics are beautifully done, they have that new book smell. The two main publishers who donate to the program are Houghton-Mifflin and Harcourt Press, and these are the most current texts available. The Asia Foundation gets them for free and distributes over 75,000 books to mostly rural and village schools. Sharmini was clearly very excited about the program and her enthusiasm was infectious; I immediately thought of Ellen from Emerge Global, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, as someone whose organization might need some books. Emerge Global provides housing and education and earning opportunities to young women who have become mothers as a result of sexual abuse and been forced to leave their homes. One of the goals of the program is to educate the young women in English so I thought these American texts might be useful to them. I just sent Ellen an email to let her know the books were available and to let me know if she thought Emerge Global could use some.

After I had lunch with Sharmini, I went to the British Council library and then to meet Lakshman at the coffee shop in Majestic City. Lakshman is a movie buff and we often end up discussing films. He told me about Der Untergang (or Downfall) which is a historical account of the last ten days of Hitler’s life in an underground bunker, in which among other things that go on down there, the wife of Joseph Goebbels kills her six children by first forcing them to take a sleeping drug and then clamping their teeth closed on cyanide capsules before Goebbels kills her and then himself. I assured Lakshman I would absolutely not be seeing this particular movie. I then I told him about Hamlet 2 which is about the funniest damn thing I’ve seen in a long time. Riyaz joined us eventually and then Riyaz and I went to the head shop across the street so he could buy a Zippo lighter for a friend’s birthday present. The shop was tiny and had a little smoking parlor in the back where some very stoned-looking dudes were hanging out. The proprietor appeared to be sporting the worst toupee I’ve ever seen [yes, I realize that’s apropos of nothing]. A guy named Ranjith whom I’d met on a previous trip to Colombo was in the back and seemed pleased to see me, but not so much that he was able to get up out of his chair and come over to say hello. Oddly enough, the proprietor was more than happy to let me snap a few pix.

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