When I was twelve years old, we moved from a village in the country into a house in town. We lived right on the main street, which was called, surprise, surprise, Main Street! I was very happy to finally have a room of my own, and I was going to be allowed to walk to school. What bliss for a young girl! But the best thing of all was that the public library was just a few blocks from our house, and I could walk there whenever I wanted. I loved that library. It was the place I went when I was sad or confused or overwhelmed with events. I also went when I was happy or overjoyed. That library was my place of refuge and my second home.
I loved going up and down the aisles and looking at all varieties of books on every subject that I could imagine and ones that I had never imagined. I would borrow piles of books and devour them at home, and then I would go back and get more and more. I think my favorites were the history books, and in that library I learned a big lesson. Not everything written in books is true. Well, I know that fiction is made up, but I had used to believe that other books were absolutely factual.
Fast-forward fifty years, and here we are living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Who would have ever thought to find us here? Jeddah has a population of over four million, a huge and sprawling city. And guess what? We have not a single public lending library. Are you horrified now? Twenty years ago, we were ecstatic to hear that a public library was to be built. It was built near the university which is about halfway between the northern and southern districts of the city. The yard around the building was planted with grass, and it makes an excellent picnic spot. The structure gives shade from the blazing sun. The building looks nice, too, and the authorities are careful in its upkeep. Now these are good qualities, but where are the books? There are none. The library sits empty. We call it “the building that was supposed to be a library.”
My daughters in America frequently tell me how blessed they are to have public libraries, Alhamdulillah, and how they visit one after another and come home with bags and bags of books and educational movies on DVD’s. My grandchildren love going to libraries and helping to choose their own books, and they love reading time at home. The younger ones have rituals of story time before bedtime, and the older ones use their flashlights under the covers to read even when bedtime has passed.
So the big question is this. Why does Jeddah’s library have no books? I often ask myself this question, and I’ve come up with a number of possible answers. There are no librarians to choose the books and run the library. There are numerous organizations dedicated to keeping books that were not published in this country out of the hands of the public. The library management fears that all of the books would be stolen with a week of the library’s opening. No one can decide what books are suitable for the library. I think all of the above answers are true. Pity us.
Susan Akyurt Lending
Susan Akyurt has lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with her husband for the last 31 years. She has four daughters, one living near her in Jeddah and three living in the DC metropolitan area. She loves reading, writing and corresponding with her family.