Sunday I spent the entire day reading.
For hours and hours I absorbed myself in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, co-written by William Kamkwamba, the proponent of the tale, and Bryan Mealer. I was drawn to the book at my local library because of the ratty-tatty windmill on the front, which resembles something I want the Norwegian Artist to construct on our own land.
I almost put it down when I saw the recommendation by a Mr. Extreme Green sort who isn’t remotely interested in individuals empowering themselves by, literally, producing their own power, but after a moment I realized that the reviewer probably never actually read the book, any more than he chooses the clothes he wears to public and state occasions. (Is he a lumberjack today? or a college professor?)
But back to the real hero: Kamkwamba is the only son of a sustenance farmer in Malawi, and his story is one of hardship and privation, drought and starvation, political corruption and the result of its greed, and . . . hope. Forced to drop out of school because his parents couldn’t pay the fees, Kamkwamba pokes around in a junk pile, ignoring the taunts of the people around him (isn’t that what most creative people do?) and the alarmed looks of his mother.
“He’ll never find a girl to marry him! And how will he support her?” she wails. Amazing. Half the world away and all mothers think the same.
“Leave him alone,” his father advises. “Let’s see what he will do.”
What Kamkwamba eventually does do is construct a working windmill (what he calls an “electric wind machine”) out of all that recycled junk, bringing light into his family’s extremely simple home. The bulbs are small, the light feeble, but it is light, enabling the family to stay up past 7 p.m., when darkness sets in.
“Who goes to bed at seven in the evening?” Kamkwamba asks in the book. “Well, I can tell you, most of Africa.”
Hoping to keep up with his studies in the event that he could return to school, Kamkwamba discovers the town’s library — three shelves of donated books ranging from novels to textbooks. He becomes the only patron to check out, renew, and recheck out Explaining Physics, Using Energy, and Integrated Science, the three resources he exhausts for their information on not only wind energy but water pumps, refrigeration systems, and ways to make alternative fuels:
“Lately, I’d become particularly curious about (these),” this uneducated, unlearned, unschooled, and unlettered son of a sustenance farmer writes. While my first thought was, “Imagine what he could do with a proper education,” my second one was wiser — “Look at what he did without one.”
Kamkwamba’s in school now — the world discovered him and was properly impressed with his accomplishments — and it is to be hoped that the hardworking genius is allowed to continue to grow, reach, dream, and achieve as opposed to conform, like so many of us in the First, modern world.
So also do I hope for Kamkwamba’s humility — his voice is simple, fresh, uncomplicated, kind — expressing concern for his family and his people, and desiring to improve their lives with the gifts that he has been given and so beautifully uses.
It’s a difficult balance, maintaining one’s goodness as fame increases, securing the necessary funds without paying for it with one’s soul, but this is, after all, a man who built a treasure out of elements he found in a junkyard.
If you don’t have plans for this coming Sunday, allow me to suggest one: find this book, snuggie-up on the couch, and travel to Africa.