Last week Villa Karo’s library received a fine donation from the University of Helsinki. This gift was passed to us through the helping hands of art historian Julia Donner who visited Villa Karo a month ago. Many, many thanks to Julia and the University of Helsinki! Now the books are waiting for eager couriers to carry them to Benin in their suitcases. I’m sure they’ll reach their destination in no time.
Art history, yes! And we must never forget about the children who may now hear and read stories in French from “366 contes de l’oreiller” along from the few dozen french-language children’s books that we already have in our library.
VK’s library holds currently about 2100 books. Each and every one of them have been donated to our collections. Prose along with some poetry in Finnish is the most dominant part of what we have to offer right now, thanks to many writers who have visited our residence and to other donors such as LIKE publications and private people that have been helping us. Cheers to all of you! We also have many books about Africa in Finnish, English and French and a few (now twice as much!) about museology, art and especially African art. The French prose section of our library is limited to about 200 titles and very few of them are by African authors.
We are hoping to build a library that would suit the needs of both our scholarship holders and the people of Grand-Popo. What do we need?
1) Relevant and current encyclopedias especially in French, but also in English and Finnish. Internet access is becoming more and more common in Grand-Popo but is still quite expensive, not to mention the price of a computer that one must possess to be able to browse the web. And anyway: a book is always a book. It would be marvelous to offer to GP some encyclopedic literature that would have the entry “Benin”. The Encyclopedic series we have now knows only “Dahomey” which was Benin’s name until 1975. Information never goes old, but still…
2) Dictionaries. As many different types as there are and chiefly in French. A dictionnaire des locutions as well as a dictionnaire des noms propre would suit our library very well – not to mention many other possible ones… Perhaps a Larousse gastronomique would be nice as well… Lot’s of people in GP are interested in learning English, Spanish, Italian and German etc. (For some reason many people in Benin take me nowadays for a German and greet me by saying “Mein Freund!”, which is both very friendly and a bit confusing at the same time because I only know a few words of German. There has got to be something else, perhaps something in my demeanor… Who knoes what it is! But dictionaries in many languages – also in German – are nevertheless good.)
3) African novels in French. Needless to say, people always want to read about their own culture in a language they know. Wouldn’t you?
4) Children’s books in French. No explanations needed.
Although children’s books in GP’s most dominant local language called Mina would be even better. I don’t think there are any in the whole wide world, though. How come do I suddenly thank Mikael Agricola for composing a written Finnish language in the XVI century that I’ve had the opportunity to learn to read and write as a kid? I also think about the Austrian-born music composer Herman Rechberger who compiled ten years ago the first Français-Mina dictionary while staying in GP.
Since I started about this matter, I would also like to personally thank the Finnish author Anni Swan for her story Piilopirtin laspset and many other tales she wrote as well as lots of other Finns and Finnish translators who have produced me stuff to read and listen in my native tongue when I was growing up. Thank you Aila Nissinen for Hopeaveitsi and Kersti Juva for Taru sormusten herrasta. And here comes a question for our many Mina-speaking readers: why won’t you write down the stories you know? Or write your own ones? They are kind of important.
Well, what else do we need for the library?
5) Children’s school books. Very important. If you want to offer the books that are part of the official curriculum in Benin to VK’s library, do not hesitate. Many parents in GP can’t afford to buy the needed books to their children. Could we Europeans offer the children of GP access to these valuable things for development? Perhaps a couple copies of each of the needed books would help a couple dozens of children. This idea came out from the lips of VK’s transport manager Alphonse Bodjrenou. Good thinking, Alphonse!
6) DVDs. I’ve been asked quite a few times if VK’s library and movie nights could offer African films to their visitors. And I really don’t blame the ones asking. We have some African films in our collections, but new films would be very stimulating. We are also interested in any other kinds of quality films that aren’t of violent nature or don’t contain overtly sexual imagery.
7) Let people hear good music! Wanna share a part of your collections with the people in GP? We have a CD player but very few albums.
8) We also accept anything that is of good quality and could be useful in a library in Benin: fiction, non-fiction etc in any relevant language as well as maps, travel books etc. Also a nice globe would be great. If you know someone that has good things to spare, don’t hesitate to pass the word to that person.
So everybody! Books, CDs, DVDs, a library grant… Anything helps. And spread the word about our library that isn’t much yet, but could do a lot.
The easiest thing for us is to get the actual material, but VK also accepts monetary donations that are destined to a certain purpose such as the purchasing of school books for our library.
For any inquiries, do not hesitate to contact me at miikka.porsti(at)villakaro.org.
And what comes below is a treat for those our readers who already know medieval French. For the rest of you, you may get yourself a medieval French dictionary to get through this. And when you don’t need it anymore, I know many nice, eagerly studying people who will have use for it 6300 kilometres south from Helsinki.
Allez, on y va:
Hé Dieu, si j’eusse estudié,
Au temps de ma jeunesse folle,
J’eusse maison et couche molle.
Mais quoy! je fuyoië l’escolle
Comme fait le mauvaiz enffant
En escripvant cette parolle
A peu que le cueur ne me fent.
– François Villon. Le testament, 22ème poème. XEe siècle.
Bonne semaine à vous tous !