Over the last few years, a number of people have told me that I should write a book. However, due to an interesting turn of events, I’m not going to write a book but to be one. I’ve been asked to be part of Riga’s first Human Library.
‘What’s a human library?’, I hear you ask from the edge of your seat.
Basically, it’s the same concept as a real library, except instead of taking out books, you take out people. The idea is that visitors get to talk to (and learn from) people they wouldn’t normally meet over the course of their everyday lives, all in a bid to break stereotypes and reduce prejudice. Visitors can ‘borrow’ the participants for 15 to 30 minutes, listen to their stories, ask questions and then ‘put them back’ so the next person can borrow them.
The organiser of the Rigan Human Library sent me a message through Facebook a couple of weeks ago, asking me if I would be willing to take part. Having never heard of a human library before, I immediately fell in love with the idea. What a wonderful thing to be part of – opening people’s minds and promoting tolerance. I also immediately felt shy – would anybody actually be interested in talking to me? There would be no problems there, the organiser assured me. She had had requests to get ‘the blog lady’ there. Depending on how you read that sentence, it’s either very worrying or very flattering. I, however, decided to give more weight to ‘flattering’ and accepted the invitation.
Caught up in a mood of excitement and righteousness, I sent an email to a friend in Dublin, bubbling over about how my new-found ‘celebrity’ could help to heal the world, or at least Riga. He replied ‘Sounds like the ideal place for cyber stalkers and serial killers to find you…be careful…’ Not quite the response I was hoping for.
But, not one to scare easily, I met the organiser a couple of days later so she could give me some more information on what was involved. The event is taking place on the 25th of May in Galerija Riga from 1pm to 4pm (serial killers and stalkers take note). There are a wide variety of ‘books’ taking part – a Latvian-African girl called Lingita Lina Bopulu, representatives from ‘Mozaīka’, an organisation that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, a Greek Catholic priest, a Paralympian, a recovering drug addict, a culinary artist, a politician, a street musician… and me, the token foreigner.
Surrounded by all of these interesting people and stories, I’m worried that nobody will want to talk to me and I’ll be left sitting in a corner with a drooping ‘Expat’ sign in my lap. My other fear is that people will ‘take me out’ just to shout at me. As a lot of Latvians pronounce ‘shout’ as ‘shoot’, I’d like to reiterate that I said ‘shout’ – this is meant to be an open dialogue, not target practice. Having said that, I’m now worried that people might take ‘take me out’ literally – a man was shot dead in a cinema here for eating popcorn too loudly, and I imagine I’m far more annoying than overly crunchy popcorn to a certain proportion of the population. Come to think of it, maybe ‘take me out’ wasn’t the best title for this post…
I had been thinking about writing this blog for about a year before I actually started writing it. To be honest, I was worried about how Latvian people would react. After all, these are the people I live, work and socialise with, so it’s quite important that we get along. Then winter hit hard and I needed something (free) to pass the time so I thought ‘sod it’ and started writing. I suppose I never really thought that anybody outside of my immediate family would ever read it. 4 months and almost 12,000 views later, I’ve realised that people other than my dearly devoted mother and father are paying attention.
Luckily for me, the Latvian reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Most people see some truth in what I’m saying, get my sense of humour, and have the grace to laugh at themselves and the habits that seem so strange from an outsider’s point of view.
Then, of course, there are the people who think that I’m patronising and condescending, attempting to disguise my superiority complex in so-called humour. They suggest that I should just go home or better yet, send me step-by-step instructions on how to kill myself. And people say Latvians aren’t helpful…
Whatever your opinion, I’m raising my head above my laptop parapet for one afternoon so come on down and say hello, listen to my story or give me a chance to hear yours. There will be lots of interesting people with lots of interesting tales to tell so open your mind, put your prejudices aside and spread the word.
Check out http://ej.uz/Dziva_Biblioteka for more information and put May 25th in your diary.