Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Opening Doors Through Literature

          First of all I would really like to thank Ellen and Sunny for their recommendation of the book "The Rent Collector" by Camron Wright.  I have enjoyed it and actually wouldn't mind having the book in my personal collection.

          I'm intrigued by so much of the story and the situation and dreams and literature.  Though the story itself is fictitious, Stung Meanchey was a real place.  A filthy dump in Cambodia. Three sided huts provided housing to those who worked at the dump.  The documentary "River of Victory" says that there are over 600 of this type housing.  Or at least there were.  The author's notes (Camron Wright on the Rent Collector) indicate that Stung Meanchey was shut down in 2009 and there is no housing at the new location of dumping grounds.

           When I look at pictures taken of those who reside in conditions that I can't even begin to understand, I often question if these people in these situations have dreams and wonder how simple their dreams may be compared to mine.

          It seems their lives would consist more of a day-to-day survival and accepting situation at hand.  I wonder if they wonder if there is better - for they do not own cell phones, or have access to TV.  Many of them (if any) don't even read.  I wonder if they have an understanding on what takes place outside of their world.  I wonder if they dream of leaving a certain situation how their circumstances would change or if they even think about it.

          There are many who constantly wish they had a larger house, a faster car, superior phone reception, the latest computer, touch screen, etc.  Yet for those in third world countries (and yes, they do still exist) what are their dreams?  their goals?

          I had heard of a situation with a family in Romania (I think it was) in which the family lived in a more modern house with electricity but had only one light bulb in which they would move from room to room - whichever was most pressing for light at particular time.  Some Americans, who had stayed with said family, were humbled by their act of kindness given despite their poor circumstances. 

          To reward their kindness, the Americans purchased a carton of light bulbs to give to the family.  There were cries of delight and disbelief to receive such a precious gift.  But even so, the family continued with their ways - removing the light bulb and carrying it from room to room - believing  they could get more mileage and perhaps even sharing the light with their neighbors who had electricity.

          In the story of "The Rent Collector" the narrator, Sang Ly, discovers that "the cow" that collects the rent can read.  Sang Ly decides that she wants to read - believing it will provide opportunity for her son to have an opportunity for a life outside of Stung Meanchey - believing that life outside the dump has to be better. She asks the rent collector to teach her.

          Of course there are different opportunities, different circumstances outside the dump.  Some good.  Some bad.  Our decisions always lead us to some things better and some things that are not.  The example that came to my mind was with a group of slaves that Harriett Tubman had taken out of the south. 
          The escape to freedom was not an easy one, and once the slaves had "escaped" they realized that freedom came with a price and though some situations and circumstance had become better for them, some just were not so great and some thought they'd be better off as slaves.

          We each give up things for our dreams or to help others with their dreams and sometimes our dreams don't live up to our expectations.  Sometimes they surpass our expectations.  There are always things about our current situation that we like.  There are always things we'd rather not deal with.  And we need both to grow.

          Camron Wright used his imagination to introduce the gift of literacy to one particular family living in the circumstances described in the River of Victory.  There are thousands of people who are not literate.  Some dream of how literacy might change their circumstances while many remain ignorant - perhaps by choice, but I think for the most part, the desire to read does not even occur to more than half of the illiterate population.  I think for many, they just don't know any better.

            They don't know about people who diet to lose weight.  They don't know about putting on make-up while looking in the rear view mirror as traffic comes to a standstill.  They don't know about the invention of the toilet or the importance of hygiene.  It's not their fault.  It's just how things are.

          Having a dream to own a light bulb or being taught to read or having a reason to look at the clock - those seem like simple dreams.  And yet there are several who might have those dreams.  The cell phone (or any phone for that matter) and the Internet are foreign concepts.  Perhaps even the idea of sending or receiving mail through the post office.  Why would it for someone who isn't even familiar with reading?

          The rent collector, called "the cow" by some, is not the most desirable person.  It isn't until Sang Ly has a book - a children's book- in her possession when she sees the rent collector as an actual human being and later dares to call her friend.

          The rent collector not only teaches Sang Ly to read but teaches her how to find metaphor in literature.  We learns that something as simple as instructions on how to grow rice can become metaphorical because someone has hand-written "and children" in place of rice.
          I love the relationships within the story.  The compassion that Sang Ly has for her son. The concern and love she develops  for a girl who becomes of age.  The remorse she feels for a thief who is killed.  And of course the development of the relationship between Sang Ly and the rent collector. 

          I love the interweaving of the literature and the lessons learned and the symbolic meaning that take place in her own life.  I love the profound statements such as this:  ". . . if every story ended with a handsome prince, there wouldn't be anybody left in the kingdom to stand around and cheer" and I love that it is written in first person.

          This is a book that I will definitely read again.  It's message was quite powerful for me.  I look forward to reading Camron Wright's other works.  It's truly Beautiful!  Thank you Camron Wright for sharing your talents.

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