Oh, Canada ...

I returned late in December from a trip to Uganda and Kenya. I gave a keynote address on e-books, e-journals etc. to a conference in Uganda, then travelled to areas that I and my colleague Ross Wein had visited in 1964. See my blog for more comments and for a link to the paper I presented. Books - electronic and paper - were the major focus of my trip.

While we in North America have access to libraries, bookstores and online bookstores, people in Africa have limited access to books. Some of the libraries I saw had very few new books, although at least one had a wide variety of e-books and a reasonable number of new paper books. But there are so few libraries and even fewer bookstores.

We take books for granted. There are thousands of them in local stores, and the costs of most of them are reasonable. Most of us have no problem in buying or accessing books for school, for business or for recreational reading. Books in other countries - including many European countries - are far more expensive than books in Canada.

We also take education for granted. In Kenya elementary school is free, but high school is not. Kenya's free education may consist of very large classes and poor facilities. People who have sufficient incomes send their children to church schools for both elementary and high school.

University is another major hurdle. Not many young people have the opportunity to attend college – although Uganda is making great progress in increasing the number of students who do attend institutions of higher learning.

I came back to a federal election campaign, one that has become nastier each day. I've heard more complaining here in the last week than I heard in Africa in the three weeks I was there. We have so much food, so many opportunities, so many natural resources, so many schools, so many bookstores and libraries. Most of us have all the opportunities that we need to become whatever we want to be: but we spend an undue amount of time complaining and wishing that we had more.

Grow up, Canada. We've got all that we need, and more.

Jerome Martin,
Jan. 12, 2006

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