It was in my early teen years, a Saturday. The sun was setting, and our new neighbours had finished moving in. A short, wiry boy came to introduce himself, showing off his gymnastic ability and boasting about how he was two grades higher than me.

He was usually found twiddling a green coloured maize-shaped harmonica, or else head-over-heels, walking on his hands. He started to tell me soon enough about how close their house used to be to the national library and the movie theatres, in present-day Arada District. Noting my keen interest, he promised to show me where the library was. The movie was out of the question, as it involved money.

Being downbeat, I thought of showing off myself. I took out my collection of bubble gum stickers full of famous actors. He went through them, acting not that much surprised. Then he went to their house and brought his set.

His were few, yet action-packed, unlike mine which are of portraits. He had watched most of the movies the pictures were taken from. He knew who was who. I just thought mine was a pile of rubbish, as I could not relate them to anything. I asked him if he would swap some with mine.

He counteroffered a game, with the stickers as prizes. By the time it was over, the whole of my cards had ended up in his hands. I started to cry. He said he would rescind his pledge, as I was behaving in a way unbecoming of an 'Arada,' an Amaric word close in meaning to ”sleek.”

But all was forgotten when the long-awaited day came. I was taken to a place where everything was big, beautiful and numerous – the National Archives & Library of Ethiopia. The trees, the gardens, buildings and finally the books, with their typical bookish smells, were a dream.

Hats off to my friend, I got one of the few most coveted reads. I dove into the deepest ocean, in a disquieting reflective life one can imagine a new world. A quantum literature travel to a future with an otherwordly technology; the story of a scientist giving his son through a transplant a set of shark gills.

It took quite long to take me out of the ocean of Alexander Belayev’s ”The Amphibious Man,” in an Amharic translation. Yet there was no other book to set alight my or my friend’s kindled science passion. It was the tragedy of having too few places for reading.

Instead, I continued reading mostly the penny dreadful books, melodramatic, often lurid adventures, as I usually sat close to the librarians and started to probe through the pile of books high in demand.

Not my friend. He completely stopped coming to the library, as his reading passion was completely gone as my movie watching was. It was revived for me only when the film adaptation of the Amphibious Man, a 1961 Russian flick, came to town.

It is with great appreciation then that the news of the construction of a grand library came in Addis Abeba. To the teetering book industry, the weak reading culture and the lack of incentives, such initiatives by the City Administration are admirable. The new city library is currently under construction in Arat Kilo and was commenced last year.

But it is not just the reading culture. There is a grave misconception about how children grow up to have an interest in science. It is not in classrooms and laboratories, at least not just there, that their passions are sparked but also in stories told in movies and books. With the spotlight we attach to science and technology in our education system, there is a need to encourage the publication of science fiction books in local languages to kindle the passion among children.

Comic superhero books by Ethiopians, such as "Jember," published in two languages, is an excellent example of how to light children's interest with the wonders of the natural world and what could be.

All forms of fictions are good to write and of course, to read, yet not everyone is fit to read every book. For children, what meets their immense imagination is the bold creativity of science fiction and fantasy, which go beyond the boundaries of today's spacio-temporal limits.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 29,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1074]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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