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Friday, February 8, 2008

Elkie the Librarian

I have been going to the city library most evenings to post or read magazines I'm too cheap to buy. I recognize most of the librarians there and they recognize me. Last night I got to speak briefly with one such librarian and learned that she was German and a big fan and supporter of Pandas Unlimited. A close-up of Taishan, a young panda at the National Zoo, adorns her computer's desktop image.

I had no clue Elkie was German, she doesn't have a pronounced accent like my mother does. "Oh, I do have an accent, especially when I am tired."
When she told me her name I got excited, because I've always like the name Elke, especially as the Germans pronounce it. "Oh, Elke!" I replied.
"No, ElKEE!" she corrected me, with a slight sneer in her eyes. Ok, so Elkie, I'll remember that!

Elkie is an older woman, 60-ish, about my height, very slender with shoulder-lenghth straight hair dyed a medium blonde. She wears the kind of hairstyle I can see myself wearing in ten, 20 years: simple yet elegant. I'm not sure yet whether I'll color my hair or let it grow naturally grey.

Elkie is a big panda fan. She supports Pandas Unlimited and donates to the cause, along with other conservation clubs that support wildlife. "We raised $12,000 from the city alone!" she boasted, quite proud of her dedication.

And then, without asking, she gave me some statistics about pandas I never knew before: that pandas have taken to eating bamboo because that's the one tree that grows so rampantly in their Chinese habitat now, but bamboo lacks the essential proteins that are needed for gestation. This is why so many pandas die after birth: the mother couldn't provide the needed nutrients for the unborn panda. Pandas are born naked and helpless and not completely developed, a "blob" she described it, yet the mother is very tender toward her newborn, very patient and attentive. The US government pays China upward of $1 million per panda to take care of one panda. I wonder what China spends on its pandas?

Elkie translates German panda websites into English when she has time.

I had seen a newborn panda but couldn't remember whether it was at the San Diego Zoo or the National Zoo. It was sometime in the 1990s and I had lived both in California and New Jersey at the time. The line to see the newborn via a webcam outside the panda nursery was long. We had to be quiet and could only stay in the nursery for three minutes to make room for other visitors. The appeal to these cute black-and-white gentle bears is amazing.

Elkie knows all her pandas by name "That was Hua-Mei" she told me, and I saw the little critter via the Pandacam. I take her word for it.

We talked for a while at normal voice, something I try not to do in a library with so many patrons around. But it was obvious that Elkie was excited to talke about her interest, and very passionate about her affection and support of the Panda.

I volunteered my first name. She got excited to and talked a bit more with me, but other customers with more pressing needs took over her time and I promised Elkie I'd talk to her again another time. With time running out for me here in Texas, I don't know if there will be another time, but now that I know Elkie better, I will try to make some time.

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