“The library is a special place. It is the church of knowledge,” said Ali Abdonnaser, 48, of Florence. “They provide priceless help here.”
Originally from the Central African Republic, Ali knows several languages including French, Arabic and multiple African languages like Houssa and Sango. When he came to the United States on a student visa 12 years ago, he knew English, but wanted to improve. Ali compared learning English to exercising. He said at first it is hard and hurts, but then it gets easier.
“He would check out the audiobook and the print version of the book, so he could follow along and improve his pronunciation and learn how to read English,” said Ed McLaughlin, a reference associate at Florence and a man Ali calls brother.
“I trust Ed,” Ali said. “He helped me when I applied for a green card. A lawyer wanted to charge me $500. Ed printed out the form and helped me fill it out for free.”
Ed also assisted Ali when he wanted to buy a plane ticket to return home. Ed helped him shop for the ticket, compare prices and print out his ticket.
A certified international specialist at DHL, Ali earned his bachelor degree at a small university in his home country. He started his master’s degree in accounting and business management at a university on the Ivory Coast on an international scholarship. His studies were interrupted by a student strike protesting the country’s government. Ali returned to the Central African Republic where he was able to complete his degree at a newly opened school.
He ran his family’s commercial trucking company, which delivered goods between African countries. Today Ali owns a company that imports vehicles into his home country.
“People here (the Florence branch) are ready to help. They do everything they can,” said Ali. “They are always sharing their knowledge.
“I have made friends here,” Ali added. “They are always smiling and welcoming. You feel like you are home. By the way they act, I feel like they are saying to me, ‘You are family. You belong here.’ When I am stressed or homesick, I come here (the Florence branch) and find a piece of my country, like the music (on cd).”
Ali said he feels safe and secure at the library, something that cannot be said of his homeland. Due to the unrest there, his mother and sisters live in the neighboring country of Cameroon.
“There is too much civil war, injustice, insurrection and rebellion. The country is going backward,” said Ali. “The United States is a safe harbor. Americans are tolerant. If Americans argue, they can put things aside and work together. In my country, if you disagree, they shoot you.
“The ruler of my country runs it like it is his own property. Soldiers kills civilians,” Ali said. “The U.S. is the best example of development. It is a beautiful flower. You have to work for security, peace and happiness in my country.”
He added that the Central African Republic is very wealthy, however 20 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the wealth. Something Ali considers very wrong.
“Here the government takes your money, but gives it back to the country. In my country, the government takes all the money for themselves,” said Ali.
Ali said he finds peace in the silence at the library. He likened a visit to the library to doing yoga.
“(The library) provides inspiration. Everyone here is motivated by knowledge,” said Ali.
A U.S. citizen since 2012, Ali’s original goal when he came here was to further his education and expose himself to a greater variety of knowledge. He plans to earn his MBA at Northern Kentucky University.
“I couldn’t pay back what they have done for me (at the Florence library),” Ali said. “Thank you so much for everything.”
A Circulation Assistant at the Florence Branch, Suzanne Yowler started her career in journalism and public relations. She established her free-lance writing business after her first son was born almost 20 years ago. English was always Suzanne’s best subject and she considers herself a Grammar Queen.