Dated Nov 2006.
Yes, penned this almost 8 years ago. Time does fly.
Ex-student leader turned politician – Kingwa Kamencu
Two Caine Prize winners – Binyavanga Wainaina & Yvonne Odhiambo
Celebrity blogger – James Murua
The Kenyan in me just had to share this real account of my afternoon with self-exiled, Nobel Laureate, soon to be president of Nigeria(for real!).
To start with I must digress….the previous day I was meant to have coffee with an ex-student leader turned politician. Sounds familiar? She is also a writer but she stood up as she just had to fit a suit for a big event next day. Imagine my shock when I turned up for the event in my usual shirt and trouser!
The event which was dubbed “Moderated session” (what’s with the NGO-speak?) was meant to start at midday but was at last minute in our very African way pushed to 2.30pm .Had things to do at the office as I am just an ordinary Kenyan struggling to make an honest living (navumilia) but by 2pm was to ready to roll. I could not miss this for anything! Driver picked me up promptly as scheduled, we passed through the bank (grants to be signed, art is expensive!), then went to British Council to pick up my boss (meeting for more cash. clearly art is expensive) then proceeded to The GoDown which is funded by the Ford Foundation (clearly mzungu money hard at work for Kenyan art but what’s that about who pays the piper calls the tune?).
Anyway riding in a car with two Caine Prize winners (big literary award-cash prize=0.7M) and also the only celebrity blogger in town must be what they call fringe benefits of my job!
Get to The GoDown and as usual I’m amused by the fact that almost everyone here has dreadlocks (fad, trend or arty?). Polite meet and greet then ensures and there are more art big shots in attendance from film and soaps producers to globe-trotting writers to university dons all psyched to meet The Man.
Out of the blue or so it seemed, The Man appeared and just like magic digital cameras and camera phones were unleashed (How else would you make people believe?) to capture the moment with The Man.
After a walk around The GoDown (practice for the presidency?) we are the ushered into the boardroom which is in a photo gallery (it’s an art world thing).I pick a seat as far away from the Man (mkenya wa kawaida only here to be a fly on the wall).The Man walks in and shock on me, people stand in awe then he tells us to seat. President anyone?
The session started with round table introductions. I chocked on mine – The Man does not know of Kwani!, Kenya’s biggest literary journal? Clearly homework is for the rest of us. I had tried to Google The Man but jambonet (as usual) let me down!
A powerful opening speech by my boss set the tone and the questions posed to the Man varied from how do you write? When do you write? Who do you write for? To humor, politics, sheng, structure of language, creative process all which the Man answered with wit, candor and an amazing show of brain power for a 72-year old.
Time flew really fast and was thoroughly enjoying being a fly on the wall till the Man’s chaperone brought the talk to an abrupt end thus bringing me crashing back to earth. Now I know why they call it a “moderated session”.
An impromptu autograph session then followed and it degenerated into a free for all photo-op. You should have seen everyone run around the table to position themselves for a photo with the Man. Then as suddenly as he had appeared the Man was off, most likely to meet another group of awe-struck Kenyans.
After the expected tea and bitings, it was an opportunity for the writers to sit and talk shop while for me an Art Outsider, it was back to by daily routine, its 5’oclock,got to get home, how to beat the jam and such mundane stuff. But for a couple of hours I had been an Art V.I.P and I think one could get used to this!
The Man is tall, medium-built, and bespectacled, with an afro and bushy beard (100% white).No crazy arty look. (He is dressed in white shirt and trouser and half coat).His voice is medium-pitch, he has a ready smile and even readier scorn (clearly genius has no patience).He has an amazing memory, can switch languages at ease and is a natural comedian (quite a contrary to his serious books!).He struck me as a typical guka (grandpa) – fussy, short-tempered, and self-opinionated, stuck in his ways but with his heart in the right place.
The Man has been approached by a very popular party in Nigeria (5m registered in two days and the party is not even registered) to run as its presidential candidate. He says he will run not because he wants to but just to prove a point to Obasanjo! (In Africa? Yeah right!)
Wole Soyinka has confirmed attendance to the 2014 Storymoja Hay Festival.
His name is pronounced SHO-YI-NKA.
GOD BLESS KENYA!