I am not a huge fan of terrorists. Its just not my scene. I report on the social aspect of the human story. Birthday parties. Weddings. Literature. National Days of countries in Kenya, launches of products. You will never see me at the front line of a major news story unless you see me covering a wedding of a prominent personality that doesn’t want to be in they paper. Nothing death defying really. You won’t see me when there is a major fire or shoot our or disaster area. Never ever.
This past weekend was going to be following in my tradition of reporting for the social pages of the newspaper I work for The Star. The list of events was huge. My focus for the weekend however was the Storymoja Hay Festival 2013. It was going to bigger and better.
The truth is that I am really happy with what the team at Storymoja have been able to do in th last few years. Its no mean feat. The Nairobi International Book Fair run by the Kenya Publishers Association has been around for 16 years and has never been able to give us the same buzz as the Storymoja one. Our friends at Kwani? Started with their Literature festivals as well but they just don’t seem to excite people as they did a decade ago. Meanwhile the Storymoja Hay festival seems to only getting strong and strong as the years go by.
This year started officially on Thursday evening with the annual Party with Stars. This is an event which festival director Dr Paula Kahumbu and her hands off our elephants team were at the forefront. This made me feel like I was in any major capital in the world as we were treated “vacuous models” speeches from actress Bai Ling and model Christie Brinkley . Bai Ling informed us that she had adopted three new babies – elephant babies. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry in shock. Brinkley on her part seeing as she had an audience of writers and fans of writers went on to give us story ideas that would work for in Hollywood. Story 1. A sort of Elephant model for Finding Nemo. Story 2. A sort of Harrison Ford investigating the trail that the elephants ivory industry (personally I would prefer Shaft doing that but its just me). It’s always a pleasure for writers to be given ideas that must surely work in real life for them who are not slaving behind keyboards.
It wasn’t all fun and games though. The evening was quite good with Storymoja supremo (always wanted to use this in a sentence… self high five) b>Muthoni GarlandDr Christian Turner with short and fluffy remarks (short as in short not short as in Kenyan politico short) about the festival. Also on the program was a taste of Sitawa Namwalie’s newest work Silence is a womanwith a rendition by Mumbi Kaigwa. And Dr Auma Obama doing a Q&A with Muthoni leaving me to wonder if perhaps writers too want to become the next David Frost now that he has left us.
It was an outstanding evening and the Friday was just as good with over 3,000 kids showing up at the festival to enjoy the events. Alongside the many kid friendly events there were events for writers who want to better their craft on different topics from well known people. They included Nigerian/US writer Teju Cole this years poster boy as well as Ghanaian Nii Ayikwei Parkes, South African Zukiswa Wanner, Kenyan Daniel Muli (from Just-a-band)and many more.
The evening of the Friday saw the writers party at
Muthoni’s House a secret location. This party saw me spend time with some of the more well known names in the literature business. Old pals and new were made. Billy Kahora (Kwani), Daniel Waweru (Kenya Imagine), Binyavanga Wainaina (One Day I will write about this place), Wally Mongane Serote (Revolutions), Teju Cole (Open City) with his awesome significant other Karen, Dr Auma Obama (Sometimes Life Happens), Atinuke (Number 1 Car spotter), … This list is not exhaustive. I eventually got home to my bed at around 3am when the gracious hosts Wallace and Muthoni Garland told us to leave.
The Saturday saw me at the Louise Leakey Auditorium at the National Museum for Dr Mukesh Kapila‘s as he gave this year’s Wangari Maathai Memorial lecture dubbed Against A Tide of Evil. He seemed to the best man to give such a lecture as he was working for the UN at some of the worst hot spots; Rwanda during the 1993 genocide, Sudan during the Darfur massacres, the Tsunami in 2005. His lecture was well received although to be honest I was a bit the worse for wear after only a few hours sleep.
As the lecture ended a lady stood up and told the audience to avoid the Westgate mall as there seemed to be a robbery in progress. I was taken aback as if thieves had decided to steal from the mall I wasn’t to be bothered as I was not an interested party.
The next session was the Teju Cole discussing with John Sibi-Okumu one about his experience. Cole is a brilliant speaker (He said Nairobi is better that Lagos so you can understand my bias.) My twitter feed was filling up with this Westgate thing and eventually I had to start concentrating on what I was hearing from a few kilometres away.
As I followed my feed I suddenly remembered that lecture that Dr Kapila gave earlier in the day. People can be evil dude!
The festival was to be cancelled when the gravity of the situation came to be known.
I am not happy with those Al Shabaab fellows and killing some of our best sons and daughters but we must not allow them to try and make us change our lives too drastically.
I’ll be back next year. And Wole Soyinka promises to be here as well. I’ll hope to see you; It’s going to be legendary. Legendarier even.