Oduor Jagero with Noo Saro-wiwa
Oduor Jagero with Noo Saro-wiwa

Last week was the Uganda International Writers’ Conference hosted in Kampala, Uganda with many of the most well known writers on the continent. Jagero Oduor the Kenyan writer of True Citizen gives us a run down of how it went down for him.

As a budding writer with only a title out, you feel a rush of blood when asked to join great writers; not just great writers but some whose blood(s) are a trickle of great names such as Okot P’Bitek or Ken Saro-Wiwa. Add that to fact that you’re about to meet Prof. Zakes Mda, veteran writer with sixteen books to his name, or the Granta genius, Chinelo Okparanta, or Africa’s powerhouse Makumbi, you’re sure to get a bit of jitters. But again you say well , well, am the grand son of Ngugi Wa Thiong’i, or well well I’m your nameless writer, born without a silver spoon in my mouth but with a golden pen somewhere between my fingers.

You touch down at the (in)famous Entebbe Airport and roll down through the sweltering Sunday heat towards the capital. Fairway Hotel, a humble, artsy establishment, tucked in the heart of Kampala City, gives you a warm hug. The night quickly melts away into dawn, which then freezes into a yellow and mellow ball we call sunrise. City birds sing for no apparent reason, may be they’re just happy that worms have not devised ways of protecting themselves. Traffic is abuzz. Life in Kampala is a rat race.

Soon I will meet the pen-masters. Sometimes I am loud – blame the Luo in me – but sometimes I opt to have a glorious time with those gracious enough to share a laughter with me.

Juliane Okot Bitek with Jagero
Juliane Okot Bitek with Jagero

Juliane Okot Bitek

I’ve always had this image of her father as Scandinavian tall but as dark as charcoal and with the the booming Acholi laughter. I imagine he’d a tongue that curls and twists in sarcasm.

So I meet a woman after his own blood. We spent a lot of time with her. We talked about Acholi and Luo or Lwoo and Luo. It turns out she was born in Kisumu and calls herself Anyango nya Kisumo. We digressed into writing; she’s a fine poet, writes humorously like her old man. We further took a tangent and talked about beer and Canada, war and love, and on the last day, we took a hike together with Prof. Zakes. She gave me a scarf she later took back.

She’s sweet, smiles broadly. Is it to flaunt her white teeth? Thanks for the love grin emoticon

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi with Jagero
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi with Jagero

Nansubuga Makumbi

I first met her on Facebook. Now I know Facebook is a con. Facebook is not honest. Facebook is conceited. Facebook introduces her as this meek, introverted soul. Then I meet her and the first thing I see is the concavity of her smile and the funkiness of her hairstyle and geekiness of her specks and feminine-depth of her voice. Omera this is the granddaughter of Elieza Mayombwe Makumbi and the daughter of Kizito Makumbi – a lineage of weight and the strength and the courage to pass on weighty stuff. She left early to go back to the withering cold at Lancaster University. And she missed a zebra shackled by silvery fetters (Read hotel gifts) . One of these days, I’ll knock at the her Manchester home and when she opens the door, I will say, “I bring you the cheetah from Fairway.”

Shadreck Chikoti

Who saw those swanky Malawian traditional wear he wore throughout the conference? Who thinks that he was the glittery conference poster boy? I asked him about them swanky African wear. Chikoti did not immediately answer. Instead, he shrugged a little, took a quick glance at himself, and said, “My wife designs all these. And this particular one, she took some time on it because she was doing this for me.” I say “Wow!” and he shrugs again as if he’s saying “thats the ma’ queen, you know – if you know what am saying.”

I would like to meet him again.

Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire with Jagero
Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire with Jagero

Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire

One hell of a guy! I like to call him the Kampala’s art fixer. He assumes no power and clout. But those who are aware of his influence are also aware that he’s just a humble soul. While Chikoti is a smooth operator, this man is a smooth talker, in fact, a charmer. He kept sliding away from the conference but when we met, we talked about literary prices and many things. God bless your heart brother. Now that they denied you the visa to go to the UK, come to Kenya, see the famous city in the sun. Come see our elephants and zebras. Come witness the 7th wonder – wild beast migration.

Noo Saro-Wiwa

Noo Saro-Wiwa should have been a ruffian – at least according to her book. But no. She’s not a typical Nigerian. She is cool,she is jolly. She is likeable. But Noo stood me up. Juliane is a witness. Moses is a witness – even the waiter heard her say… “Am gonna sleep”. I had planned to use my dinner allowance to cater for her wine at the Speke Hotel while we watch soccer. But she swung that sword across my heart and killed my night.

As a villager from Kenya, I could hardly keep up with her complicated British accent. She swallowed her words more than she did her food. But it’s okay. I finally see the living part of the great Ken Saro-wiwa.

I almost wanted to touch her so I can say I touched Saro-Wiwa. She gave me a hug, thrice I think. I hugged Ken Saro-Wiwa thrice, I think.

Chinelo Okparanta

I had never heard of her before until I saw her and it was like a de javu. I am sure she is the hot Igbo queen I saw in a Nigerian film some seven years ago. We hardly talked much. We’ll meet again.

Danson Sylvester Kahyana

Quick thinker. A witty chap who made some of my lunches enjoyable. His passion on Uganda politics revealed so much to an outsider like me. He reminds me of Dr. Tom Odhiambo of Nairobi University.

For the rest, keep calm! I have just taken a water break.