Written by James Gitau
“It is not everyday – or weekend to be precise- that you encounter a reasonably priced opportunity to interact with various literary, artistic and motivational geniuses of our time!” This was probably the sentiment sprinting through the minds of the vast majority of people who in their thousands thronged the Railways Club grounds that was the venue for the Storymoja Hay Festival 2010.
Neither the early morning chill nor the excruciating afternoon heat could shrivel up and dry out the spirits of the participants in attendance as they made their way from one tent to the other which, in their impressive décor, dotted the grounds and housed various facilitators of the weekend-long event such as Storymoja, Kwani?, Kenya Buzz, British Council, US Embassy, AfriCOG, the ICT Board and Transparency International.
Running counter to the common perception that ‘books are for school’ and the wicked but somewhat fond memory of a textbook bonfire upon completion of one’s final examinations, the event offered a wide array of books based on various facets other than educational that bordered on entertainment and motivation. The same were accompanied with interactions and book signings with and by their authors-both local and international-who provided insight on the writing of the books plus the inspiration, messages and challenges behind the task. Some of these authors were Michela Wrong, Paul Sulivan, Petina Gappah, Tiffany Murray, Doreen Baigana, Muthoni Garland, Sunny Bindra, Phylis Muthoni and Aly Khan Satchu. In addition there was a special session whereby people brought their manuscripts for a quick critique and word of advice on how to achieve their publication aspirations.
The event turned out to be quite the haven for established poets, budding poets and poetry enthusiasts as participants were treated to wide ranging discussions, workshops and performances by the brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah, Sandra Mushi, Sitawa Namwalie, Njeri Wangari, Phylis Muthoni, Stephen Partington, Tony ‘Smitta’ Mochama among numerous other poets.
The art of storytelling was given prominence with various professional storytellers judging competitions in place to discover talent which was in so much abundance, that it rendered the judges’ role unenviable. These competitions were accompanied by workshops and performances by professional storytellers such as Mshai Mwangola, Oluoch Madiang, Cat Weatherill, Katrice Horsely and Eric Omondi.
A number of acts by local and international thespians kept the participants thoroughly entertained. These included the Spirit of the Nation by Kenya Collective based on stories by individuals of their experiences in the 1950s and 60s and the Swahili version of the French play, The Little Prince by a cast from Alliance Francais.
Given the exponential rate at which the country’s social and commercial transactions conducted over the internet is growing, various consultants, media personalities, artists and government officials were at hand to facilitate discussions on how to best exploit this phenomenon. These included Aly Khan Satchu, Mendi Njonjo, Paul Kukubo and James Murua.
A number of discussions sensitized participants on human rights and freedoms and how to protect them from violations. Notable of these were the Minorities in Kenya by Awaaz Magazine, Muslims in Kenya and Britain by the British High Commissioner and one by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya.
Politics being the topic that enjoys the most coverage from the media, was not left out of the equation as various discussions and film screenings were utilized to assess corruption vide the Kikulacho film by Transparency International and Whistle Blowers by Michela Wrong in addition to discussions on the new constitutional order vide the Land Issue by Ibrahim Mwathane and the New Constitution by Hon. Njoki Ndungu. The common thread in these forums was the assertion that bad politics tends to drive out good politics just as bad money tends to drive out good money.
The event was not purely an adult affair as children were treated to innovative songs and games, face painting that left their faces-and hands!-awash with colour, interesting storytelling by Storyhippo and fascinating science experiments by University of Nairobi students that left them raising their young eyebrows in utter amazement. The most memorable of their treats were the lively Under the Sea performance and art craft fair by Kenya Collective-inspired by the book Matatu from Watamu Drove into the Sea-that sought to raise marine environment awareness and the Publish Your Own Book in Two Hours drive facilitated by Ryan Lewis. Parents on the other hand were afforded a number of discussions in which they explored the mechanics of constructing a steady relationship with their children and filtering their influences. This was in addition to learning how to assess and work with their children’s environment.
Various caterers and beverage companies offered tasty bitings and cold drinks for the rumbling tummies and parched throats throughout the event.
International, inclusive, intellectual, crazy fun is what would, in a nutshell, aptly describe the Storymoja Hay Festival 2010. Till next year, make a point of keeping your read on 🙂