Written by Savvy Kenya
Savvy at the SHFK 2010Written by Savvy KenyaThe Storymoja Hay Festival Kenya took place between 1st and 3rd October, 2010 at the Railway Club in Nairobi. I attended the festival for the three days, and I didn’t even manage to catch all the events! There were over 90 events lined up, and the who’s who in the literally world was there. From local (Kenyan) to international authors, poets, journalists, playwrights and artists, the public was spoilt for choice. Kids too, had numerous activities that they could get involved in, including a chance to publish their own book in two hours.The events were scheduled to take place between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the evening sessions were taking place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. There were various tents pitched on the Railway Club grounds where the sessions were taking place. There was the U.S Embassy Tent, the Kwani Tent, British Council Marquee, Tandaa ICT board Tent, Africog Marquee, Storymoja Tent, Kenya Buzz Tent and the Transparency International Tent among others.Friday 1st OctoberI arrived at the grounds early Friday morning, and the first event I attended was the story telling session at the Tandaa ICT board tent. There was a storytelling competition that was going on throughout the festival, with the eventual winners being announced on Sunday, the last day of the festival. There were various young people, mostly from colleges and universities telling their stories in an effort to win a fully paid trip to the USA. Some of the stories were downright funny and involving, others were just okay but either way time flew so fast. It was almost 3pm when the judges finally announced those who were still in the running for the final prize and would be coming on Saturday for the semifinals.I took a lunch break then and walked around the grounds, had an incident where a bird tried (and succeeded) in stealing my plate of food, I had no time to react. One minute I’m holding my plate looking for a spot to sit, the next my food is scattered all over, plate and spoon lying somewhere on the ground. That was when I realized it must have been a bird. Don’t ask me if it was an eagle or crow though, I’m not much of a details person. This was the first time I’d been attacked by a bird.The afternoon session at the Tandaa ICT Board Tent was about Facebook (online) hookups and was moderated by James Murua (columnist with The Star- Nairobi Living and blogger.) The recently crowned King of Facebook, Stephen Musyoka (Face off with Safaricom Live), was there to talk about his experience. The discussion centered on the impact social media was having on the modern lifestyle, and how people were meeting partners online. Relationships have begun and ended on the internet.They also discussed other social sites, including twitter (of which am a proud addict) and professional sites like LinkedIn where career minded people could interact and recommend each other. They warned against the use of indecent language or uploading pictures that spoke volumes, saying that anything you write online could possibly last 30 years and anyone with google is privy to that information. Even prospective employers have been known to search for ‘dirt’ online. Careful what you put up on the internet; that’s the moral.I took another walk round the grounds, greeting friends and strangers alike, and getting the chance to interact with some of the famous people in the festival, stopping just short of asking for autographs and taking pictures…well…OK…I did take some pictures but I didn’t ask for autographs.There was a tweeting competition that had been launched during the festival, sponsored by the Tandaa ICT board. The aim was to describe that it mean “to be African” in 140 characters. The tag to be used on twitter was (#tobeafrican) and the judging would take place on Sunday, the last day of the festival. I joined the competition there and then because am currently addicted to twitter, and because I knew there were many things that define us as Africans and I wanted to tell that.As the evening sessions started, I decided to attend Aly Khan Satchu’s talk at the Tandaa ICT board tent. He’s a banker and runs the site www.rich.co.ke. I had heard of him even before this, he holds monthly talks called Mindspeak at Silverbird at Prestige Center, Ngong Road, Nairobi and I had always wanted to attend. I had also interacted with him on twitter (alykhansatchu) and wanted to meet him in person.I was impressed by his talk. He’s a fluent and captivating speaker. He talked about opportunities available today that were not there just a few years ago because of the internet and ICT in general. He talked about entrepreneurship and online marketing and many other things, and we asked him questions on how he became so rich and successful. Maybe am paraphrasing here, but that’s the general idea. He said if you have an idea you want to implement and succeed, you have to put in 4 years of 8 hour days. He also recommended books that we ought to read if we were serious about becoming successful. At the end, we posed for photos with him, and I remember joking about eyebrows never aging. I mean, his hair is a little gray but his eyebrows are totally black.I then dashed to the British Council Marquee where Benjamin Zephaniah was performing. Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet from the UK who has published many poetry books and holds 13 honorary degrees amongst his many other accomplishments. The first thing that struck me about him is his dreadlocks; they are long, way past the knee. He switched between a British and Jamaican accent, and had the audience laughing and captivated with every piece he performed. I recall him performing “Macho Man”, a poem about his father who told him, “son, there are men and there are men, and I want you to be a man.” Words are not enough to describe Benjamin Zephaniah, who is dyslexic and left school at 13. He ended up spending stints in prison and that is where he first began writing. I’ll definitely be looking for his books, which include poetry for adults, kids and some novels he’s written about the lives of teenagers. SaturdayI was looking forward to Saturday, but I came in a little late and just managed to catch the end of the first session at the British Marquee, where they were talking Muslims in Kenya, Muslims in Britain. The British High Commissioner, Rob Macaire chaired the session as they discussed the effect the new constitution will have on the Muslim community in Kenya and the experience of Muslims in the UK.I spent the afternoon at the Kwani Tent, where there was a discussion on New Kenyan Poetry. The poets in the discussion were Phyllis Muthoni (Lilac Uprising), Stephen Partington (How to Euthanise a cactus) and Njeri Wangari (Mines and Mind Fields: My Spoke Words). The session was moderated by poet Khainga of Pen International. I loved the session! It was a lively discussion of many issues, among them the difference between spoken word and written poetry, and whether the writer of the poem is not always the best person to perform it. There is an ‘uprising’ of poetry events in Nairobi, where anyone can perform any poem, even if they wrote it or not. So there was the question of who owns the poem, the one who wrote it or the one who performs it, and does the performer has to ask for permission before reading out a peace that is not his/hers? The poets then spoke of their challenges in publishing, inspiration, new ideas… there was so much to talk about. They each read a piece from their books, and the audience was to interpret it and ask questions. One poem that touched me in particular was Stephen Partington’s (I can’t recall the title) but it talked about post election violence, and the other side of the violence people did not consider, what if you had to be that man on the street, the one with the machete or stone, hurling it at another? Its ending went something like, “…don’t be that man, but if you have to, then be.”Njeri Wangari is lucky to be both a written poet and performer. She captures her audience with the way she performs her poetry and I was lucky to be in the audience that day. We had a chance to ask the poets questions, and I remember in particular asking Stephen Partington how he came up with the title of his book, How to Euthanise a Cactus. The answer is something you have to ask him when you meet him someday.I took a lunch break then, being careful this time not to have my meal snatched by the birds circling overhead. At the food tent where I was having lunch, I had the pleasure of meeting Petina Gappah, whose short story Before Tonde, After Tonde had discussed in a writing class I had attended sometime back. I did take a picture of her, though she took a picture of us too…her fans! We gladly posed for it. We includes some of my friends who were part of the same writing class. Sadly, I had to leave early that Saturday and did not manage to attend any evening session events, but I had decided to come for the Sunday session where the judging of the tweeting competition was to take place.SundayAs nervous as any competitor is just before the winners are announced, so was I. The panel of judges included Wamathai (blogger and poet), James Murua (columnist and blogger- Nairobi Living), the poet Pepe Hez, journalist Anitha Sethi and celebrity Panelist Jane Bussman (South Park writer and author of The Worst Date Ever in which she writes about her colourful and fearless journey around Uganda with John Prendergast as he attempts conflict resolution with LRA leader Joseph Kony) .The morning session at the Tandaa ICT Board Tent was where the tweeting competition was taking place, and it first began by a recap on social media by Marcus Olang and Kevin Manjoro. They were the moderators of the session. The talked about Facebook and Twitter and modern social trends.The awards were in three categories: The panellist award, the people’s award and the celebrity award. The panellist picked what they thought was their best tweet, the people’s award depended on the tweet that was Retweeted the most (similar to Facebook’s like) and Jane Bussman (the celebrity) picked her best tweet. The winners were as follows:People’s award: Savvykenya (You guessed it, that’s me.) My winning tweet was: “#tobeafrican is two speak at least two languages, the native tongue and the colonial one. Every African is bilingual.”Celebrity award: soul_fool. Her winning tweet: “Wife number 4 in her Vitz, looks up at a poster on Uhuru Highway which says, achana na mpango wa kando. #tobeafrican”Panelist award: woozie_m. His winning tweet: “To know your children have rights and have it in your mind, so you slap them in the face before the world slaps their behind #tobeafrican”There were many other events taking place on Sunday, including the announcement of the final winner of the Storytelling session at the American Embassy Tent, Jane Bussman’s discussion of The Worst Date Ever at the Africog Marquee and others but I was not able to attend any other session that Sunday.I’m definitely looking forward to next years Storymoja Hay Festival.