The Storymoja Hay Festival has been running in Nairobi, Kenya in partnership with Hay Festivals for the last four years. This year, when I was invited to Hay on Wye for the 25th anniversary of the Hay Festival, I did a mini glory dance inside, positively salivating over the idea of spending 10 days surrounded by book lovers, writers and the most illustrious thinkers of our time in one beautiful space.
After scouring the weather forecasts for Hay on Wye and simultaneously stuffing sweaters into my gumboots in a bid to try and save space in my suitcase for books, I was ready to go. I had been told two things about Hay on Wye. The first is that it rains a lot. The second is that it is a book lovers paradise….there are over 30 bookshops, and all in a town with only one shop selling phone credit (which by the way is closed on Tuesdays). As I hear my fellow Kenyans gasp – yes books trump phone credit….Dorothy, we are not in Nairobi! In just one week of being here, I have probably put on about 5 kilos of weight – in books that is. Ahem!
Well since I arrived in this beautiful little town a little over a week ago, the sun has been out every day, and you can feel the air around the town buzzing with Festival fever. The festival site is enormous, and bursting at the seams with promise of delights to come, and I don’t mean that lightly…really, for a book geek like me, this is a bit of a wet dream (can I say that?). On my hot list of events that I am excited to attend; the Michael Morpurgo library lecture, the conversation between Salman Rushdie and Deepa Mehta, listening to the session about bipolarity with Stephen Fry and of course Sir Terry Prachett.
The site boasts tiny munchkin lounger chairs, giant psychedelic mushrooms and a sparkling star lined roof for the stage in the kids area, to giant venues seating over 1500, a champagne bar, a rainforest tipi and much much more.
What is simply astounding is how big of an operation this is, and how it all seems to work just as it is supposed to, and with an attention to detail that borders on the slightly intimidating. Though when you see the team that puts it all together and the sense of community with everybody involved, it seems to all make sense. The people around Hay put their whole soul into putting it together, and come back every year to do the same – much as we do back home as well. There are even stewards who have been volunteering at the Hay Festival for the last 20 years!
I am looking forward to absorbing it all in, and getting my fingernails dirty learning about all the little nitty gritty things that go into putting together a festival that has been around for 25 years. Whilst we at the Storymoja Hay Festival have been running for only 4 years, there is one thing in common with both festivals; that is the passion and commitment to bringing the world of books and ideas alive for festival-goers.
So, I am off to buy myself a Quentin Blake illustrated lounger chair, but do I say (an inside joke for Kenyans), so that I have somewhere to rest in between dashing from one delicious event to the other. As for the sun, I am crossing my fingers it sticks around – I didn’t end up carrying my gumboots after all.
by Aleya Kassam