Sunday, 4th November 2018
I thought I was calm and composed about this trip. I wasn’t telling the world about it nor was I counting down the hours to the minute I would board the plane. However, last night, I woke up thrice, switched on the lights, then went back to sleep. I woke again a few hours later and checked my phone; it read 5:33 a.m. I hurried to wake my Dad and informed him he was late for the morning prayer.
My mother asked, “How come we haven’t heard the prayer going on in the mosque?”
“Perhaps they are done,” I answered.
“I don’t think so,” my father said, checking his phone. “It’s only 3:33 a.m.”
“Really? But I heard the prayer going on in the mosque! And my phone confirmed it,” I argued.
“It’s 3:33. Go back to sleep.” My father insisted.
Anxiety. I should have known that staying calm for me is impossible. But would you blame me? This was my first time to be invited to an international writers’ workshop: The African Writers Trust (AWT) Publishing Fellowship programme. The first time meeting writers from different parts of Africa. The first time going to Uganda. The first time meeting the writing/publishing gurus. The first time boarding a plane. Keep calm? Not a word in my dictionary.
The flight was amazing, apart from the dizziness whenever the plane bumped a bit. My mother had said I would be fine during my return flight. I wasn’t. During both flights I was still holding onto the chair, thinking of all the things that could go wrong, yet still, I loved it. I realized how underrated the clouds are because I couldn’t stop wondering how nice it would be to touch them and feel them.
We arrive at Country Lake Resort Garuga in Entebbe around lunch hour. I quickly go to my room to drop off my luggage. The room is big; the bed bigger. I could have five mini-mes sleeping in the same bed. There is a small, lovely balcony that faces tall trees and small plants. Perfect place for a cup of coffee. Only that I don’t drink coffee and I am scared of being alone in this room, and particularly, on this balcony. The silence is deafening and the trees seem to be whispering. I don’t know to whom, precisely, but they are definitely creepy.
I take a walk around the big resort and it is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. This place is the definition of art and nature. Definitely the best place to bring writers. Everyone should see this place. It faces the majestic, grand Lake Victoria, and words cannot explain how breath-taking it is. Someone should sponsor me a ‘vacation’ to write a book here. The air just clears one’s head and that obviously makes it the best place to think, contemplate and come up with the best ideas. I salute the one who chose this location for this workshop!
I go back into my room as soon as the sun sets.
Now, here’s the thing, I come from a big family so there was never a time I was ever by myself. At first, I was excited about experiencing being alone, but darkness has set in and sleep doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon, despite my exhaustion. My heart keeps racing and I am a nervous wreck right now like a character in a thriller story; so much suspense with no climax. I’m just staring around in all corners, saying lots of duas and breathing deeply under my blanket. Qur’an is playing from my laptop in the background. The lights are on. I want to sleep now.
Monday, 5th November
Last night I dreamt of people breaking into my room. I curse anxiety. Wouldn’t let me enjoy the serenity of this place. I leave the room around 6:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise. A divine scene. Stunning. Spectacular. It is so beautiful I want to cry. I haven’t felt this kind of warmth in a very long time – the chirping of the birds, the calm lake, the silence, the peace. But today is the D-day. The start of the workshop and I have to fully prepare for it.
It is not every day you meet legends especially all in one place. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, founding publisher of The Indigo Press in the UK, Demere Kitunga, a publisher, mentor and translator from Tanzania and Catherine Mark, a writer and a poet from the UK as well. Mama Goretti who is the founder of AWT. All these fellows are from Africa, and all with very valuable experience, knowledge, and mistakes to learn from.
There are 18 Fellows from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania, and I am among the three Kenyans who were selected, and the youngest. This calls for a celebration.
Everyone introduces themselves and what brought them to the workshop. We have publishers in the room, editors, writers, poets and trainers. I am overwhelmed with all the stories from everyone. No one has had it easy. No one just woke up and had an empire ready. It is really, REALLY inspiring and it definitely makes me more hopeful for the future, and that of my group in Mombasa, ‘Creative Writers League’.
The magnificent Ellah Wakatama Allfrey starts us off on the editors’ role and the different kinds of editors in the publishing house. I am amazed. There are so many things I had NO idea of. For example, I never knew there were so many different editors each with their own specific role. Or that even in poetry, there’s a specific way of arranging the poems such that they are in sync with each other and flow perfectly. The group works are mind-blowing and eye-opening. For the rest of the day, we carry on with ‘The Life Cycle of the Book’ and many other interesting issues about bringing a book to life. The food is tasty. The interactions are hilarious and lovely!
I am exhausted but what I’ve learnt in this single day is more than I ever taught myself in all these years as a writer.
Tuesday, 6th November
It rained heavily last night and there was thunder too. I was scared, of course. When one of our sweet facilitators mentioned how she hid under the bed and was praying desperately when she heard the thunder because they don’t have thunder where she lives, I’m relieved that I’m not alone.
Today, we critically analyzed some short stories and it was so remarkable how you notice a lot more things when you read a story out loud and break it down into chunks and pieces. Even more interesting is how each one of us view the same things in very different ways; and how one’s favorite story turns out to be the least liked for someone else.
We learn a lot more on Editors Roles, Structure, Responsibilities, Planning and several other important aspects of editing.
Wednesday, 7th November
I am a regular morning walker now, and I got a partner to watch the sunrise with. It was the only thing I kept asking everyone about. Have you seen the sunrise?! Oh! you don’t know what you’re missing! So, Racheal, the Workshop Administrator joined me. Then she joined me for the evening walks. It wasn’t just about the walks though, it was more about the deep talks we had. Racheal and I connected immediately, and I really appreciated it because I rarely have such profound bonds with people.
The learning is going on. A lot of questions, discussions and comments. Every creative needs such a space, honestly. This is like meeting your long- lost family because you automatically belong. You find your people, and you understand one another. How beautiful is that!
Thursday, 8th November
Mama sent me an email via my sister because she was worried. She couldn’t get me on phone the whole day. This is despite me informing her that the WIFI was poor, and I have little access to the internet. But I get it. Anxiety runs in the family.
Today, I come to the realization that we, as creatives, have the same similar struggles despite living in different countries and having different backgrounds. One of the Fellows mentioned he would charge USD1 for a full-day training, yet only five people came. And I was like, ‘same here, bro, same here.’ Another lady also mentioned the same struggle of acquiring trainees for her writing workshops. It is such a shame that we have so much talent within us to share, but we’re forced to sit on it because the training is ‘expensive.’
In the afternoon we meet with the British Council Creative Arts Programme participants at a different resort, in Entebbe. It was nice since they had visual artists and graphic designers that we didn’t have in our group. A great networking opportunity for everyone. Lots of laughter, pictures and sharing of contacts.
Friday, 9th November
Adrenaline. There’s something about it that I love. The thrill of it – like a sky-diving feeling. Two of the Fellows are ahead of us, Hiwot from Ethiopia and Lucky Grace from Rwanda. It’s their first time on the boda-boda, and you can see the tension on their faces. I laugh because even if I have been on the boda-boda before, I’m still scared of it. I’m seated with Fatma from Sudan, who has also never boarded one. I feel like the hero in this case. Behind us, is Racheal, and Abu Amirah from Mombasa, who are used to boda-bodas. I ask the boda-boda guy to go faster; just for the thrill of it. Fatma screams, “Do you want to kill us!”
I always thought I was an introvert until I met Hiwot and Fatma. The other night we sat by the Sunset Deck, watching the stars, and I was talking a lot until I realized how quiet the two of them were. Each was just staring into the horizon, each in their own world. I was the noise maker and I’ve never really been a noise maker with anyone except people I’m really comfortable with. Man, I need a different identity. I am not introvert!
Anyway, so Fatma asks me if we can do the Titanic Pose as the boda-boda speeds on, and we stretch our arms open. She is learning fast- she doesn’t seem to be as scared as she was before.
We are heading to Kampala and the journey seems long. Racheal, who is Ugandan, volunteered to be our tour guide and take us for shopping. Kampala pretty much looks like Nairobi. From the crowds, to the chaos, to the jam. The JAM! It took us two hours to get back to Entebbe. The Jam was so bad the driver would frequently switch off the engine as we waited.
This was our last day of the training. The week went so fast or maybe it was just too wonderful it should have lasted a month? It was sad parting ways with fierce individuals, lovely souls and very hardworking people. The Ugandans checked out the same day, leaving the international visitors who are to check out the next day.
Saturday, 10th November
We, the Kenyans, are leaving this morning together with the Tanzanians. Hiwot, Racheal and Lucky Grace came to say goodbye. Fatma was asleep so we didn’t get to say farewell to her.
I wish I could stay longer at this place. The solace I feel here is tremendous. Psychiatrists and psychologists should prescribe a visit to this place as part of the therapy sessions. Like mandatory vacation at the Country Lake Resort Garuga-Uganda.
I have learnt a lot from our great facilitators and honestly, from all the Fellows. I was quite moved by everyone’s passion to make a difference in their respective countries, and especially, for the facilitators, who came from far just to give back to the society. Mama Goretti and her AWT team did everything so perfectly, no one could complain. I mean, this is the most organized and timely event/workshop I’ve ever attended, special thanks to Racheal for ensuring that anxious me, had nothing to worry about.
Our trip to the airport is rather quiet. I remember when we were coming to Entebbe and the three of us (Kenyans) had EVERYTHING to talk about. We were so excited and thrilled, we talked all the way.
KK (Kingwa) comments on how silent we are in contrast to how we came. We all laugh. We are already feeling nostalgic about the place and all the people we met. Most importantly, there’s a lot of restructuring, planning and changes to be made in our writing careers. A lot to think about.
Prior to the workshop, I thought I knew enough to push me through my writing career but it turned out I was an absolute amateur in the area. I was mostly focusing on my writing, apparently, that made me turn a blind eye to the other important details of editing, designing, publishing, marketing and how all these eventually affect my work as a writer. I had all along been glued to the first two steps of writing and never bothered about the bigger picture, which is the entire book-production process. It was thus very enlightening knowing the whole process of book publishing from the first step of wanting to write, to the very final step, where the book finally comes out.
The workshop was very rewarding because we had a diverse number of creatives in the room; editors, poets, writers, publishers. The fact that we were from different parts of Africa made it even more interesting and eye-opening. I, for one, learnt a lot. The experiences, struggles and triumphs shared by all the participants taught me lessons I would otherwise have learnt in many years, had I taken this path on my own. I came to realize how we all share the same passion and fire to make a difference in the African literary world; and how our struggles are pretty much the same. These two common factors among us is what will indefinitely unite us to achieve our goals.
Therefore, it would be an understatement to say that the AWT Publishing Fellowship programme was spectacular.
The facilitators were brilliant and the wisdom they shared is life and career changing. It is also an opportunity for me and my peers in Mombasa to create platforms of our own, rather than wait to be ‘saved’ by other creatives from other regions. The brutal and much-needed truths shared by the facilitators were necessary and very much appreciated. Mama Demere Kitunga, Catherine Mark and Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, we could never thank you enough for all the knowledge and insights you so lovingly and most honestly shared with us.
As for Mama Goretti of African Writers Trust, and the Workshop Administrator, Racheal Kizza, and the entire AWT team, the programme sponsors and all those who made this workshop possible, may God bless you sufficiently and abundantly and may you keep inspiring creatives like us. Thank you!
Lubnah Abduhalim is a part time lecturer and writer based in Mombasa, Kenya. She started a local group in Mombasa called ‘Creative Writers’ League’ where she conducts creative writing trainings, creates networks and inspires the youth. She has written two biographies: Unbroken Wings published in October,2017 and Dropped to the world, Adopted by Fate published in July, 2018.