By Gabriel Dinda
When Lydia read her piece of the assignment Joan Thatiah, a renowned journalist and author, and our trainer, I was shocked. “What are you doing in this class?” I almost asked her. It had the depth, refinement, and breadth that warrants a piece of writing ready for publication. How many Lydias are out there? People who have it all, yet something tells them that they still have a long way to go… I wondered.
Before the beginning of the course, I had a Facebook chat with someone whom I nearly brandished a ‘joker’. First, she wrote that she would travel from Kisumu to attend the course. I only imagined the logistics surrounding that and like Thomas, waited to ‘see’ for myself. On the material day of the first class, Sarah Beryl Otieno arrived, having traveled from Kisumu overnight. I have always thought of myself as a committed person until I met Sarah. For all the five weeks, Sarah made arrangements to stay in Nairobi and never did she miss any class. Never was she late. She attended all Ekklessia sessions and events we invited her for during the course of her stay. What a commitment!
Sarah sat next to Madam Priscilla Kona. Priscilla is a nutritionist based in Busia. She says that she is a ‘lost nutritionist’, and she finally found herself where she has always belonged-writing. When we advertised for the scholarship to the class, she applied. Before the verdict could be made on those selected, she made numerous follow-ups and somehow, she secured her chance even before the panel decided on the writers to pick for the scholarship. Like Sarah, she armed herself with her passion and traveled to Nairobi for the course. During the time of her stay, Priscilla would visit Buruburu Library and write, putting in practice all that had been taught that week. She was always the first to submit her write-ups for the class peer review 3 days before the classes on Saturday. When we asked for one article, she submitted three. One time she submitted four and two were read in class. May I only have half of that commitment.
If you met Mwalimu David Ngugi today, and you were looking for a mistake, you wouldn’t find it in him. What you would find in Mwalimu are huge stacks of wisdom, hidden within piles of history dating back to the period before dating came to be. Mwalimu knows everything that has happened throughout civilization. If you asked him why human beings walk in twos, he will tell you. If you asked him why you are you, he will tell you. He knows everything, yet he is so calm and humble. I wonder how someone can know so much and still be so calm. I see why I know so little. When Mr. Joe Khamisi took the class through Basics of Non-Fiction writing, Mwalimu enjoyed the session so much that he asked to pay the fee twice (for that lesson). “If we understood our history, we would understand why things are the way they are,” He insists. It could be because he has been a Secondary School Principal in more than five schools (he also taught at Alliance Boys) that he knows so much. It could also be that his ferocious reading habit has brought him this far. Whatever he does, we need to know.
Can you imagine being in the same writing class with your teacher? If you were born when teachers were either “Sir” or “Madam” (and not their first names), and being a teacher’s child was an Honorary title, then you wouldn’t imagine this situation. Ms. Lois Wambugu taught at Kenya High School many years ago. One of the students she taught then was Julie Kinoti. And they met at the Write Your Passion Class. I don’t know if this could have been the reason why they sat at opposite ends of the boardroom table we used. For a long time, good things haven’t been expected to come from ‘ordinary’ people. That’s why if you are well behaved, your background will probably come into question; whose child are you? Julie rarely speaks, but when she does, you see the sense of her silence. More like a bee, probably the most intelligent of all animals, yet not having the ability to hear. Her poems are a reflection of this depth: well presented, challenging to some degree and totally enjoyable to read.
As the teacher she has always been, Madam Lois’ passion for special education has reflected throughout the course. She gave the most eloquent speech during the graduation, perhaps she learnt this from President Obama, having lived in the US for a long time. Or maybe, Obama leant from her. Lois was the conscience of the class. She always brought discussions to a complete halt because after her input, no one else found it necessary to speak. Both Lois and Julie spoke only countable times, but when they did, everyone benefitted from their wisdom, hidden in their calm and genuine smiles.
Vera Omwocha belongs to this crew; the thinkers who are not excited at superficial excitements. In fact, this paragraph was longer, but Vera edited some parts out. That gives you a view of how these people are. I hope that my close proximity to you, Vera, helps me to join this crew.
When I was young, people told me that I laughed a lot. As I grew older, and the reality of Kenya’s debt status to China became clear to me, I smiled less and less. Now, making a step into the third floor, some people tell me that my face can scare a young baby. I met the person who took this luck away from me – Kevin Gundi. Somebody can stop reggae, but no one can stop Kevin’s smile. Vera warned him against visiting Statehouse because if he does, smiling like that, the president may think that Kenyan’s are all smiles. When Kevin wrote an application letter to be part of the class, the panel immediately saw Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s replacement. With vocabulary bred in Kano Plains and precision nurtured in Nairobi, Kevin is truly the master of the pen. Kevin, when you think of proposing to a lady, please do it in writing.
Kevin seems to be in the same league with Harriet James Akinyi. Leave alone the smile, the two have a way with words. Harriet seems to be dating words. They have such a cozy relationship characterized by dates and moonlight whispers. When Harriet is not writing, she is traveling. I think when you travel more, you get to learn so much that you find easy to write. I long to get to that point where my pen is my Visa. Harriet has gotten to that point. Talk of those who have made it in life!
Have you ever been in trouble for calling a Dr.(PhD.) as Mr.? This is the trouble I one day found myself in when I called Philip Ibsen as such. I did not know that this is just but a trap, his real name is Master of Descriptions. When you look at Philip, you can be mistaken to think that his imagination only goes as far as his height. Not quite. In one of his articles that were read in class, he put all our imagination to a halt. That kind of a person who thinks ahead of everyone else to a point that he has to wait for us. That’s Philip. And when he decides to describe a toothpick, you would think it has a soul. I admire people like Philip, whose art can create a fire out of a match stick.
Philip is not the only description guru; he leads a team of many equals. Eunice is part of this team. When our third class trainer, Mr. Wafula Lucas lead the class in a discussion of the articles written by the writers, he could not hide his admiration for Eunice’s work. Eunice remembers the fine details of her life. On the first day, I was so excited to meet her that I forgot her name. I called her Rose. I was so convinced that she was Rose. I hope you lose this specific detail in your photographic memory. I can’t wait to read your story. I feel many people are waiting for your story. I ask on their behalf that you serve it sooner.
I met Kimberly by chance. That one day you wake up and remember that you communicated with someone two years ago but you have never met. Then the nagging continues to a point that I reach out to her, only to realize that she was wishing for something like Write Your Passion Course. A miracle indeed! Kimberly is unforgivingly keen. And it shows in her articles. She will hesitate to send her article out there before the last full stop is appended. A historian tracing facts down the memory lane with so much love and professionalism! Kimberly, I think when the history of history is written, your name will be on the acknowledgment page.
“This is Kenya” Whoever came up with this statement definitely had Fanon Kihu in mind. The true Kenyan spirit is exhibited through this gentleman. Largely, Kenyans see opportunities everywhere. For Fanon, opportunities are not only everywhere; he creates them from nowhere. That creatives have a questionable business acumen is a scam and Fanon is the evidence. The writing scene has never been this lucky to have that one person who can change the whole direction of a whole industry.
When Fanon manages to change the direction of the industry, he will definitely need to go with Nikel Tari, the perfectionist. If you want something done well, entrust it to Nikel. When things are meant to follow a straight line, Nickel ensures just that. Nikel, who will write the report for your funeral? Because you write reports so well that I think people will hesitate to make mistakes in your absence.
The first thing the 21st-century bride asks for after the wedding is the pictures. Not to see those who didn’t show up, but to see how good she looks. Vinky (the Poet), gave us a chance to look at ourselves after every class. I thought I was presentable for the classes until I saw the pictures after. There was always a better pose I could take. There was always a better suit I did not put on. But Vinky seems to have a way to hide my inadequacies. And he does it well, not only for me but for many others.
I am still in awe. How would so much talent be under one roof? I have never been this hopeful at what awaits Africa’s writing scene. In fact, by writing this summary, I am positioning myself as a seer. So that when you interact with content by these authors in the future, I will appear like a Prophet, who foresaw what was to happen. Keep visiting your bookshops and refreshing your e-book collections. You will soon feel what I feel when you read materials written by the authors above. The true journey of hope.
Let us know if you would wish to join this family in the next class in June 2020.
Gabriel Dinda is the founder of Writers Guild Kenya. Emailfirstname.lastname@example.org