Nairobi, Kwani?

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“When you’re really having fun, you’re always doing it a little bit in a way that you’re not supposed to. That’s when great things happen.”  – Annet Mahendru

The last three days in Nairobi have been a blast.  I came to spend some time with a friend, cleverly timing my visit to coincide with the Kwani? tenth anniversary celebration.  As part of the programme there were book launches, lectures, a gala dinner as well as poetry and readings.  Due to late nights and a little disorganisation on both mine and my friend’s part, we missed a few of the events.  I did not mind so much though after such an intense few days at the Ake festival the previous week.

We spent a considerable amount of time wondering around Nairobi, looking for flower seeds, shoes but mainly food.  The last time I was in the city was around the Christmas period last year and it was dead as everyone had gone upcountry or to the coast.  This time it was packed with people and traffic and in the evenings the bars, cafes and restaurants are filled to capacity. There seems to be loud music blaring out of every corner.  I prefer it to Kampala, it’s more vibrant and there is a lot more to see and do.   Chimamanda’s lecture yesterday which was in front of a packed hall at University of Nairobi.  We arrived nearly two hours after the scheduled start time and she had not even taken to the stage yet.  We sat through speech after speech by various people including lecturers, sponsors, heads of departments and so on before she took to the lectern.  I really do think that we Africans are obsessed with protocol and do we tend to go on (yes I know Africa is not a country) and on and on unnecessarily.  After what seemed like forever, Binyavanga Wainaina finally introduced and welcomed the guest speaker.  Her lecture itself was nothing new.  Having spent the last few years stalking her, I have heard her talk about almost everything in the lecture before, however her interaction with the audience during the question and answer session was both entertaining and touching, at one point she almost shed a tear because of a comment from an admiring fan.  Not me I hasten to add.

Book Launch Kwani? Nairobi
The crowd at the Americanah and Dust book launch

The book launch of Americanah and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust followed later in the evening.  With readings, poetry, live music and speeches it turned out to be a fun night out despite the cold (yes, it was a shock for me too when I discovered that Nairobi gets cold).  After the formal events were out of the way it was time to get down to some music but not so for Yvonne and Chimamanda who tirelessly sat there, autographing books for the fans in the multiple queues that snaked around the room. You had to admire their patience and dedication especially as some fans brought two or three books to be signed.

Kwani? Nairobi Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor signs her book
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor signs her book Dust for a fan

Today or perhaps yesterday given that it is after 3.00 am now, was the most enjoyable of the three days.  The founders of Kwani? had a private barbeque to honour the people who have supported and stayed with them over the last ten years and because my friend is super cool and knows absolutely everybody, we managed to get ourselves invited to the event.  It was an intimate event with food, alcohol, music, poetry, dancing, plenty of laughter and did I mention alcohol?  I met many wonderful and interesting people and had some thought provoking as well as some very bizarre conversations during the evening.  The highlight was a very very tipsy Billy Kahora trying to read his 2012 Caine Prize shortlisted story at the end of the night.  One thing that I won’t be able to live down is my embarrassing chicken dance when Binyavanga pulled me onto the dance floor. I am hoping that everyone was drunk by then that they probably won’t remember me. 

Billy Kahora one of the founders of Kwani giving a shout out to fellow founders and friends

Today or perhaps yesterday given that it is after 3.00 am now, was the most enjoyable of the three days.  The founders of Kwani? had a private barbeque to honour the people who have supported and stayed with them over the last ten years and because my friend is super cool and knows absolutely everybody, we managed to get ourselves invited to the event.  It was an intimate event with food, alcohol, music, poetry, dancing, plenty of laughter and did I mention alcohol?  I met many wonderful and interesting people and had some thought provoking as well as some very bizarre conversations during the evening.  The highlight was a very very tipsy Billy Kahora trying to read his 2012 Caine Prize shortlisted story at the end of the night.  One thing that I won’t be able to live down is my embarrassing chicken dance when Binyavanga pulled me onto the dance floor. I am hoping that everyone was drunk by then that they probably won’t remember me.

Chimamanda at Kwani? Nairobi
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and a very happy fan

Nairobi has been a blast, I have had the most wonderful time, I don’t how many people can testify to seeing Chimamanda getting down to afrobeats or to dancing in a circle surrounded by accomplished and famous writers and poets.  Although I am actually looking forward to getting on the flight home in a few hours and catching some proper sleep, I am going to miss Nairobi and especially my super cool friend in whose company there is never a dull moment.

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