In the days coming up to the festival I visited orphanages and schools. There are so many children unable to attend the festival we decided to take the festival to them!
I was lucky enough to visit my No.1 charity, an SOS Children's Village in Nairobi. The standards there are high and the people so inspiring. House mothers make a commitment to bringing up at least one generation of orphans, 10 at a time, working 26 days on and 4 days off! Can you imagine?
I was also lucky enough to visit Mama Fatuma's, an orphangage for Muslim children on the Somalian side of town. There one man finds a way through thick and thin to provide a home and school for 80 children. (They are so much in my thoughts right now.)
The festival itself was WONDERFUL. Nearly 4 thousand children (!!!) attended and their questions at the end of each event came thick and fast. I will never forget one young girl who asked,
"Were you ever told to forget about your dreams? That dreams don't matter. That they never come true anyway?"
I felt so humble and so glad to be asked that question, and to answer:
"Yes, I was told that too. But look at me standing here. I am proof that it is not true."
Spending time with the other authors was another highlight. We laughed and talked late into the night. New ideas were born out of that laughter, new poems, new books, new collaborations. We spend days, weeks, months alone in front of our screens. Spending time with each other is like gold dust!
The third day of the festival was interrupted by the terrorist attack on the nearby Westgate shopping mall. The sound of explosions and the helicopters passing overhead silenced the presentations and performances. Our laughter turned into grief. Audiences' questions to incomprehension. And what we shared that night not creativity, it was terror. Were we all alive? We knew not.
Kofi Awoonor died that day. A great Ghanian poet attending the festival. You can read my tribute to him, and to the festival, here.
The grief went on and on for the remainder of my days in Nairobi, as the siege went on and on, and the festival organisers, and the whole city, struggled to cope with their responsibilities as well as their own personal grief. And part of that grief, shared by taxi-drivers and CEO's alike, was incomprehension. How could people do this? What makes people capable of killing unarmed civilians?
It is a question every war raises.
On my return from Nairobi, looking for comfort and a way to make a difference, I came across this you tube video. It gave me part of an answer to my own incomprehension.
Well, my incomprehension lessened. But it did not exactly cheer me up about the state of the world. Or how I could make a difference.
Then few days ago I received the following email from a first-grade teacher in the US:
I just had to attempt to contact Atinuke. Last year we did author studies and we contacted (through letters, emails and skype) but this year I thought about doing a long study on just one author but go deeper into the text. And I chose the Anna Hibiscus series. Then it just worked out perfectly that a student moved into our class from Cameroon a few weeks ago! That is what caused me to share this with you!
That little boy is VERY shy and was actually lying about where he came from. He was embarrassed about his accent! But while I was reading to them I have seen such a change in him. The other students are constantly encouraging him to share his experiences. And today he actually ended up all but on my lap because he just could not get close enough to the words coming out of my mouth!
It is a small thing an email. But a huge encouragement to me. That I can make a the world a slightly easier, better place for one small person. It is enough. And right now that - and holding my own dear children close - is all I want to do.