by Shelah Owino
“I can’t be late!” I muttered to myself as I rushed to the reception of the Ntinda complex thingy. (couldn’t even remember the name)
The gentleman there was gracious enough to escort me to the 3rd floor. Innovation village the wall read.
Albeit out of breath, I told the receptionist, “I’m here for the creative writing workshop.”
The blank stare I received had me scrambling for the name of the workshop in my already muddled brain.
“Uhhh, the Writivism workshop,” I managed to say glancing at my watch.
“You’re in the wrong block,” she said, “Go to the other block through the restaurant and head to the second floor.”
I blurted out a hurried thank you and flew down the stairs to the next block. The aromas of the restaurant assaulted my empty stomach. I had been too excited and scared to eat.
“Finally!” I thought to myself doing a little jig in my head was I reached the 2nd floor
A gentleman sat at the desk and I asked if I too could sit as I waited to be shown the room where we would have the workshop. I ate my yoghurt as my eyes took in the surroundings. In no time, we were seated and the other writers started arriving. I couldn’t seem to calm my racing heart. It was my first time to attend a workshop. “Which story did you write?” was the question on almost everyone’s lips. I cringed as I remembered that I had written my name at the end of my story. I tried to sink into my chair but the plastic would not allow me that small relief. A few familiar faces eased my discomfort but still did nothing for my nerves. It seemed like every time I looked up, the room got fuller and fuller. For fear of being labelled anti-social, I smiled occasionally and said hi to those that walked in if I could get the word out. Everyone seemed so comfortable. I couldn’t believe that I, a certified chatterbox, had gone mute!
Nothing could have prepared me for Nick Makoha. The second he walked into the room, he commanded a presence and attention. His loud voice carried across the room and his sunny countenance lightened my spirits. He plowed through the resistance in the room like a rugby player on the field. The ice breaker scared me. What do you want to improve about your writing by the end of the workshop? What do I say?
I saw people’s lips moving but I heard nothing until the person next to me was speaking. Sirens went on in my head. Flow….ummm…….my mind was suddenly blank. Nick smiled at me and coaxed the words out of me. I don’t know where what I said came from, but if I had not written it down, I doubt I would be able to remember. Like all the other writers, he praised me for my attempt. I liked this guy already!
Back in the room, introductions had been made and it was time to go through the stories. I breathed a sigh of relief when my story was not selected for the day. I do not remember much about the rest of the day except that I was really impressed by the work that had been submitted by the other writers and the way they graciously accepted the constructive criticism. Hours flew by and the day ended. I walked out on wobbly legs, my mind still reeling from how surreal what I had just experienced was! I had met real writers and would get to spend the whole week with them! I was excited to do my assignment even though I barely understood what I was doing.
I reported the next morning, assignment completed. I was still too early and found a corner to practice what I had learnt. It was Jennifer Makumbi! The face I saw when I looked up from my laptop was completely unfamiliar but through the day, the excitement I had felt was explained by the incredible skill and knowledge she displayed as she lent us precious words of wisdom. This was the day my transformation begun. The exercises encouraged me to look deep within myself and drag out the girl I had hidden under layers and layers of facades. My emotions were in turmoil for most of the day but my mind had been opened up to learn what real writers do. I threw out my fears and embraced the positive learning energy in the room. My story would be read today.
By this time, I was alert to the common pitfalls in writing and cringed when I read my story again through unveiled eyes. Stop… a voice boomed. The dissection had begun. Instead of the condemnation I expected to feel, elation filled my being. Everyone in the room chipped in and helped me iron out my story. Nick’s book launch helped me set goals for my own works. I still left for home that day feeling giddy.
Unconventional. That is the only word I can think of to describe the Friday session.
I had done the previous day’s assignment and was happy with the results. As we went around the room sharing about what we loved, hated, wanted to change and not to change, I was enthusiastic about sharing my answer. Then Nick asked me a question that caused me to really think and reflect on who I really was and how that affected me as writer. The entire morning was spent offloading the baggage that we had strapped on our backs that was preventing us from rising to be the writers that we had the potential to be. My baggage was amazingly heavy and I cry with relief when I think of how everyone shouldered the burden and helped me throw it off. This was the pinnacle of my workshop.
I arrived feeling timid and out of place but left feeling confident. I had found another family.
Editor’s Note: Shelah Owino was part of the #Writivismat5 Kampala workshop which was facilitated by Nick Makoha in partnership with University of Bristol. She is also a production assistant for the 2017 Writivism Festival.