Today, I just wanted to share an old post from my Kenya blog. Every time I think of the Maasai of Kenya it makes my heart hurt a bit. Seeing them dance was a euphoric experience that will stay with me forever. I WILL GO BACK TO KENYA!
No ranting today. No talk of writing. Just the sweet sound of Maasais dancing to the beat of their own music…under the beautiful African sun on the most gorgeous island on the planet.
I don’t remember a September that wasn’t action-packed. Historically, it just seems like one of those months where everything happens at once. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! This September is no exception. Things started to roll today, and it’s looking like yet another exciting September for me.
September 1st – My poem WHEN VENUS TAKES A RIDE was posted on the website of the Parliamentary Poet Laureate. It was chosen as the Poem of the Month by the Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Pierre DesRuisseaux. It will be featured for the month of September, and archived on the site for two years. I wrote this poem after my first day on the island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya. I went there this past December with the Summer Literary Seminars, as part of their Kenya writing program. We took a plane to Manda Island from Nairobi and then hopped a dhow over to the island of Lamu. Once there, the group was given a walking tour of Lamu Town. During this tour, one of the poets in the group, Venus Thrash, was given a ride on a donkey (there are no cars on Lamu, but there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of donkeys). The poem is about that experience.
September 11 – Just like the second Saturday of every month (except for August), the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) hosts it’s monthly Breakfast Meeting. If you’re a writer in OR NEAR the Durham Region, these are NOT to be missed. The September Breakfast Meeting speaker is Neil Crone. Personally, I think he’s one of the funniest people in Canada. It’s a DON’T-MISS month! Neil will be talking about writing humour.
September 24-25 – Uxbridge Celebration of the Arts. It’s a 25-year anniversary celebration of the vibrant artistic community of Uxbridge, Ontario. And when I say vibrant, I mean electrifying. I’m constantly amazed by the artistic community in this small town just west of Port Perry, Ontario. I’ve been drawn there on several occasions for BIG TIME artistic endeavors. This time, I’m partaking in the fun. I’ve been chosen to be the playwright for the 25-year anniversary celebration. On the 24th of September I will be given a prompt and I will have 25 hours not only to write a one-act play, but to send it off to my director, Jessica Outram, have her run through rehearsals with the actors AND have it performed live on stage at the Uxbridge Music Hall at the 25th hour. So I’m giving myself about 5-6 of those 25 hours to actually pen the script…as I think they’ll need the bulk of the hours to rehearse. This is the kind of thing I absolutely love! I was fortunate enough to do this type of playwriting on two other occasions, for Driftwood Theatre, as one of the playwrights for their 2009 and 2010 Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival. I can’t wait to find out what I will be writing about! AND…the best part…watching it come to life just a few hours after it’s written. I am constantly amazed by the talent of the directors and actors that I am fortunate enough to work with!
September 26th– I will be MUSKOKA BOUND! It’s the wrap party for the 2010 Muskoka Novel Marathon. This event, held every July, has quickly become one of my favourite writing related activities! You sit in a building with approximately 30 other writers and you write a novel—in either 48 or 72 hours. How amazing is that! It was a great group this year (as it is every year). We had a lot of fun, and it’s hard to believe at the end of the weekend that there was actually time to put together a manuscript between the fun. I wrote a Young Adult novel this year – HALF DEAD AND FULLY BROKEN. I’ve been editing it since July. The wrap party is on the 26th…all the writers regroup and award trophies for various different things–BIC AWARD for Bum in Chair, Most Prolific Writer, Spirit Award, Rookie of the Year Award and the Remy Award for most money raised. Most money raised, you ask? The marathon is a double-edged sword. It is a huge benefit to those writers brave enough to participate, but it’s also a marathon of hope. Each writer raises funs for the Muskoka Literacy Council…it’s writers helping readers. The marathon raises funds and awareness for the council—it helps them to spread the joy of literacy. Another prize awarded at the wrap party is the BEST NOVEL AWARD—awarded, actually, in different categories—Best Adult Novel, Best Young Adult Novel and Best Children’s Novel. The manuscripts are sent to 6 industry judges immediately following the marathon…and they read and judge them over the summer. The winning novels get sent to participating publishers for consideration. The benefits of this event are just neverending! I have my eye on the hands on favourite for Best YA this year—I’m not going to name names (she will not be mentioned here!), but I had the opportunity to read one of the manuscripts and I found it STELLAR. We will see what the Wrap Party brings us. I consider this wrap party the official end of summer, even though Huntsville is already quite in bloom with turned foilage by the time it rolls around.
Month End – Museitup Publishing is preparing to launch! My Young Adult novel SUMMER ON FIRE will be published by Muse in July, 2011…but the publisher is launching in October. We’ve been talking excitedly about this launch behind the scenes. September is bound to thrive with chatter between publisher and cover artists and editors and writers. It’s a great family to be a part of! I’m really excited about the launch…and can feel the tsunami of its approach! September is THE month to be a Museitup member!
Not to mention! September is another month of busy planning for the 2011 ONTARIO WRITERS’ CONFERENCE. This is an ongoing labour of love that factors into every month on the calendar. We want to organize the best conference every year. To do this, we must be dedicated to putting in a lot of volunteer hours. It’s worth it, though…so rewarding to see the happy faces of writers on the day of the conference!
And I’m certain there will be more excitement along the way. Like maybe a reading from author friend Karen Cole somewhere in Uxbridge, maybe! Or maybe some poetry read by friend Barbara Hunt! (-;
(The following piece originally appeared in WORD WEAVER.)
FINDING FOCUS IN NAIROBI – Part II of III
Polepole (rhymes with—and means—slowly, slowly). This is the method by which Kenya moves. I first experienced this when I boarded the 12‐seater for my return to Nairobi. The pilot promised a non‐stop flight. Ten minutes in, however, he announced a change of plans. He said those three words no airsick mini‐aircraft; neophyte passenger wants to hear: “We’re going down!”
It was Independence Day in Kenya. The celebratory air show at the Nairobi airport meant “no fly zone” for us. We had to land at Siana Airstrip and stay grounded for an hour. As we touched down, I saw a herd of gazelle leaping across the runway, mere feet from the plane’s nose! It was a horrifying, heartbreakingly beautiful sight. After narrowly avoiding the herd, our pilot assured us we could have safely crash‐landed to the side, if need be.
As a peppering of Masai emerged from the surrounding trees, I forgave the air show that kept us from our destiny. We were having a moment! Every day in Kenya carries with it a magical moment. To see it, all you have to do is surrender to the beat. Pole, pole.
After an hour of sharing stories with the generous Masai, it was almost painful re-boarding the plane. But we said our goodbyes and took to the air once again.
Navigating the country on my own was wonderful, but I was excited to be back in Nairobi. It was time to meet my fellow writers and begin the SLS fiction program.
My instructor, Catherine Bush, made me realize the importance of focus in storyline, something I never contemplated while writing. She broke down the process and explained how the writer should consider the reader’s expectations. If you give them one strong thread to follow, they see that thread as your storyline…throw in too many and confusion ensues.
Catherine assured me I could do this and carry on writing in the freefall style that I love. I was afraid I would have to sacrifice my “NO OUTLINING” rule but all was good. With her guidance, specific to my own manuscript, I was able to retackle my story, find the strongest thread—the story’s essence—and run with it. Catherine equipped me with the tools to help me do this. It was as though she came into my windowless house, created windows and then helped me to fling them wide open.
Our classes were held on the outside patio of a hotel in the heart of Nairobi…with fragrant breezes swishing our pages and intoxicating our lungs. If Nirvana is a place, it’s filled with writers, acacias and yes, even shouting taxi drivers. The outdoor classroom had its limitations, but they only added to the vibrant atmosphere.
You can live concurrent lives in Kenya. We were steeped in words but we also inexplicably saw everything in and around Nairobi. We took in the Rift Valley, the Ngong Hills, the Giraffe Centre (complete with sloppy giraffe kisses), an elephant orphanage, a reading by some of Kenya’s top literati, a chaotic downtown Nairobi Masai market, museums, parties and barnyards.
I cried while our bus travelled the Uhuru Highway en route to the nearby Ngong Hills, as I watched a shanty-town blur by. Children played in the dirt, inches from our tires as we whizzed by at 100km per hour; goats bleated; vegetables collected poisons from black exhaust bursting from every vehicle; thousands of rusted tin shacks—strung with uncountable lines of miraculously pristine laundry—crowded together like rotten teeth in a mouth too small to hold them.
My sadness at seeing the crumbling shantytown was double-edged, though. Every face held a smile, every life a beat you could feel. My heart ached during the entire trip…but with what? I couldn’t quite place it. The melancholy I felt…was it for the people of Kenya or for myself and the people back home? People who have not yet surrendered to the comfort of a time no clock could hold. Polepole…slowly, slowly.
After a long week of writing craft and exploration, we were ready for the last leg of our journey…Lamu Island. I couldn’t imagine it topping Nairobi…but I was about to discover there were no limits in Kenya.
Before I left for my recent trip to Kenya, my only thought was writing. I was going to AFRICA and I only allowed myself to think of one thing: WRITING. How pathetic is that? I was so anal about attending my first writing program, I allowed it to overshadow the fact I was going to the most beautiful place in the world.
Thankfully, I came to my senses the moment the plane landed in the mossy sweet heat of Nairobi.
Joseph, from Wonders of Africa, picked me up at Jomo Kenyatta. His kamikaze driving was all that stood between me and certain death. The streets and roundabouts of Nairobi are the most beautiful arteries of controlled chaos I’ve ever been thrown into.
Joseph dropped me off at the Kivi Milimani Hotel. The Summer Literary Seminars organizers were there to greet me but in my post-flight zombiehaze, I only wanted to crawl upstairs to my room and sleep.
Day 1. 6 a.m. Woke up, packed, ran downstairs and met up with Joseph. We hit Nairobi’s death-defying streets again for a trip to Wilson Airport for my flight to Masai Mara.
After four take-offs, five landings and much retching, I was ready for solid ground! Another capable Joseph, my safari guide for the next two days, greeted our 16-seater at Keekorok Airstrip.
Before the safari, however, I detoured to Keekorok’s backyard hippo pool—home to 39 hippos! I watched as they frolicked and I stared in awe at the elephants and giraffes roaming the nearby hills. I attempted to be a poet but discovered I would rather eat the dirt…jump into the hippo pool, shoot its mud into my veins. I was in Africa—the future home of my heart. It was already happening.
Safari time! But after a full day in the acacia-dotted Masai Mara savannah, it was the Masai people I first wrote about when I made it back to my Keekorok room.
A journal entry: The Masai warriors almost made me forget the safari. The most amazingly beautiful sight. Hearing their singing makes you want to burst into tears. It’s guttural and filled with haunting. Longing. Joy. Goosebumps. Their shouts seemed random, mixed in song, but each one was perfectly timed. The rhythm matches something inside you. Shatters it. Latches on. Takes you with it. Such an incredible experience! You can feel them in your chest as they lift miraculously in dance. They had my heart!
A journal entry: Elephants/1, Lions/3, Giraffes/2. There was folly in this menagerie inventory system. After these first sightings it was on to a pride of 13 lionesses and cubs. A herd of zebra, not a mile away, grazing with elands. Bones and skulls everywhere, beacons in the vast open plains. When I spotted a cheetah, Joseph yelled, “Duma! Duma!” and called the other groups on his CB radio. Their trucks soon converged on our paradise, photo lenses extending to capture a mother cheetah with her cubs as they chased a herd of gazelle. Two hundred gazelle moving in perfect unison, nature’s finely tuned miracle engine in motion. Traps your breath! This is where God is. Hundreds of buffalo, beautiful birds riding their massive haunches…ready to steal the bounty of insects their shuffling feet lift from the browned savannah grasses. A warthog. A herd of eight elephants. Giraffes can kill a lion with their hind legs…one swift kick!
But majestic beauty as they dine upon the upper leaves of trees, unconcerned with the killer beasts at their heels. Wildebeests. In the distance, Tanzania. 8km away. The Masai hills in the background—named for their similarity to a lying-down Masai warrior.
My safari was over but my adventures were just beginning. It was only day two. I had a writing program to attend in Nairobi and Lamu. Kenya had begun to enter my bloodstream. I was going to allow myself to make this about Kenya first—writing second. It was the only way to take Kenya home with me…so I could write about it later.