Monday, October 1, 2012

Paula Biraaro's story at Storymoja Hay Fest 2012

13th to 16th September 2012 found me in the city of Nairobi attending the StoryMoja Hay Festival held in the fabulous setting of the National Museum. My participation in such a great event resulted from being a second winner of the Fourth Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award 2012 under the theme Music with my poem entitled ‘Nyamwezi’. I attended this event with Ms. Beverley Nambozo and Ms. Susan Piwang (winner of the award) and our trip was proudly sponsored by Stichting Doen. The journey to leading this festival is still kind of surreal to me. As I sat en route to Nairobi, I had series of flash backs. I remembered lying on my bed at 10 pm tapping my laptop keys as my mind juiced words that would eventually be the poem ‘Nyamwezi’. I remembered getting the invitation for the award dinner, hearing my name being announced as a second winner and my unexpected scream of joy that tore out of my mouth. I remembered thinking ‘How can this be? ‘Who am I to win this?’ and ‘Am I a really a poet?’ Such questions darted across my mind as I read my poem to the audience. Not only had my work been commended and recognized, I had won USD$300, five autographed books authored by great African women writers and the icing on the cake was a fully sponsored trip to attend the StoryMoja Festival in Nairobi! From arrival to departure, we hit the ground running for the StoryMoja team had organised an action packed crash course programme. At the festival launch at the Nairobi Museum courtyard I felt a little intimidated as I looked at these ‘strangers’ who seemed to know each other throwing hugs and kisses with shouts of laughter burst from their lips. Upon our introduction my perception slowly changed. These strangers later on became acquaintances, mentors and in some few cases friends. We were all warmly welcomed and Susan and I were congratulated upon our achievement. Sure, I was a novice in their world but I begun to see myself through their eyes, patting myself on my back and thinking ‘Paula, you can do greater things, this is only the beginning!’ I attended master classes under the tutelage of thought provoking award winning novelist Dinaw Mengestu. I got to appreciate the importance of careful scrutiny every sentence and message it conveys when writing a book/short story, communication with the audience, and how individuality and originality makes the difference.
Susan Piwang, Dinaw Mengestu and Paula Biraaro. Photo by BNN The effervescent Lemn Sissay took us through exciting poetry exercises that changed my outlook on power of words, expression and description. I got to rub shoulders and prod some brilliant minds of amazing, famous writers who were surprising humble and willing to share their experiences. Their words of advice centered towards following your dream, persistence, hard work and to keep writing! I was so blessed with their words of advice and encouragement which I treasure and heed to date. The true test in this whole experience was when I had to present my poem before an audience as a guest panelist at the poetry gala. This was a totally different league! Imagine sitting on the same panel with renowned poets, some internationally acclaimed, sharing your experience and presenting your poem. A concoction of feelings of excitement, fear, determination flooded my mind as I sought to achieve this feat. Thankfully, everything went smoothly, I didn’t choke and it was turning point on how I regarded my talent and I vowed to exploit it to its full potential. The last event climaxing the festival was the play written, directed and acted by the Sitawa Namwalie. It was enlightening to see her vivid poetry through performance which helped send her message home. I am grateful to BN Poetry for the horse kick to using my gift and I can proudly say that I am no longer a ‘closet poet’. Danke Schon to Stichting Doen for their financial support and I salute Beverley and Susan for being entertaining company! I had a blast! My prayer is for Uganda to plan and organize for such an event in Kampala. There is a saying that your life can change in a moment. Mine changed in those captivating three days. Thank you.

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