Several weeks have passed after the retreat, I am back at home in Nairobi. I have just remembered my body, though I am still tired. It’s only now I have gathered the energy to continue writing of my experience in Iceland, but I can’t do the diary thing anymore. It feels off.
[To read part I, click here.]
The second day of the Iceland Writers Retreat at around 10 am, I met Adriana, the IWR intern, near the lobby. She gave me the shoes Lisa had promised me. (Lisa would later give me a pair of thick socks). I went straight upstairs and changed out of my slippers. Then I put on my jacket, and headed downstairs for my first workshop. I loved the mentors gave us small writing exercises during the workshops. If possible I would have attended all the workshops, but each participant was entitled to only five. I loved my fellow mentees’ enthusiasm during the workshops.
I enjoyed the breakfasts, especially the bacon. I was happy to sit with the other writers during lunch, chatting about anything and everything. I was happy to meet my fellow Alumni Award winners, Victor, Nathan and Akvile. I and these three were the lucky ones out of the 571 writers from across the world who had applied for the award last year. During the retreat, I learnt that people are too complex to be classified or stereotyped. I met writers from different cultures, from over twenty countries. I met Germany’s Felicia, whose English was so good because she had schooled in an international school! I met Sarah, a white lady, who is fluent in Swahili and lives and works in Kenya. Erin, who had lived in Kenya for several years, greeted me in Swahili! I met Victor, who comes from Canada, China and America!
One evening, Jennifer invited me for dinner alongside a tribe of other writers. Before the dinner, we visited Reykjavík City Hall, where Heidi was awarded by Iceland Travel for winning The Iceland Writers Retreat Short Story Prize. Then as we headed for the dinner, tipsy from several glasses of wine, we passed by one of the tallest buildings in Reykjavík, Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church. At the National Museum of Iceland, I fixed the sixth pin on Kenya on the huge map fixed on the wall! This is the first time I felt Kenyan, felt I represented a people. During the dinner, I had fish and several glasses of wine.
Sleeping at the hotel wasn’t easy for me. First, I am not the biggest fan of sleep. Second, I wanted to enjoy myself to the fullest. But the main reasons I couldn’t sleep well was time difference and Icelandic weather. Iceland is four hours behind my country, a difference which kept coming to my mind whenever I lay on bed. Every night at around 8 pm I looked out of my room’s window and saw so much light outside it resembled the day. The sun appeared around the same time. And I became a tourist, rushing out with my camera to take pictures of the sun whenever it showed up.
Writing advice from Claudia Casper: writing to not offend is like writing with your hands up.
On Friday, my American friend, Joshua, lent me his spare gloves, hat and scarf. Which, when I wore alongside my jacket because we were going for the Golden Circle, made me resemble a motorbike operator. Along the way, we stopped at Skálholt. We had left the hotel at 8am. I found it hard to listen to the guide. I and my Australian friend Dorothy chatted almost all the time. We visited the waterfalls. On Saturday, we did Pub Night at Café Rosenborg. It was fun to lose all discipline and enjoy life. I was much taken in by Icelandic beer and wild laughter and chats with the tribe of writers. Too possessed to even listen to the Contalgen Funeral Band playing in the front part of the café and even the readings by two Icelandic authors.
My last day in Iceland, a Sunday, Dorothy, invited me out. We had just come out of the faculty roundtable session at the auditorium. I, Dorothy and Jennifer headed out to the city. The cab dropped us near Hallgrimskirkja. We took some hotdogs. Then Jennifer left us. Dorothy and I began wandering around Reykjavik. We visited the harbour. So cold I had to shove my gloved hands into my pockets. We took photos. We wandered into Café Haiti, where I had some coffee and a cake.
At the local market, I bought some gifts for my people back at home. Dorothy bought me an Icelandic t-shirt, which I am wearing as I write this. Before leaving, I gave the shopkeeper a Kenyan fifty-shilling note and ten-shilling coin. I wanted her to remember one day she had been visited by a Kenyan. And as we wandered consulting the map Dorothy held in her hand, I realised the freedom of Reykjavík. The streets weren’t full of people like Nairobi. The people smoked and drank beer from cans and bottles as they walked along or sat on the pavements.
Finally arriving at Hallgrimskirkja, we flagged down a cab to the hotel. I took a long shower. That evening, I went downstairs to say goodbye to several friends. That night, I went to bed at around 11pm. And outside was still lit! I woke up to the ringing of my phone’s alarm at around 3:30am. I took a shower. And then went downstairs to catch the bus to the airport.
At the airport, I checked in with no issues. Aboard Icelandair, I sat next to Doris, a Taiwanese citizen, whose English was so bad after some time we resulted to communicate through silence. But she was generous enough now and then to ask for my phone, via gestures, to take beautiful photos of the plane’s wing, which we sat close to. We touched down in Amsterdam at around 11:20 am. I was in no hurry. I had seven hours to the next flight to Nairobi.
Out of curiosity and to kill more time, I went looking for the shoes I had lost at the airport last week. I didn’t find them. As I stood at the viewing point upstairs, I noticed planes landed in the airport after every two minutes! Later, waiting to check into Kenya Airways back to Nairobi, I noticed two runways and many junctions where the planes landed. I stood there, for a long minute, watching with awe the beautiful sight as planes landed, one after the other.
I boarded Kenya Airways at around 8 pm. I arrived in Nairobi the following day around 6 am, after spending almost nineteen hours from Keflavik.
Writing advice from Carsten Jensen: a novel to me is an imitation of trying to become a totally different person. Don’t be private, don’t write for your family or your friends. In fiction, you write for strangers.
To donate to the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, click here.Tags: Carsten Jensen, Claudia Casper, golden circle, Iceland, Peter Ngila