Alumni Award Winner Peter Ngila’s IWR Experience: Part I

Alumni Award Winner Peter Ngila’s IWR Experience: Part I

9:31 am, I am shirtless, the cold from the opened window biting into my skin. I am seated at Hotel Reykjavík Natura, Room 405 on the fourth floor, typing this diary on my computer, which is placed on a brown table facing a huge rectangular mirror.

The room has a huge well-made bed, a washroom, a telephone, an air conditioner and three reading lamps. Minutes ago, I took photos of the beautiful scenery as seen through the window’s opened curtains.

Around an hour ago, I had gone downstairs to the hotel to have breakfast with my Brazilian friend, Nicole. I first met her yesterday at the Presidential Residence Bessastaðir for the welcome speech, where I, Alyson, Caren and Jill had just arrived from Keflavik Airport. I find Nicole with a friend at the breakfast table. We greet each other. Her friend soon leaves us. We chat for some time. Then she finishes up her breakfast fast to catch a workshop. I love the softness of the bacon so much I soon get a refill. Done with breakfast, I go back to my room.

Reception at Bessastaðir 01 © Roman Gerasymenko

Bessastaðir, residence of the President of Iceland

9:43, the sun has come out. A miracle because this is a super cold country! The sun is sneaking into my room through the opened window, resting on my neck. At the lobby, the attendant tells me nobody dropped my shoes with her. I lost my shoes yesterday at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam while awaiting the next flight to Iceland. I had arrived in Amsterdam around 7:20 am, sweaty and tired. I am making a confession: before getting out of the plane in Amsterdam, I had shoved a KLM blanket and earphones into my backpack. I also requested for a Kenya Airways blanket and an Icelandic plastic mug. From time to time, I will probably be placing the items on the table and sit on the sofa in my boxers the whole day, staring at them, just to be sure all these good things really happened to me.

Writing advice from Carsten Jensen on literary research: you are not a scientist; you are a writer trying to understand human beings.  

In Amsterdam, I wander all over – the coffee shops, the bookshop. I relax on a sofa after some time. Then I keep checking my departure gate, D60. All the time, until an officer tells me the gate will open an hour before the flight. In between these checks, I sleep now and then, waking up frightened my flight has left me. To give my feet some breathing space, I had taken off my shoes while aboard KLM Royal Dutch Airlines last night, the flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam. I remember keeping an eye on them, but my jetlag perhaps contributed to the loss of the shoes. Finally, I check in, and as I sit there waiting to board Icelandair to Iceland, Caren, a friend from the Iceland Writers Retreat Facebook group, comes and points at me, and says, Peter?


Alumni Award winners Victor Yang and Peter Ngila with IWR Co-Founder Eliza Reid

We greet each other. She remembers me from my Facebook profile photo! Aboard Icelandair, I realise we would travel for three hours and a few minutes. We left Amsterdam at 2 pm, and arrived at Keflavik at 3:20 pm. And that’s when I realised the two-hour time difference between Amsterdam and Iceland. Minutes to our arrival, I think of putting on the shoes, only to realise, after searching my bag all over again, I had forgotten them somewhere! At Keflavik, Caren retrieves her suitcase from the conveyor belt.

10:06 am, the sun has disappeared again. Back to Keflavik, I and Caren stand by the communications stand, where a few of us had agreed to meet. Soon, Alyson from the UK joins us. Jill from Canada comes next, and we stand there waiting for Chris, the last one. We buy the Flybus tickets and head out after an hour of fruitless waiting. Walking out of the airport, I realise misty air coming from my mouth. The weather is drizzling, no, something icy is drizzling into my face, and I rush into the bus. Around forty minutes later, we get off the bus at the Garðabær stop. Then we board a taxi. We arrive at the presidential residence after a seven-minute drive. The welcome speech is in progress. To kill off my jetlag, I down several glasses of wine. I meet Erica, one of the founders of the retreat. And then I meet Victor and Akvile, two of the four recipients of the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, which had financed my travel and stay in Iceland.

Iceland Writers Retreat 023 © Roman Gerasymenko

A workshop with Vilborg Davíðsdóttir

I walk over and greet the president, and soon begin looking for Eliza, the first lady of Iceland. I find her after some time, and place down my glass of wine. I hug her for a long minute. She is a special lady to my writing life, Eliza. She called me last year to inform me I had been selected as one of the Alumni Award winners. I never expected to win the award. I never even thought about it, after applying three hours to the deadline, and later reading in the IWR website they had received 571 submissions from across the world! And I had said, Peter, don’t get too romantic with this thing. Your writing isn’t world class. Then the miraculous call came, and here I am!

We board the bus to Restaurant Reykjavík for dinner. It’s an amazing night, and the wine keeps flowing. Then the readings start. My highlight of the night is Nadifa Mohammed. I notice her after reading from her novel, The Orchard of the Lost Souls. Later, during a dessert break, I decide to walk over to her.

Writing advice from Nadifa Mohamed: if I was crying while writing my work, I want the reader to cry while reading.

Even before my hand clasps Nadifa’s in greeting, she calls my name! She tells me she saw my picture on the faculty. By the time I leave, she has introduced me to her faculty friends seated around her! Around 10 pm, we board the buses waiting outside. At the hotel, I check into my room. And take a long shower. I realize the electric plugs are very different from what we have back in Kenya. I buy a travel adaptor at the lobby downstairs. Then I sleep like a log, until the next morning. Waking up, I realise my left eye is crying on its own. I wipe it with a handkerchief and wash my face. Perhaps the eye is misbehaving because of jetlag or an impeding cold or even because of opening in a new country. It soon calms down, and I head down to have breakfast with Nicole. Moments later in my room, the IWR handbag (containing the retreat’s schedule, my workshop list an Icelandic novel, some lotion, an Icelandic gin and some entry cards to few Reykjavík spots) is suspended from my left shoulder. I am heading out for my first workshop, Telling the Truth with the Help of Lies with Carsten Jensen.

To be continued …

Part 2 of this story will appear soon. 

To donate to the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, click here.





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