I didn’t know my way around. I landed at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, my ignorance obvious.
A woman in a grey suit and flats rushed to help me with my luggage before asking if I needed a cab. I told her I needed to make a phone call first. She whipped out an old Nokia and I read Okey Adichie’s number for her off my phone. After a few seconds of talking to Okey she announced that we were going to Lekki.
“You get naira?”she asked as she wheeled my bag behind her.
That was when I made my first mistake: I replied in fine fine English instead of pidgin. My second mistake was not converting my cedis to naira before getting on the plane. The woman told me it would cost 200 cedis to take me to Lekki. I told her it was too expensive.
“You’re lucky o!” she said. “Some people, we charge them plenty dollars.”
I knew I was being cheated but I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. I had to get to Lekki.
The drive to Lekki took almost two hours. After getting lost twice, the cab driver, who kept calling me aunty and apologizing for his bad cough, finally found Lekki Waterside Hotel.
I was here.
I had applied for the Farafina Trust workshop last year. I didn’t get in, but I got an email informing me that I had made the shortlist of 70 from which the final 25 were chosen, and encouraging me to keep writing. It was the kind of confidence boost that gave me the right to admit to myself that I was a writer.
And so this year, when I got the email saying that I had been selected as a participant, I let out a loud shriek and did a 10-second dance.
And so even though Arik Air had stressed me out, even though I was overcharged for the cab ride, I was here.
On the first day of the workshop we met Chimamanda, and I watched her with quiet wonder. We took turns introducing ourselves and it was beautiful listening to everybody gush over her. When it was my turn I had few words, not because I wasn’t blown away by her presence, but because I wanted the taste of her influence to linger in my mouth longer.
The next 10 days were an unravelling.
You can often taste the sweetness of alasa right from the first suck. But until you have eaten out the flesh and chewed it into gum, you cannot truthfully judge how good the fruit is. This is what the people I met at the workshop were like. In the first few days, I knew I had met people I could call nice; but by the time we left the workshop, I had bonded with people I wouldn’t mind being stuck on an island with. (I refuse it IJN by the way. Already struggling with dumsor, I don’t need to be stuck on an island to test my level of madness.)
Sometimes you idolize someone from a distance, and then when you meet them their humanness further confirms their godliness – not the distant memory of a god kind of godliness, but the kind that sits in your head and feels familiar – the kind you discover in yourself. Chimamanda rolled her eyes, laughed the most, loved the hardest, offered herself as a safe space and taught us what she knew with all the badassness her being could contain. She recognized bullshit and called it as it was.
We had three facilitators in addition to Chimamanda – Aslak, Binyavanga and Eghosa. What struck me most about Aslak was the passion with which he spoke of words. His love for literature was so evident in his speech and his clear blue eyes that at the end of the class I was fired up to write something so good that it would elicit a similar emotion from others.
There was something about the way Binyavanga appraised your work that made you want to give your very best. He didn’t need to dissect a story before you knew it was flawed; he let you know if a piece of writing made him fall in love or if it bored him to death.
I hope every writer has someone like Eghosa in their life: to critique, to jest, to gently insult, to praise, to encourage and to let you know how silly you look using a font an editor can barely read.
Halfway through the workshop I was overwhelmed by all I was learning and I wished there were more workshops like that of Farafina Trust, in Ghana and in Africa as a whole.
The workshop taught me to go where it hurts, because it is only then that it matters. It taught me that as a writer my responsibility is first to the story; not to society, not to friends, not to family, but to the story.
It taught me that my normal is enough.
That writing makes me god.
That detail gives my text credibility.
That there are no rules if I can get away with it.
That you can find safe spaces in people.
And that there are stories everywhere, all you have to do is look closely.