Wednesday 1700h. I am at the centre of Kibo in Kilimanjaro surrounded by suited gentle men and women chatting over glasses of wine, juice and water while munching on peanuts and crisps. No, I am not attending a cocktail party 19,341 ft above ground (that would have been something to brag about ) it’s only as high as it takes to get to the Mezzanine floor of the Kilimanjaro Hayatt hotel in Kivukoni, Daresalaam. The room is buzzing with all sorts of the English dialect with the American accent taking the gold. That’s to be expected after all we are here for the farewell of the American ambassador Lendhart and his wife. I have only been to one other of these AMCHAM meetings and in both occasions I have enjoyed the great hospitality from the staff, the invigorating deco of the hotel, and the witty American humour from the various AMCHAM members.
Same day, 1830h. I look at my watch and realise that the MOTO meeting is around the corner. I lean over to my colleague standing next to me and whisper, ‘let’s buzz!’ Today was going to be my first appearance at this writer’s circle having missed a few in the past. I had received a number of Facebook event invite from my ex-workmate Sophie but I’ve never made it. Luckily this time I happened to be around town. We excused ourselves and quietly walked out of the conference room, down the spiral stair case and out of the grand Kilimanjaro Hayatt hotel’s entrance doors walking on the red carpet like some sort of celebrities.
1840h. ‘Shikamoo (formal Swahili greeting), ‘ we greet the watchman outside the doors of T.B. Sheth Public Library (Indo-Tanzania Cultural Centre). He looks a little over 50 years old and as traditions dectate we indulge him with a bit of friendly conversation.
‘Habari ya saa hizi (loosely translates to how is the going) ? ‘
‘Salama tu, vipi nyinyi (all is well, what about yourselves)?’
‘Poa tu (cool, slang used by young people to mean everything is fine).
We signal him that we are about to enter the library and he gives us an approving nod. We make our way to the reception area and peep into one of the study halls then the outside empty space. There is no indication of a creative meeting and ofcourse I do not spot Sophie. We are probably early! With our stomachs running on peanuts and water we feel we have been presented with an opportune moment to go searching for food.
1910h. We are back at the library and notice a circle of chairs in the outside space. I spot Sophie seated with her back facing the door. We walk towards the group of about six people and receive warm replies to our greetings. It feels like we are going to have a good evening.
‘Hi Charles,’ I greet an acquaintance as we walk towards some empty seats.
1915h. ‘My name is Mkuki. I work at Mkuki na Nyota’ one of the organisers of MOTO kicks off the meeting with self introduction and then the rest of us follow each stating her/his name and what she/he does. Among those present we had a representative of an NGO, advertising agency, digital media agency, freelance consultant, publishing and were later joined by a journalist, third sector employee and and upcoming film writer and director (Amil Shivji).
1930h. Amil, the main attraction of the night with the consensus of the group pulls out a copy of his latest short film script ‘Shoe shine.’ He gives us a short introduction about it and the resulting film. He talks about his experience while adapting it for screening including the challenges he faced and lessons learnt. This gets the whole group participating by asking various questions like
‘How do you audition your actors?’
‘What compromises have to be made while filming?’
‘Why do Bongo (is a slang used to refer to everything made in Tanzania) stars over act?’
An interesting thing that I noted is that he has been working and reworking the script since 2011!
After a brief question and answer session the group decides to read out a scene from ‘Shoe shine’ to get a feel of what it is all about. Amil suggest we read ‘Act 4’ as it is the longest scene in the film. Zakaria (digital media) and a lady whose name I didn’t catch volunteer for the part of a man and a woman respectively. As the reading goes on, the group reacts with laughter, nods of agreement, smiles and finally clapping at the end of the scene. We then discuss about what we liked and didn’t like about the script while the writer expanded on any issues. At this point I notice that the group has become more at ease and even the seemingly shy members are expressing themselves freely. I am also amazed at how much I am opening up with them and sharing my opinions.
2015h (more or less). Zakaria pulls out his short story. He feels a little reluctant about reading it. He hands it over to me and I pass it to Charles (freelance consultant). Charles begins reading the story (September Lunch) which starts off with a great opening descriptions. I am greatly impressed by its narration and writing style and can clearly envision the setting. The story is about a man who has had a fight with his boss and goes out to eat for a bit of relaxation. During his attempt to get a meal is confronted by poor customer service at the restaurant, an unrequested lunch plate and a pestering hawker. It made a great read as it realistically described the annoyance that has happened to each one of us at least once while living in Daresalaam. At the end of the reading the group discusses about the short story and offer suggestions and tips to the writer.
2030h (more or less). A man on his late 50s or a bit more opens the cover of his iPad and announces to the group that he has also got something to share. He humbly suggests that his writing is not anywhere as good as the works that had been shared by his predecessors. He begins reading his narration written in Swahili. His piece depicts a scenario between a Chineese salesman and a Tanzanian buyer in Kariakoo (the local market). Once I’ve heard a few of his lines I notice that it is packed with humour that is witty, unconventional and dark but as a sales person in advertising I find it greatly entertaining. The rest of the group enjoy the piece but find it’s humour very dark.
‘I was so excited while I was writing this piece. It was at night and I found myself at the peak of creativity. One line led to another until when I finally looked at my watch I said, ‘Yatosha (this is enough)!’ explained our writer. ‘Yatosha’ was also the same word he used to close his piece which I found quite amusing as he was making a joke out of an airtime campaign by Airtel (one of Tanzanian’s big mobile phone network provider). All of the night’s writers had produced the work they shared in response to a challenge that was set in the last MOTO meeting.
2110h. My companion and I call it a night. We stand up and gesture our farewell as we leave the others immersed in their discussions about writing and it’s challenges. We walk away discussing about the circle, the stories shared, the great location, the friendly and motivating group while looking forward to future encounters.
According to their description on facebook, MOTO (swahili word for fire) is a space for writers in Tanzania to connect with one another, support the local literally community and share experiences and expertise. The writer’s circle on this night was made up of people coming from different walks of life and with varying skills in terms of writing but all united through their passion to write. This ability to ignite the passion for writing in people irrespective of their background or age and then providing an environment where this existing or new found desire can be natured made MOTO a worthwhile event to attend.