Between the months of March and April, 2014, I was a resident writer at the Ebedi International Writers Residency. The residency gives writers the time and space to concentrate on their writings in an environment conducive to creativity, with free room and board, as well as a weekly stipend.
The residency is housed in a low rise bungalow in Iseyin, a town in the western parts of Nigeria. Iseyin is rural and quiet, lacking the bustle and ambitions of nearby cities like Ibadan, the state’s capital. The fenced grounds is ornamented by mango, cashew, and guava trees that spread fruity scents all over the place.
Beyond the fence, Ebedi hills looms over the property.
I was one of three male writers in the residence. For the duration of six weeks, we wrote out our hearts without distractions. We were in another world, a world where we gave no thought to the mundane affairs of life. We sought first to write, every day, and all other things were taken care of— except boredom.
Boredom forced us to write. There was nothing else to do, which was exactly the plan. But still, we could have done with some sort of distraction or amusement.
I had a suite to myself and the other residents occupied the other suites. These men had never heard of me, neither had I of them. Sometimes in the evenings we would sit under the trees and have these conversations that could drive a normal person to kill himself. You know that frustration you have, sometimes, when you feel as though you were the last person in the world left with a brain? Outside of pages, writers aren’t the smartest or most interesting people.
We had a cook too in the house; she left us for some days to attend her wedding. She was a good sort and loved to laugh. She cooked her best for us. But she had some kind of close friendship with pepper which ensured that she put too much of it in everything—even fruits! She loved oil too. Sometimes we had to drain the flood from our food. We talked to her when we missed talking to a female.
The Ebedi Hills behind the residency had the look of a forest and I imagined that Hemingway would have ventured forth to hunt and kill lions and many things. I persuaded the other writers to go hunting with me without success. So I went alone, twice. Both times I got only as far as the residency gate.
Some evenings, I took walks outside, and in one of such walks I discovered a small bar and thereafter began to stop there for drinks and Catfish pepper soup. It wasn’t too bad—the Catfish—but Iseyin fishermen seemed to be in the habit of catching only underage fish, toddler fish, you know— fish that , perhaps, were still breastfeeding from their mothers and not yet gone out to find their way in the world. It felt somehow like fish abuse. But it was very cheap.
In mid residency, when it was suggested that resident writers could take breaks to visit some of the historical sites in the state, we were all for it. We visited tourist sites like the Ikogosi Water Springs, the colonial Manor House and the mythical Ado Awaiye Suspended Lake. The latter was about a thousand feet up the mountains. We climbed, like hundreds of tourists before us, to wonder how a lake could exist suspended atop 1,300 feet of granite. Our guide told us tales of his ancestors and of how a white man dove into the lake, many years ago, and was yet to dive out. I plotted stories in my head from the guide’s tales.
Another highlight of the residency was the discussions we had with the residency patron, Dr Wale Okediran, on writing and getting published.
The Ebedi International Writer’s Residency is a worthy scheme, with a good heart and right motive. It ought to be encouraged. Presently, it is funded and managed by the good will of Dr Wale Okediran who seems to understand, more than other successful authors, the importance of avenues like the Ebedi residency to literature.
If we must have new names and if we must have options of what books and what writers we ought to read, then, residencies, workshops and fellowships for writers should be encouraged.
Those of us lucky enough to have been at the Ebedi residency know what we gained from the opportunity, and we will not forget. It is not every day that writers find a scheme where they can write whatever they please and get paid for their efforts.
Kenechi Uzochukwu is an award-winning writer. His work has appeared in major online publications in Nigeria and abroad. He is the Founding Editor of write4all.com, a leading writing and editing firm in Nigeria. Check out more of his writing at kenechiuzor.com.
His first novel, Unholy Bible: Lucifer’s Version is still in his computer hard drive. His second book, Child Story, has been printed in A4 paper, and his collection of stories, The Other Side of Things is now accepting publishers.