It was a Friday. The second day of July 2015.
After getting off the phone with my friend Nana Osei, I checked the time and it was well after noon. Nana had called to tell me that he was hanging out with Binyavanga Wainaina in the evening and knowing that i was a fan, he wanted to find out if i’d be interested in coming around.
Of course, I assented.
The scheduled time was 8 p.m. I spent the time in-between swimming in waves of wonder and anxiety. I was as excited as I was nervous at the prospect of meeting and hanging out with someone I truly admire.
Me? Moshood? Not only meeting but hanging out with Binyavanga Wainaina?
I scanned my brain for all the questions I’d ever wanted to ask Binyavanga—and truthfully there were quite a number of them: What his “very African name” (as his very good friend Chimamanda Adichie describes it) meant, what he thought about Ayi Kwei Armah (my favourite author), how one becomes a better writer etc- questions that would disappear upon my meeting him.
Bermuda Bar & Grill was the place and i got there right on time. I got a seat and joined them at the table. Nana Osei introduced me as a writer friend and one of his [Binya’s]biggest fans.
I pitched in “like, I love you man.” Binya did not hear that coming, as his reaction to that would tell. He said hi and introduced me to his companion.
Now I’m thinking: it’s just us four on this table? We’re having Binyavanga Wainaina all to ourselves? Word?
……..after spending a minute or two…or three with his phone and struggling to light a stick of cigarette, he initiated conversation.
He asked me what kind of writing I did. I told him and added how I really wanted to get into writing fiction and how much that dream is currently in a comatose state—thanks to a rather shattering review I received of a flash fiction story I submitted to a website.
We went on to talk about a range of things: African sci-fi, Yoruba mysticism, and, of course, authors and books.
On politics, Binya was particularly interested in how much the youth were engaging (artistically) with politics in Ghana.
His deep knowledge of Yoruba history, culture and tradition had me quite ashamed—considering that my father is Yoruba and from Abeokuta, same city as Fela Kuti and his cousin, Wole Soyinka—both of whom he mentioned a lot in his submissions.
Kojo Laing’s Search Sweet Country is Binyavanga’s favorite book of all times. You could hear the obsession in his voice and see love in his eyes when he talked about the book.
Binyavanga thinks Sefi Atta writes the best dialogue, and he also thinks that the best way to write African sci-fi is to firstly write it in (a) mother tongue. To paraphrase his words:
“…I think the best way to do it is this. Write it in a mother tongue then get a very good translator to translate it. That’s the best way.”
We talked. And talked. And talked some more. Then hunger set in, and Binya called for a waitress. He asked everyone on the table to place an order, and he ordered a beer first, then jollof rice for himself. He asked that it come with shito. A lot of it. He couldn’t stress it enough. Binyavanga Wainaina loves shito.
After what seemed like twenty four hours, the food came.
When Binya was munching on his chow, I asked him what his thoughts were on the Ghana/Nigeria jollof rice beef and whose Jollof’s side he was on. He shared his thoughts and picked a side. I would tell which side he picked but for his safety when he’s next in Lagos or any part of Nigeria, I’ll rather not. (Hint! Hint!!.)
When he wasn’t looking (or when I thought he wasn’t looking,) I would steal a glance at the man and think: What a beautiful person! How so knowledgable! How so cool!
We talked some more until it was past midnight and Binyavanga had to move to Osu a place he seemed to love so much.
We took pictures, said our goodbyes. Binya shook my hand and said “it was nice meeting you.” Overwhelmed and drunk with contentment, I mumbled something inaudible and incomprehensible that was meant to be “Likewise, Binya.”
“Hope to see you at the reading tomorrow,” and then we parted ways.
Thanks to Nana Osei for inviting me out on a night that turned out to be one of the dopest experiences of my life.
I would go home immensely pleased, and would later make a journal entry about this most wonderful night.
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