Last week I had a little taste of what a UN meeting must feel like. I was attending the LittWorld 2012 Conference in Kenya, with the theme “Publishing for Global Impact.” There were 194 delegates from 50 countries, and today I would like to introduce you to a few of them.
But first, let me set the scene. The Brackenhurst conference facility is set in lovely garden-like grounds, surrounded by lush green coffee and tea plantations, and small tracts of indigenous forest. The conference organisers, MAI, had put together a fascinating and varied programme of talks and panel discussions: – a publisher from the Philippines, urging the development of local writers; an Egyptian author speaking about his use of social media in addressing some of the pressing needs in his country; and an African publisher from the Ivory Coast, succeeding at building his publishing business despite the unrest and political turmoil in his country.
In addition, there were elective sessions by well-known authors such as Robin Jones Gunn, Harry Kraus, and publishing gurus from around the globe. However, some of the most valuable lessons I learnt came from the—often brief—encounters I had with people over meals, on walks or on the bus. Time, space (and my reader’s short attention span) doesn’t allow me to introduce each one, but here are just a few of the people who had an impact on me:
The oldest delegate at the conference,–an author and illustrator from America—must have been well into his 80’s. Hall caught my attention when he shared in a small group session that he was planning to travel to Haiti in order to research a book he is writing about child slavery. I sought him out after the talk and had a delightful conversation about his many travels, books and upcoming plans. Hall taught me that we should live with vision and adventure no matter our age, and that our gifts don’t have an expiry date.
I know almost nothing about Mongolia, and so I was fascinated to meet this Mongolian pastor and writer. Language was a bit of a barrier, but through hand gestures and help from a young Russian delegate who translated a little for him, I gained a wonderful sense of his deep faith and his work to share it in a country scarred by communism. Dugermaa taught me that we should live courageously and compassionately wherever we are placed.
This well-known author has over eighty titles to her name and book sales exceeding 4 million. Finding myself next to her at the coffee table, I mentioned (probably in a somewhat breathless, awe-filled voice) that I write fiction, and was surprised when she came to find me at lunch that afternoon. We sat with some Hungarian ladies and all talked and laughed like good friends sharing at a Book Club. Robin taught me that we should use our gifts to serve others, and not to gain status, and that our lives should remain infused with grace and humility no matter how much worldly success we may gain.
I hit it off instantly with this young Kenyan author. We shared a love for the fantasy genre and a dream of writing these kinds of books. His smile and enthusiasm were completely contagious, and any time I heard “Jo-ann” called loudly from across a room, I knew that I was in for a great conversation. Ernest reminded me that I am part of a community of African writers who should be encouraging and supporting each other.
My first encounter with Roland was at Nairobi airport when he handed me a bottle of water and, from that moment on, our paths kept intersecting. Roland heads up The Africa Upper Room Ministries in South Africa, and he does his work out of a sense of passion and purpose, as opposed to material gain. His humour and somewhat rebellious streak added a great deal of fun into the week. Roland taught me that the motives with which we do things are important, and that true compassion for people is ultimately what counts.
I wish I had time to tell you about the fascinating people I met from Malaysia, the Philippines, Uganda, Jordan and Pakistan, to name but a few. This week I was reminded that every single person we meet has a story and that if we listen and open our hearts, there is much to learn from every encounter.