Every time I have been thinking of writing about Nevender, my mind has always raced back to my first literature class at university. It was conducted by Prof Abasi Kiyimba alias AK.
“My role here is very simple. I’m supposed to make you love literature,” avowed AK.
True to his word, AK made us love literature. Not because he discouraged the writing of notes in his class but because of the simplicity with which he delivered his classes. His classes were the most willingly attended of those we had throughout the course of three years. He even encouraged us to invite students pursuing other courses to join us for his classes. And many of them came. Much as Nevender never sat in AK’s class, he lived to the completion of a shared mission. He made us love literature in the simplest ways possible.
The first time I met Nevender, in person, was after like a year of corresponding online. Unknown to me, we had even crossed paths as we worked on certain projects together only that we did not know each other. There are so many memories attached to Nevender especially in the literally circles. At one point in 2014, we were geared up to establish a book club. Nyana Kakoma had published a blog on soomanystories talking about her book club. We thought we should come up with one. About five of us bought into the idea only for the two of us to show up. Somehow the idea died along the way.
Joel was very passionate about writing. He introduced me to blogging. He had been part of the earlier cohort of Kampala bloggers that used to meet at one of the defunct places. It must have been Mateos.
With the passing of time, the bloggers of that time (2010/11) got busier in the pursuit of their careers that they paid less attention to blogging. Joel, along with a few others, stayed. He widened the scope delving deeper into content creation with a number of brands including Node Six, The Pearl Guide and Success Spark Brand where he was at the time of his demise.
When a Robert and I were setting up Akira Digital Ltd, Joel was our go-to person. Somehow he knew what to do, who to go to and things like that. This, he always did kindly, calmly and gently. He was a teacher who wanted the best of his students and knew how to get it without trying. Often times when we met, has asked why I was not writing as much as I should. For lack of correct answers, I always lied. One lie upon another. He knew I was lying and cautioned me to “take blogging more serious”. There is something he saw that I didn’t. I was too preoccupied with myself that I missed paying attention to him.
When he began the idea of the blogging community, he was keen on uniting Ugandan bloggers to come together, to know each other but most importantly; to build one another from an individual to a community level. This, he succeeded. His projects were always about literature. He created a number of forums on different social media platforms connecting people. Nevender’s name was and still is associated with Ugandan writing. From sharing his own thoughts on his blog, to publishing poetry and reviewing books. He lived a writing life, one filled with healing words.
On that fateful evening of 11th February 2018, I was awoken from an afternoon nap by a phone call from Robert asking; “Is it true? About Nevender, is it true?”
I didn’t know what was or wasn’t true. I turned to whatsapp where I found a message from Donnas Ojok, asking the same; “Is it true?”
On opening up the Uganda Bloggers Community whatsapp group, it is there that I found the news of Nevender’s passing. And it was true.
The night before, he had sent me a message asking me to set up the venue for the bloggers meet-up which I did. We began without him but expected him. We came to the agreed time of closing and still he was nowhere to be seen. On his way to the meet-up, he had decided to check-in at the hospital as he had occasionally done, every time he felt uneasy. This time he was retained. That was to be the last time he check-in himself. He never walked out again.
The session ended without him and we all left. A few hours thereafter, the sad news crawled through the crevices of social media platforms and it was hard to resist. The previous day, he had signed up his first book writing project.
Joel had a way with words. He always used his might to write to talk about subjects you and I feared to write on. In his poetry collection, Pumpkin Soup, he wrote the poem, They will carry me, a public will of things he desired done at his funeral.
Joel’s life ended that day but his legacy stayed. His influence stayed. He had indirectly touched the lives of many. Scrolling through the #RIPNevender, you get the picture of all of this. This is how much, in his softness, he spoke aloud. In his weakness, he carried many along. There is a way Nevender identified those in pain and reached out to them physically as the rest of us shouted “thoughts and prayers”. He had a way of prioritizing other people’s interest before his own.
He endeared himself to a number of social causes that we often watch from a distance. He broke the ice on conversations and campaigns about the sickle cell situation in the country, himself having had a first-hand experience. When a one Revence Kalibwani, also a blogger, died under mysterious circumstances, it was Nev who vehemently demanded the release of Kalibwani’s death report. He went on to write about it. Together with the team at Kitara Nation, they put up a theatrical poetry production themed Tokuba Totta, a public plea against mob justice in honour of Kalibwani.
Nevender knew how to build and sustain relationships. He used to effect change in the lives of those who let him in. Lynn Kirabo, broken and confused, eulogizes Joel as one who had a tender discretion in the way he went about his matters of life. He brought everyone on board. And everyone stayed.
That is the Nevender Legacy.
This legacy is not about to be forgotten. The friends of Nevender decided to set up The Nevender Legacy and the Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa Writers’ Fellowship where different activities are to be done to carry forward the good works of this selfless person.
His book Pumpkin Soup that he had published on Amazon has now been made available in print. The African Writers Trust dedicated the 2018 writing conference to him and a short story anthology Dear Nev was published in that regard. You can get copies at Turn The Page.
Success Spark Brand runs the Nevender Fellowship where one person is sponsored to attend their creative writing retreat.
Kitara Nation is up to something now. They are organizing a poetry production to be held at the National Theatre on the 14th December 2018. See poster. Nevender shared a lot of his poetry with The Lantern Meet of Poets where his works featured in a number of their productions. When Kitara Nation opened in 2015, Nevender was there. He shared his works at the poetry shrine. Now, in honour, they are holding a full theatrical production in his name. The proceeds will go towards building the Nevender Legacy.
“I greet you in the name of Hope
It’s that river that never runs dry
That light that never goes out
That word that never leaves the mind
That hand that always holds yours
I greet you and say, ‘Always give it one more day’ ”