This was the day we’d all been dreading. The day the curtains are drawn close on 4/5 days of book and art festivities. It started off with a Book Chat with Professor Okey Ndibe and Alain Mabanckou. This session was hosted by Kola Tunbosun. The conversations lingered around Ndibe’s book “Never Look An American In the Eye” and Mabanckou’s “Lights Of Pointe-Noire” which were centered on biographical themes about Africans adapting to life in the western world. Both books had been written from the perspective of foreigners arriving in a strange land for the first time. It was a really interesting session with attendant questions and responses.
I particularly loved Prof. Okey Ndibe’s tale of how he came about the title of his novel. He had been warned by his Uncle (who had sojourned to America for a bit before returning home) before leaving Nigeria for the first time many years ago, that he should never stare an American in the face or he would get shot. So off he went to the “white man’s land” with that advice ingrained into his brain. For a few months he had indeed not looked any white man/woman in the eye. He always lowered his gaze during conversations. And then, out of nowhere, he braced himself and began to gaze upward and the first time he did look an American in the eye, nothing happened. No gun shoved at the centre of his head or heart.
Then it was time to hear Ngugi wa Thiong’o speak at his very first session at the festival. I read Ngugi’s “Weep Not Child” about age 9 or thereabout. A book I’d culled from my Dad’s archive of texts and books he’d used in primary and grammar school. At that point I hadn’t really understood or appreciated the power and intensity of the book. Until some years later when I picked it up and read it all over again with a better appreciation. So in awe of the author was I.
My parents knew who Ngugi was and I could detect a bit of longing in their reaction when I informed them that he was coming for the festival.
Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the other speaker, Kunle Ajibade had both at a point in time been imprisoned by the governments of their countries (Kenya and Nigeria) because they were perceived as opposition forces using their pens to cause havoc and mutiny against the rulers. Both were released from prison with mind and soul full of inspirational tales to be moulded into books in later years .
I was able to catch some part of the session on “Horror Fiction in Africa”. Not so bad as well.
Pemi Aguda, Geoff Ryman and Chinelo Okparanta
And it was time for my midday nap (How bland would a vacay be if you are unable to sleep through the afternoon). Amusingly, I was yet to get a taste of Ofada rice which my darling Abeokutarians have managed to claim for themselves the way Ijesha people have the copyrights to pounded yam.
I ventured into the cafeteria not to get food but to cop myself one of the novels on the Etisalat longlist which were being sold for a discounted price of N1000. See rushing sha….we can like awoof. As your girl is not a dulling person, I always managed to get myself a book on the days the discount sales were on despite the long queues and mad rush. Maybe not the ones I would have wanted but I sha benefited from the 1k sales.
So I get my book and I’m about to leave when I perceive a faint smell of Ofada stew. Tracing the path through which the smell was wafting from, I discover to my amazement that Ofada was being sold for the very first time at the canteen. The stew smelled so good but was shockingly bereft of the usual shaki, pomo, edo, and other “orishirishi” that you’d find swimming in a regular pot of Ofada sauce. A piece of chicken served as substitute for the “orishirishi”. I was flabbergasted. Say what now????
A little inner dialogue and I decided I could overlook it. Meat is meat. So I proceeded to the Ofada stand and asked if they had a takeout option and I was told the same thing, third time a row – “we don’t have takeaway”. I was expected to sit in a hot cramped room and enjoy a meal of meatless Ofada rice and sauce. Nope. No way Jose. I vexed, walked out of the venue, called a bike and specifically asked him to drive me down to anywhere he knows in Ake town where good delicious ofada is sold. He does and I buy myself ofada rice with complementing sauce abundantly garnished with orishirishi in a plastic takeout bowl. Alas, I spent less than 400 bucks. Just imagine!
I head off to my hotel room, balanced well and enjoyed lunch. Disappointingly, there was no electricity in the hotel as the generator was undergoing extensive repairs. Midday siesta was thus cancelled. I chilled for five to ten minutes and I was out the door.
Got back to the venue in good time to join the Book Chat with Teju cole, Yewande Omotosho and Sarah Ladipo Manyinka, all three with roots in Nigeria and other parts of the world. It was an interesting session about finding home: a sense of placement and displacement. As a writer, where exactly is home for you?
From L-R: Sarah Ladipo Manyinka, Wana Sambo, Yewande Omotosho and Teju Cole
Next up was a Life and Times-cum-interview session hosted by Prof. Okey Ndibe. The honourable guest was none other than Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Copies of his new book were up for sale and autographs were promised. This was definitely one of the best sessions. Here, the literary giant went from demi-god status to a down to earth grandfather figure who was having an interesting conversation with his children and grandchildren alike. Would we forget so soon the recitation of a part of Ngugi’s novel in seven different African languages. Of course Nigeria had about five in there.
The book signing moment was a joy to behold from my corner of the cozy auditorium. Sold out in minutes and every buyer got an autograph and selfie as complimentary gifts.
Did I buy the book? Well…….. I couldn’t get the book. I’d already spent all my cash on books earlier on. Didn’t think I would have needed to save for Baba’s new book. Neither was I forewarned to. 😦
Next up was the Palmwine and Poetry session. Beautiful poems recited by six poets. One was of particular interest. A certain Titlope Sonuga who had done a poem recital at the presidential inauguration in 2015 (a first in the history of the country). It wasn’t just the poem that was striking, her rendition of it was exquisitely and tastefully belted out. I was awestruck. South African Lebo Mashile’s poem stood out too. Hers’ was an unembellished R18+ poem with no cares to give.
As for the palmwine, I didn’t taste a drop of it. Walahi, I wee not lie. It didn’t go round. This session ended at 11pm and there was still a closing party to attend. Boy at this point, I knew I had “overstayed my welcome”. But I could not resist the small chops and chapman that Lola Shoneyin had promised would be served at the party.
Left: All six poets that performed
Right: Titilope Sonuga
The venue was the exhibition hall which had been transformed into a disco-lit arena with great jams bouncing off the loud speakers. Did I wait for the party? No, sorry. Got my small chops, wrapped it up and tucked it in my bag, guzzled the Chapman and was out the door. It was sad leaving because the party was only just kicking off and I was painfully aware of the amount of fun I would be missing out on.
(Mehn this year, I don’t care how much the hotel accommodation will cost, I must stay close to the venue. Even if it’s expensive “luxurious” Park Inn. My God shall surely provide.)
I walk out of the venue gates, and as usual there is no bike in sight for close to 30 mins. Paranoia begins to set in. It’s 11:45pm now. The few that stop seem not to have ever heard of the name of my hotel in Ibara before. I wait for another 15 minutes before another bike stops. This is one unkempt, agbako-like looking fellow but I couldn’t be picky at this point. Anyone would do. His price is thrice the standard fare at a rate of N300. No problem as long as he’s assured me he knows my destination. The journey starts and then we get to a bend which I recognise as the second to the last bend that would bring my hotel into view and he fails to turn into the bend.
“No, no….go back, that’s the way,” I tell him.
“That’s not the way,” He responds.
Tendrils of fear begin to creep in. He drives me some distance through unlit roads and streets. He stops at various junctions intermittently and it slowly dawned on me that this guy does not know the location of my hotel. My first instinct is to scream and hurl a handful of insults at him for lying. But I remain calm, realizing that the streets are deserted and it is dark. So I started describing my hotel to him softly, trying to get him to remember what the hotel looks like and some seconds later he responds with “okay okay….. I don know am now’.
Off we go and Okada guy takes me to Royal Green. My hotel is Royal Pavilion which this guy claims he knows but he stops in front of Royal Green something. Royal Green Shrine, School, Pharmacy, Hospital , I have no idea. I’d had enough at this point. I raise my voice and scold him for lying to me all along. He mutters under his breath and proceeds to drive me around the sparsely lit town again and stops at another junction, clueless. I had to hold on tightly to the tiny shred of calm left in me because i was starting to lose it at that point. Lost in an unfamiliar town, some minutes past midnight in the company of a disheveled and incompetent transporter???? Would definitely make a good storyline for an Oscar-winning horror movie. I describe the hotel to him again, speaking wafi-like pidgin this time around. I try to describe the landmarks around my hotel, the colour of the hotel, the number of storeys it has, the colour of its gate, e.t c . And then he goes yet again “Oh, I don remember am”. This is after 15 minutes of “touch and go” inside dark and ominously quiet Ibara. We are on our way again and this guy dares to tell me that I would have to pay him an extra N300. I want to slap his head in from where I sit but I quickly remember my predicament and knowing I had no alternative means of transportation in sight, I acquiesce.
A minute or two later, I watch my hotel come into sight. I’m almost about to jump off the bike in excitement and relief. He drops me in front of my hotel was gratefully well lit. I climb down the bike and give him one last scolding. Aware that the hotel’s security personnel would be at the other side of the gate, I raised my voice and told him point blank that I wasn’t giving him one extra kobo. I walk away half expecting him to come after me but he didn’t and as I reach the front of the gates, they open quickly without a knock from me as if automatically. The security guards had apparently been listening to the conversation. I did not care. All the better. I rush up to my room, fall on my knees and thank God profusely.
I knew then without a doubt that for the next edition of Ake, I had three options; get a place close to the venue, come with my car or not bother coming at all. The fun events are slated for the evenings. So what’s the point of coming for the festival, if you’ll miss the fun events or risk putting your life in danger if you decide to stay back and leave really late when your hotel isn’t a walking distance from the venue.
I did avail the persons behind the twitter handle of the festival a polite piece of my mind the next morning which I coated as advice without actually going into the grissly details of what had happened to me the previous night.
Whether the advice is adopted or not, I would definitely be sorting myself out properly next time.
THE GOOD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
- The fashion statements – Mostly African themed. The dresses, tees, blouses, bags, shoes, jewellery e.t.c.
- The hair – It would be downright impossible to believe a memo on acceptable hairstyles at the Festival hadn’t been sent out to the female guests and participants. 98% of the ladies were either rocking their natural unpermed hair, braids (kinky, crotchet, wool, synthetic hair attachments), low hair cuts e.t.c.
- The concert, the filmshows, the play, the trip to Olumo Rock, the poetry session
- The Volunteering Team – All well-mannered young people, kind and always willing to help.
- Lola Soneyin – The pillar behind Ake Festival. Strong woman, that one. I call her Principal. She is not sitting mute at the “high table” as per CEO. Leadership and ownership has never looked so good on anyone. She’s up and about. In and out of everything, ensuring things get done right.
- The Guests – Celebrated in their own rights yet humble. No false airs and “pinch-nosed” manners. Willing to engage in conversation, sign a book, take selfies, join in the fun. Awesome stuff.
The atmosphere at the Festival was generally laid back, mellow and soothing. For me anyways.
THE NOT-SO-GOOD AND NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL
- The food – Of poor quality and I still can’t get over why packs weren’t made available for those who didn’t wish to sit and eat in the uncomfortably small canteen.
- African time – This was constant. I really can’t decipher which logistic, human or otherwise caused this but it would be nice if this isn’t made the norm at the next edition.
- The Cinema Hall – Majority of the events were held in here and for the first three days, it was not conducive. You’ll observe people (myself included) occasionally leaving their seats to go stand by the opened doors just to inhale some fresh air. Did the Organisers know about the state of the hall beforehand? Can’t say. Was it unforeseen due to a sudden electrical glitch? Don’t know either. But a back-up wouldn’t be out of place at the next edition.
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! YOU MADE IT TO THE END OF MY JOURNAL. SEE YOU AT AKE FEST 2017. 🙂