A Day at Aké By Oluwadeaduramilade Tawak

I was very excited about going for Aké Art and Book Festival in Abeokuta this year. Every year before this, something always happened. The first time, I was in the hospital – malaria and typhoid. The second time, I was working – an attempt to keep myself busy during the holidays. This was my third try. Third time’s the charm. No?

I applied to volunteer, but I wasn’t selected which broke my heart. But, I have amazing friends and they made plans and I was ready for Aké by October. I couldn’t wait for November to arrive.

 

November arrives, and suddenly, I’m starting a job and I have to go to the office. OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENS TO AKÉ???!!!! My mum says I should just ask for the days off. I am not very hopeful, but I put in a request anyways. But the forces of nature are against me. No Aké for me this year. A few days later, I get an email that I have won a twenty thousand naira book grant for Aké. I decide to go anyways – even if I’m staying for only Saturday. I have to redeem my book grant. Also, there are some people (read: a guy) I haven’t seen in a while who will be at Aké.

New worry: how do I get to Aké? Everybody I know is going on Wednesday or Friday. My plan is to leave Lagos early on Saturday morning so I can catch Ngugi Wa Thiong'o' and Kunle Ajibade's panel on Prison Stories and the session on Exhuming the Author. I decide to go by public transport.

The night before my trip, I experience back pain so severe, I cry. I almost cancel on going to Aké. November 19 rolls around. I wake up at 4am. Too excited to sleep. I’M GOING TO AKÉ. I leave the house at 6:30am. My mum and sister walk me to the bus stop near the house. They’re almost as excited as I am. I take a car from Ketu to Kuto. I am partly excited and partly scared because I have never done this before. All my road travels have been with my mum or uncle behind the wheel. I am prepared for a long trip – I don’t drink water, I have a novel to read (Tomorrow Died Yesterday), my phone is at 100% and my power bank is fully charged.

The trip is uneventful – I only prayed that no trailer would fall on the car – and I arrived at Kuto at 10am. I take a bike to the Cultural Centre, partly because I’m in a hurry – the panels are to start at 10:30. Also, the weather is very hot.

I get to the Cultural Centre, a five minute walk from Kuto Park, and see some friends leaving the Centre to get food. They direct me to the front desk where I see some more friends who are volunteers. I get a tag and my Aké bag.

Let the fun begin.

I bump into Ify, a member of the Aké team, and Lola Shoneyin on my way to the book chat with Okey Ndibe (who will later sign my copy of his latest book – Don’t Look an American in the Eye). In the middle of this, I talk to someone about art and pre-colonial buildings. Afterwards, I shuttle between trying to redeem my books and the panels going on. There are some books I have my eye on.

After an almost cat-fight and some tears, I finally get all the books I want. The day goes on from session to session. I have lunch and then I go sit outside to take it all in. I am at Aké. I am surrounded by, have seen, spoken to, shook hands with and hugged some of the best and biggest writers in Africa. People that I admire and respect.

Waking up early, a three hour road trip and the day’s excitement wear me out and I’m sleepy. I bump into a friend who is also sleepy and, luckily for both of us, is staying in a hotel close to the Centre. We talk for a while while about everything from the festival to the U.S. elections to writing and a session from earlier in the day.

When we get back to the festival, Okey Ndibe is interviewing Ngugi wa Thiong'o. It's an interesting session that reveals more about the man behind the legend. This is where Okey Ndibe signs my book. I talk with Kunle Ajibade, who introduces me to Femi Osofisan, about writing. After this, is the Palmwine & Poetry night and Titilope Sonuga and Lebo Mashile bring the house to a standing ovation with their powerful poems. We move to the closing party which is five hours of dancing and having fun with friends, old and new.

I can't get a cab to where I'm supposed to stay, so I call a friend and walk to her hotel which is near the Centre. I sleep at 3 a.m. after reflecting on the day's excitement. I wake up at 7 a.m. and prepare to say goodbye to Abeokuta. My pedometer app tells me I've walked 10,000 steps today.

I hang around at the Centre with my friends – volunteers waiting for Lola Shoneyin. Six of us leave at 1pm. We walk to Kuto Park; everyone else lugging large bags and boxes, me with my one big tote bag. The trip back to Lagos starts out with excited discussions about the events of the past  few days, our favourite moments, and our plans for #AkéFest17.

I leave Aké with eight new books and the hunger to read more. More than this, I leave Aké with a desire to write more – and not just to write more, to write well.

Oluwadeaduramilade is an almost psychologist and a researcher. She wants to be a poet psychologist when she grows up.