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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

My Aké Experience: Part 2

On to part 2 of my Aké  experience. Disclaimer: I tried to capture as much as possible the content of the sessions I attended, but due to either being so absorbed in discussions or a wane in energy later in the day (and definitely towards the end of the Festival), some sessions definitely have more detail than others. I also met a lot more people as the Festival went on, including Kinna (from Kinna Reads), Emmanuel Iduma, Diekoye Oyeyinka, George Gachara, Yewande Omotoso, James Murua, Nouvoyo Tshuma, Dami Ajayi and many many more. Let's go!!!!



Day 4Aké officially begins! In her speech, Lola Shoneyin discusses how in the last three years, Aké has welcomed over 200 guests from Africa and beyond and has physically reached over 10,000 people. For the 2015 edition, guests came from over 18 countries to share their passion for the advancement of arts across the continent. The theme, ‘Engaging the Fringe’  was trying to introduce topics away from the mainstream – topics that are sometimes provocative in a world not accepting of new ideas.

The opening ceremony included a dance from Qudus Onikeke, a musical performance by Aduke and the announcement of the Marine Platforms Literary Programme – which aims to support children in northern Nigeria by providing 50 book libraries with 100 beautiful books for ‘kids to dip in and get lost’, as well as another platform to support northern Nigerian writers by building and developing their writing through a fund that awarded NGN200,000 to 5 authors (Samira Haruna Sanusi for S is for Survivor; Halima Aliyu for Fire on the Tip of Ice; Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for Season of Crimson Blossom; Elnathan John for Born on a Tuesday; and Maryam Bogu for Bongel). The opening ceremony also included the official announcement of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature longlist. 

Now on to the main event, there were many sessions, and sadly I couldn't go to all, but here are the ones I attended.

On Social Inequality in Africa with Mona Elthawy, Siphiwo Mahala and Dilman Dila - this session was slightly let down by its moderation, but the panellists really held it together and in the end it led to some insightful discussion. In this session, Dilman Dila spoke on the role of aid and NGOs in maintaining poverty and social inequality in Africa and about communities that have become 'professional beggars' that know what the NGO wants. Siphiwo Mahala came at the topic from the perspective of the role of the writer in addressing social inequality and reminded us that ‘whatever a writer does, it is towards raising the consciousness of the nation and to challenge the ruling elite.’ Mahala also touched upon #FeesMustFall in SA and how the ‘students [were] bringing up a revolution that was postponed’ ...  something he writes about in his own work. He also spoke about refusing to attend certain festivals in SA since 2011 on the basis of social inequality. 



... and then there was Mona Elthawy who blew me away. Elthawy spoke about sexism and its role in creating social inequality; on how the State, as well as the home oppresses women; on the trifecta of misogyny – the State, the street, the home - on overthrowing ‘all of those patriarchs’ who keep women sexually oppressed; on religions obsession with how to control women’s bodies; on how #blacklivesmatter – a revolutionary movement – can be connected with #feesmustfall in SA; and what the sexual revolution means - fighting FGM, marital rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment on the street. For Elthawy, patriarchy has to be at the centre for any fight against social inequality, and women have to be audacious and basically say 'fuck this shit':
We can't be silent. Women have to shout. We have to tell every man in our life that he is a patriarch. Men benefit from a system that allows other misogynists to benefit from patriarchy. The women's revolution is here. And we won't be silent any more.’ 
As Elthawy makes clear, it’s:
Time to take back our sexuality - a declaration that says I own my body. Not the state, not the church, not the mosque, not the synagogue, not the temple, not  the religion and not the family, not the home - at the end of the day all the patriarchs go home.
And the author’s final words: Siphiwo explains that  ‘we [writers] are trying to tackle issues and respond to questions of our time'. In African Delights it was the question of access to education; Dilman Dila’s short story collection, A Killing in the Sun, deals with issues, such as malaria and curing it from a science fiction perspective, and has a story that was interpreted by someone as Chinese exploitation in Africa; and Mona (awesome Mona) explains how the feminist revolution began in her very soon after she moved to Saudi Arabia at 15; and when she was at university ‘some renegade professor or librarian clearly put the books on feminism on the shelf’. She wrote Headscarves and Hymens - mostly reportage, but non-ficiton with personal stories included - for her 19 year old self. 
Next up was my book chat with Irenosen Okojie and Taiye Selasi. For that (and the bloggers panel), I will be sharing links to them, as I was so nervous I focused on just getting through them. On the chat itself, I found out last minute that Taiye Selasi wouldn't be joining us (as Selasi had a flight to catch). That did throw me off a little (I planned to weave in connections and (dis)connections of each book into the chat), so I had to switch focus quite quickly. I think it worked, and in the end I had an absolutely lovely conversation with Irenosen about her stunning debut, Butterfly FishHere’s a brief summary of the book chat from ThisDay LiveOn the writing process:
It was a long process ... It took me four to five years to write. It started off as a short story which I submitted for a mentorship scheme in London. I just couldn’t get away from the characters. When I had a first draft, I started thinking of publishing. So, I left my job to polish the second draft. It took me a year. I sent it out, and I had three agents who wanted to represent me. So, it’s been a long process, but it’s great to get it to where it is now.”'
On researching about eighteenth century Benin: 
“I had vivid memories of Benin, especially the rural areas ... I was just curious and hungry for that cultural connection. I went to the British Library. I found stuff online. I made trips back home. Basically, it was just about context. Then, I let my imagination fly and writing beyond myself.”
On the protagonist Joy:
Joy was probably the closest character to me, but she was the hardest to write ... I was obsessed with that character, and her story. People have said to me that Joy is an unusual character in African literature."
Then on to the book chat hosted by Ainehi Edoro with Nnedi Okorafor and A. Igoni Barrett, in which they discussed Lagoon and Blackass respectively. Here, Nnedi Okorafor solidified the difference between fantasy and Science Fiction: ‘Fantasy is magic and science fiction is fiction that can be scientifically explained. The two can easily overlap’, and how magical realism tends to be characterised as something done by non-western authors. We found out why Barrett chose not to explain why Furo – the main character in Blackass - metarmophosised? ‘Because it was not important to the story. I would have killed my novel in the first paragraph if I said, this is why it happened?’ 
Ainehi, then brought us to the topic of Lagos, as a city – something both authors engage with – asking them to reflect on the city as a space for transformation.For Okorafor, 'the city [Lagos] was full of energy, chaos and vibrancy, and there was something about it that made her want to write about it'. To which she adds, ‘New York doesn't have anything on Lagos!’ 

For Barrett:
it's the energy of Lagos and the size. The number of people trapped in the small space. It's the people! In Lagos you can meet any type of Nigerian. In Lagos you find representations of many types of Africans. It's also the chaos. You can't see Lagos without seeing its chaos. The chaos of Lagos has a system, so you have the agberos who run after buses and there is an order there that they follow. There is a way this city is running which hasn't been acknowledged by books and taught in schools. People also wear different faces in Lagos. Different types of people in a chaotic connection, which he doesn't quite understand. The most chaotic and most successful Nigerian city.’
Then on to digital technology and what it does to the way we tell stories? For Barrett, who has a section of Blackass written through the medium of Twitter: 
Social media allows everybody to do what fiction allows the reader to be. It allows you to be puppet and puppeteer, God and victim, it's a stage and you can create distance - a persona I am assuming. And so on many ways, sm allows people to act parts of themselves - that's not me! ... Writing the social media scene was like writing dialogue, didn't have to describe things. In Creating the character - went through the voice and let the character reveal what it was but not a full idea of what the person is.
For Okorafor:
'When I wrote lagoon, I was thinking about the Internet and social media. If aliens came to Lagos and weren't hiding and people posted videos about it ... Also the way media views Africa, as a continent, and specifically Nigeria
When asked about rapping being a super power in Lagoon, Okorafor also let us know that she ‘is a very big fan of rap music’ and  what she finds really fascinating about rap music is, 
‘ ... its ability to take crap and make it sound good - vulgar, nonsensical and make it sound good! ... Rappers have the ability to make things sound good - that's a superhero power. Take Drake's 'hotline bling' and the video. Good rappers can take whole of an entire group of people and transform them. Took that idea and turned that literally into a super power.
Finally, a strong theme in Lagoon reflects Nnedi's own thinking, in which human beings are not here to rule the world but are a part of it:
'When I think of people I don't only think of human beings. I think of plants, all the creatures and animals ... they interest me and they fascinate me. In "Lagoon" the first people the aliens meet are in the water and a swordfish that has an agenda against an oil rig ...  Not just fauna and flora but also spirit of ancestors come out to meet the aliens.'   
My last panel of the day was the Speculative Fiction panel with Nnedi Okorafor, Dilman Dila and Mehul Gohil, which was moderated by Mazi Nwonwu. I was a bit tired by then, and thinking about the bloggers panel that was up next, and so only captured a little bit of that. 

Briefly, Okorafor spoke about having issues with the term ‘Afrofuturism’, which is very rooted in African-American culture and Dila said Afrofuturism was not something he connected with. Mehul Gohil explains that there is a lot of raw material on this continent [Africa] for the writer, while Okorafor tells us that one of the reasons she started writing Fantasy is because she 'wanted to write Africa in the future'. The authors briefly read excerpts from their works, with Gohil reading from a work-in-progress set in a futuristic Nairobi in which a mother tells her son, who never goes to sleep, strange small stories.We also learn that The Book of Phoenix is Okorafor's 'most solidly science fictional work' and that when it comes to 'African Science Fiction', Hollywood is clear that 'we don't do that'. For Dila, that's fine, as he isn't interested in Hollywood. Finally Okorafor describes the beauty of this genre to her:
'SF can take a well worn issue and make it new and so makes people able to look at the issue again with the proper eyes, but you can also take really sensitive issues and approach them in such a way that readers who would normally turn away from an issue will be interested so much.'
And on to the blogger panel, with myself, Kinna Likimani and Emmannuel Iduma, which was moderated by Kate Haines - unfortunately Ainehi Edoro (Brittle Paper) couldn't be part of as she had a flight to catch. I had a lot of fun on the panel, plus I finally got to meet Kinna and I’m such a huge fan of Emmanuel Iduma. Knowing Kate Haines also made me feel less 
nervous and quite relaxed in the session. JamesMurua captured the session on his blog.

Day 4 over, dinner, freshen up and then the evening's event – the documentary, ‘The Man Who Mends Women’, followed by a brief Q&A session with Thiery Michel and Colette Braeckman. The Man Who Mends Women focuses on Dr. Mukwege, a globally renowned gynaecologist, fistula surgeon and activist, who has literally mended thousands of women who have been raped during the 20 years conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and whose efforts have been met by death threats and attempts on his life. In spite of it all, he still continues to do his work under the protection of UN peacekeepers, while also advocating on the global stage, for these women's rights and for ending the use of rape as a weapon of violence during conflict. 

It's definitely not for the faint-hearted this documentary - quite a few audience members were unable to finish - but I would highly recommend it. One of the moments in the documentary for me when I knew we still have a long way to go towards sensitisation and awareness of violence against women, was a scene in the court when a number of men were convicted of rape - a conviction every single man in the room did not appreciate having, as they clearly could not understand what the problem was and what sort of crime they committed. 

Now back to the hotel. Turns out there's a poolside party going on (these artists, sure do know how to party). I stay for a bit, but by this time I am extremely exhausted and my bed is calling me - and so I say my good nights and leave everyone to party the night away. 

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