I travel to Abeokuta in a rickety bus, my only comfort lies in the hopes I have for what Aké festival 2016 holds for me. Earlier, I struggled to confine everything I needed to pack into one bag. I ended up substituting my towel for my hiking shoes. Exploration over comfort? Bring it on. All the excitement I have carried around with me for months begin to wane at the last minute. What if it’s not all I’ve expected? What if I regret attending? What if something horrible happens?
I recognize anxiety and I try to push my worries to the back of my mind and focus instead on meeting Lola Shoneyin and treating myself to a plate of ofada rice.
I arrive June 12 cultural center to friendly faces, Lola Shoneyin and ofada rice. Dreams do come true. I meet some of the volunteers and chat with a few of them before leaving to check into my hotel. IVD lodge is hidden somewhere inside Olusegun Obasanjo hilltop GRA and it takes me a lot of time and effort to find it. I sort out payments with the lady in charge, Maria, pretty and patient Maria. When the bills are settled she leads me upstairs to my room. My room is really no more than a cubicle and my bed is like a tiny (adjustable) couch. I hesitate for a second, then I fall head over heels in love with the tiny space. At this point, I see no imperfections.
I spend the next few hours unpacking, freshening up and settling in. Then I head out back to June 12 cultural center. It’s dinner time there and the volunteers invite me to share in their dinner. I sit and dine with Moje, Stephanie, Titi, James and Dayo. We talk all through dinner, about the places we are from and the places we want to visit. Moje begins a tutorial on the proper use of a fork and knife for Stephanie and Titi and we all laugh about it. Dayo, the photographer slash poet, asks my permission to write a poem about me. I gladly oblige. Ten minutes later he hands his phone to me and asks me not to freak out. He has written a lovely poem about me and I almost freak out, but I don’t. I feel flattered instead. He takes a picture of me on his camera and we continue our dinner.
At 8pm, they all walk me to the gate, my hotel is farther than theirs and they still have work to do. My room no longer feels perfect to me. I begin to notice the dusty floor and not-so-beautiful view. I toss and turn for minutes while trying to fall asleep. At 10pm, I drift into an uncomfortable sleep. I don’t feel comfortable in the tiny bed and strange room.
At 3am there’s a power surge and the lights and sockets in my room get blown out. My phone charger also gets blown out. Maria, the ever helpful lady, moves me to a room with power for the night. There’s another hour of tossing and turning before I fall asleep again.
I wake up at 6:30am, groggy eyed, aching head and annoyed at the events of last night. I move back to my room and sleep for another hour.
At 8:30am, I leave my hotel room to find my way to the cultural center. A huge bus pulls into the compound just before I get to the gate and the man driving asks me to join them If I’m headed to the June 12 cultural center. Apparently, the bus is there to pick up the actors for Friday’s stage play. I get into the bus before most of the actors do. They soon notice the stranger in their midst and nothing could have prepared me for the questions and love and more questions I was barraged with. They are so many, I can’t possibly remember their names. I remember Rotimi, Tunji, Debby, Titi and several other ‘crazy’ people. I say crazy in the most endearing way possible. It’s an amazing ride to the cultural center with these people and I’m glad they’re staying at my hotel.
The workshop begins at about 9:40 am, and I quickly realize that skipping breakfast was a bad idea. Having an intellectual exercise on an empty stomach is a bad idea. The class opens with NoViolet Bulawayo. She is petite and beautiful and I like her immediately. She talks about dialogue for the next couple of hours and gives us a writing exercise.
We get a 30 minutes break afterward, which is when I meet Chinenye. She is lodged at my hotel and a part of the fiction workshop. I like her immediately we start speaking and we go outside together to get snacks. We get carried away thrift shopping but eventually make it back in time for the second phase of the workshop with Helon Habila.
Helon is easily likable. He possesses a subtle kind of humor which he uses to lighten the mood in the class. He spends the next two hours teaching about ‘the perfect beginning to a story/book’ and listens raptly to the flash fiction stories we have all written down for an exercise he gave us.
Two hours later, we get another break, for lunch this time. To our dismay, lunch is not part of our workshop package. I meet up with Chinenye and three other familiar faces from the workshop — William, Kitan and Nnamdi. We have lunch together while arguing about Nigerian books and music. I like them.
We return to the workshop for a question and answer session with NoViolet Bulawayo and Helon Habila, after which the 3rd class with Sarah Manyika begins. Sarah is an animated woman with lovely eyes and a lot of energy. Her session is by far my favorite, and tired as I am, I have a lot of fun. She asks us to pick a random person and write about their personalities, with their shoes as our only muse. It seems challenging at first, but in a few minutes I managed to write something captivating about Mma through her shoes.
At 6pm, the workshop closes and I find myself back at the bar with Chinenye, Kitan, William, Nnamdi, Frances, Sonia and a few other people from the workshop. We all have dinner and drinks together. The conversation is light and I assume everyone is tired. I long for the solitude of my room, a whole day of socializing is a lot for me.
I get to my hotel at 9pm finally and I’m glad to see that all the burnt electrical appliances from last night have been replaced. I feel exhausted but still, I climb into my bed and begin to write this.