At Ake, time stopped.
I did not worry about the outside world because in that period of time, it did not matter.
At Ake, time floated. It was dangling round the melodies of the musicians, the feistiness of the spoken word poets, and the gentleness of the panellists to speak their truths. The books smelled divine like a new day. Bank accounts were emptied to quench your thirst of hard paperback books to take home as a relic and fill your home and mind with. The decisions made within this period of time were calculated and deliberate. Every conversation ignited with a stranger or a friend had to be intentional. You were seeing people you had not seen before for the first time, you try not to scream because at Ake everyone is self-aware. You had to wear a skin of ascertainment; to prove to everyone you belonged here.
At Ake, you wept. The stories of writers who bled into the pages of their books moved you so much so that you rushed out to buy a copy. Only to find out you were too late; they were already sold out. But you did not care because their words were enough to hold your attention, so you scour through the internet to stalk their biography. You click the ‘’follow’’ button. You listened to writers whose books took ten years to write and for a moment there you stop feeling inadequate. You learn it is not your responsibility to teach a reader how read your story.
At Ake, you forged a new friendship. It was instant. You bonded with your new friend with unending cups of palmwine+zobo and face paints from the village arena. You laughed out loud in the evenings even though your bones were exhausted; you bonded over similar taste in books and men. Alcohol dragged out the silliness in you in the evenings but you did not care. You were having the time of your life.
At Ake, you experienced code switching. You did not know where it came from but you decided to go with it for a moment until it did not make sense anymore. So you spoke in your real voice and real tongue. And then you felt free, your jaw did not hurt as much. It was then you realised, you did not need to be anything but yourself.
At Ake, there was space to be you. As soon as you walked through the gates, the air smelt different. You did not have to explain why your earlobes were pierced or why your hair was the colour of neon green. Your skin was the right size because there were people like you, people who were open to listen to your side of the story. You mattered, your voice mattered.
At Ake, you understood hierarchy. The instant desire to be placed into a class. It was the use of name tags and slowly you eased into the class you fall into. There are Volunteers, Visitors, Crew, Press, Team, Guests. You immediately found your people – your tribe.
At Ake, your mother tongue mattered. You found people who championed the resurrection of a fallen culture. The aftermath of colonialism was discussed and you discovered the ways an entire continent was robbed of their identity; to be told their voice did not matter and had to be forced to swallow a new language like a bitter pill. The consequence of stolen identity was trauma; the kind that will take more than a millennium to unpack; the type that will forge a new genre of literature until we start asking ourselves if we are re-consuming our ancestors’ pain or learning from it. You noticed that each genre including creative nonfiction describes trauma in different ways – some raw and some superficial.
At Ake, there were a lot of things sold. Ileke, adire totes bags, paintings and so much more. You had to look away or admire from afar because money no dey.
At Ake, four days were enough to make you learn and unlearn. You went back home with a lot of new discoveries and a feeling you hope would not go away for a very long time. You await the next one.
Ake Arts and book festival 2019 was themed “Black Bodies, Grey matter” and this year’s edition featured African writers/authors like never before. It was a wonderful experience, one that I really needed to pull me out of my creativity block. I strongly recommend you attend next year. This is my second visit to the festival and I have to say it keeps getting better. My time as volunteer this year made me view the festival through a different perspective which is why this was written like an essay. Thanks for reading! View my Ake Photo Gallery.