In 2017, I had applied to volunteer for the Ake festival and received a rejection letter that I took with a light heart—albeit with pains. But after that rejection letter, I began dreaming of the 2018 edition which I was sure I was going to attend. I had daydreamed so much that I began to have a feel of it. My form of fanaticism. I didn’t just want to attend; I wanted to sweat, tire and get stressed helping make the event a success. So when the application for volunteers was opened this year – 2018, I took my time to apply.
Before the selections were made, I was already excited and so sure I would be chosen. However, I did not get any mail on the scheduled day, and I was worried, but I relaxed when a friend told me she had not received a confirmation mail too. At last we got a mail. But it was to apologize for not giving feedback as promised and fixed a new date. The mail arrived later that week. I was too excited to open it. When I finally opened it, I had to wipe my eyes, and checked again if the mail address was correct. Rejection mail again? Another rejection? This mail cannot be for me!
I called my referee and spoke to him, and he asked me to forget about it because bigger ones will come. Forget it? Is it so easy to forget something you wanted so bad? I didn’t want to wait for bigger opportunities. I wanted this one! I wanted to volunteer for Aké Arts and Book Festival 2018. I resolved to fight the rejection mail. For 2 weeks, I kept sending the Aké team mails, asking that they reconsider me even if it meant not putting me on their budget. And they replied the mails confirming my rejection. I didn’t hear from them again.
I kept hope alive and made other plans. My biggest dilemma was when the academic session came to a close, I didn’t know which city to go to; Lagos or Port Harcourt? While Port Harcourt held huge stakes for me, Lagos was to rest, write and attend festivals. My mind wasn’t made up till the night I was to leave Benin, I finally made up my mind to go to Lagos.
It was 7:44am, On the day the festival was to begin, a time when the only logical thing to do was to have given up when I received a mail from AkéFest team that I could come and fill in a volunteer slot. It was unbelievable! Again, I had to wipe my eyes but I didn’t check the email address this time, this was the right mail. I called for directions and hit the road. I arrived the venue, and introduced myself to the administrative manager who assigned me to a role, and made sure I checked into the hotel reserved for volunteers.
The event held at Radison Blu hotel Ikeja. It had different halls for various activities namely: art room, memory room, film room and the conversation halls. The Green room, media room and festival office were restricted for the team and guest. The opening ceremony kicked off with the director, Lola Shoneyin’s speech on the vision of Aké Festival; their work so far, where they are now and where they are headed. Molara Wood (Editor, Aké Review) also delivered a speech on the Theme, “Fantastical Futures”. Several speeches followed – the US consul representative, Nikon country manager and the MD, Unilever Nigeria.
There were also vocal and dance performances, and presentations of awards. One of the highlights of the opening ceremony was the brilliant speech delivered by his excellency, the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osibanjo. The next three days of the festival had activities like Panel discussions, Book chats and signing, film screening, a visit to the art and memory room and interviews.
The beauty of Ake festival was such that the level of freedom of expression was beautiful: you could be as wild, and fantasize as much you can in your imagination because, it was an event free of judgement. This was evident on the platform provided by the festival for creatives to breathe into their imaginations through their dressing and hair styles. The beautiful part being that majority of females had their hair styled in several African ways. I never knew suits could look weird and out of place. Adire was styled into different cuts; native and English wears were combined to make different styles. Lola Shoneyin herself did justice to Ankara fashioned into contemporary styles.
The festival showed that art is home, a place that would accept, embrace and allow you be who you are. When some guest during panel discussions declared boldly that they were gay, and even prayed to God for a partner that will always stand with them, nobody acted shocked. Maybe they did but not loud. I was amazed at the confidence at which they told their stories.
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I met Nnedi Okoroafor! Nnedi of Black Panther! “She looked so fragile” I muttered to myself. I was star struck that I couldn’t help but stare. What attracted me most to Nnedi is the kind of mind she has. Luckily, her panel session held in the hall I was assigned to and I kept on wondering: how did she come to possess that kind of mind? Where does she get her inspirations from? Doesn’t she think she is mad when she imagines what she imagines? When I had the opportunity to snap with her, I did it delicately because I wanted the moment captured perfectly. When I hugged her, I wished I could communicate to her through my mind. “This is Nnedi Okoroafor! She writes the future!”
Toni Kan was an amazing man who took kindly to me the moment I introduced myself to him. I was shocked that Chibundo Onuzo remembered my name each time we crossed each other and, exuded such a lively personality. The perception I had about her from her online presence, didn’t change after meeting her. Igoni Barret was a little indifferent. Nuruddin Farah had a special liking from me. Maybe because, I naturally love old people. Nuruddin was no different. I met Betty Irabor too and she is the definition of a strong woman.
At the end of the festival, Lola had me amazed at her lovely superwoman skills whose passion is unbreakable. When I heard she is also the organizer of KABAFEST (Kaduna Arts and book festival), my respect for her increased.
How does one woman have such will power to organize excellent literary festivals in different states. She coordinated the different activities of the festival, and was always right on time to introduce the session and the speakers. She did last minute running around with her team. She handled phone calls. She took selfies and hugged those who came to her, granted interviews and received dignitaries. In all of these, she was still very calm and calculated while maintaining a great sense of humor.
Her team is made up of energetic young people. Handsome men and beautiful ladies. She and her team deserves all the accolade they can get.
If asked to give a rating, I would rate it on an excellent scale. The organisation was very impressive. It was excellent and all the guest were available. Security was okay, and nothing went wrong to anyone’s notice. I would love to do this again and again for AkéFest and her team.
At the end of it nothing could have given me a better sense of fulfillment than volunteering for Aké Festival. I am glad I fought for it, and I am more grateful to God that I got the chance.