For you, the festival starts the day you get an email from the festival manager, in this case, Seun Alli, saying you have been accepted by the team to be a volunteer, instructing you to be at a certain venue, on a certain day, and a certain time for a meeting/orientation training. Because it is no small feat you screen grab the mail and post it on your WhatsApp status, ecstatic that you will be part of a festival that bridges borders.
In line with the schedule, after a series of meetings, the first day of the festival comes and there is Lebo Mashile, poet in residence, giving a workshop at Freedom Park. You walk in, and she gives you a wink and thumbs up. Instantly, you know what everyone else would come to realize as the festival runs: Lebo Mashile is Happiness.
Your job starts that day as you make an airport run to pick up Yomi Sode, guest, who happens to have a workshop the next day. Lagos makes the airport drive tedious and there is a long wait at the arrivals because checkup, because international, because ‘one of those things’ will hit you. He arrives, finally, and you both Taxify to the next day, his workshop.
You see, being a volunteer has its perks. That is why you are able to sit through Yomi’s workshop, make notes and learn the art of performance; see Nkateko Masinga, guest, also perform and be amazed. You learn that before psychiatrists, poets have been getting into people’s heads just as Yomi, when he made those things you don’t write about a baby, hover, and come to you while you are stuck in an elevator.
Fast forward to the opening night/cocktail. Despite the fact that there is work, your ears are not too busy to listen to the words of Chika Jones, Nkateko, Lebo, or the French of Jabir Malik and the German of Julian. The night ends with delicious small chops and music from Femi Leye
Call up time is 9 am and by 8, there is already assignment of duties on the WhatsApp group. Everyday of the first three day of the festival opens with a workshop; then panel sessions with interesting conversations bordering on topics such as: Burn your idols, Bodies under siege, A generation in exile, and school visits.
I think it is safe to assume, however, that these four events stood out through the festival:
In Memory of Forgetting, an evening with Wana Udobang and Lebo Mashile who read truth no one could forget.
The festival concert at Muson center, which left people in cheers and tears.
Kwame Dawes’ Masterclass, where poetry, and culture were discussed; and the enlightening contributions from Niyi Osundare and participants.
And of, course Poetry after Dark where poetry and music from headphones, indeed, kept people wide awake.
The festival was a splendour, as your body and every member of the team were a bag of tiredness. Last day comes and airport drop-offs happen. You go home with fulfilment and plan to sleep for 24 hours but not before you post on your WhatsApp status:
“For the past 6 days, I have seen the behind the scenes of art, the amount of work put into the glamorous pictures that make you want to be present and I have concluded that strength will fail but it is passion, it is the passion that keeps you going.”
And at that moment, you realize that you would do it over and over again.
Shade Olaoye is an occasional writer who is addicted to shoes and believe that her words can somehow change the next person.