“We made memories here”, this is what I’m thinking when we arrive Kuto. Ope and I recall things throughout the journey. She says: “Remember that time we were here and those girls were learning to strut. ” I laugh. We’d arrived on a Sunday too, about a year ago and there had been aspiring models here strutting. They were unconnected to the festival but made use of the path that led from door to door as their runway. We chuckled as we watched them awkwardly imitate their instructor. This is what had welcomed us.
We arrive the Cultural Center, Ogun State in the bus with the core team – Ify, Tosin and Mister Akin. Before I sleep off in the bus, there are jokes and anecdotes flying around. Mister Akin is particularly hilarious and I laugh thoroughly. It is a way I have taught myself to laugh, that I must always laugh very hard and true, that it must always come from somewhere deep down in my belly.
I cannot stop thinking about second times. I’m thinking, “How consequential is a repeat of the first?” I’m thinking that we’re sometimes so taken by the first time we do a thing, the second time seems inconsequential (but it isn’t). Do you remember the first time you kissed the love of your life for the second time? Remember it.
I’m here in Kuto for the second time and here as a volunteer for the second time. I’d woken up this morning second guessing my decision to work, but I’m happy now, accepting and owning my choices.
We were to arrive at four. It is not midday yet and our hands and clothes are already dirtied from lifting dusty things into the café. These are the woes of utter punctuality but I do not mind. LS and Jess arrive rather unexpectedly and I am shy to see LS again but when she sees me and says, “Afopsy!”, I am no longer shy. It is warm and welcoming the way she says my name and I am pleased to be here again.
Jess brings zobo. Zobo means a lot to me because I spent my final semester in Uni bingeing on it as though I had just discovered it for the first time. Chika drinks it and says “Mmm. Tastes like 1982” and Jess who’s also a member of the core team says: “What does 1982 taste like?” Then I drink it and say: ”Mm. Actually, I think it tastes like 1983.” I wish Jess had made more zobo. It tastes vintage and delicious, the sweetness and sharpness would shock your throat into glad acceptance, a pleasing shock. It tastes like two opposing things blended perfectly and deliberately into delicious juice and I love it.
I’m here liking things even though everything has slowed down. We’re waiting for the cleaners to finish their work so that we can go back in and begin to undo the cartons of books and boxes of other things. We’re waiting for the other volunteers to come too. I am eager to meet them. Eager for the show to start. Eager and hungry.
It is while we’re eating ofada rice and dodo off leaves that many of the volunteers finally show up. I am thinking to myself about the decoration of food and how pleasant the leaves have made my food. When I walk back into the café where the bookstore is being set up, I reckon that I like the smell of paint, white paint; and that I like the sound of hammers driving nails into wood painted white to form bookstores of them.
While we’re taken around and introduced to places in the center that we should know – the cinema hall, the exhibition hall, the café etc – Dare says to me, “Do you think it’s possible that nostalgia might be some sort of disease?” I say, “No. I don’t think so. Why?” and he says, “Because I’m obsessively comparing everything that happened this year with everything that happened last year”. I say, “Me too!”. But I think his case is more severe than mine, as is Ope’s. They are both comparing the t-shirt LS wore on the first day of last year to the t-shirt LS is wearing today and thinking how they like them both. They say this to me and I think, surely, that’s a tad extreme. Dare and Chika are both volunteers from last year too.
We have our introduction session and LS is delightful but she tells us that by the end of the festival we’d probably think of her as a witch because the truth is that it has happened before and that she doesn’t mind because the truth is that she’s actually a witch. We laugh. LS is very funny. Most of the volunteers are aspiring writers and LS says she finds this very interesting. LS – Lola Shoneyin for long – is the Director of the Ake Festival supported by her core team Ify, Tosin, Jessy, Afolabi and Mister Akin and dare I say, she’s a rock.
We play the game we played last year where LS gives us ten minutes to find out everybody’s name and two important things about them. Someone says they’re bisexual and something else which I can’t remember but desperately want to remember because it is interesting to me. After this session, Ify pairs everyone with someone of the same gender as their roommate. Ope is my roommate again(yay!). Then we go back to work on the bookshelves and the tshirts. Then we have dinner of jollof rice and beef.
We talk about cliques, how cliques are formed and I am curious about how it is that people choose each other and for what reasons. Strangers assemble together in a place and somehow before you know it, some people start to gravitate towards some others. I am curious about the mechanisms of these attachments. I am curious about how the old volunteers seem to be sticking together and the new ones too, already playing a game of spin the bottle, two truths one lie. And the old volunteers would be left out had they not decided to disrupt and include themselves. This is after I have convinced them that “we must be inclusive”. Whatever that means.
We walk to our hotel rooms, say goodnight to each other and prepare to rest and ready ourselves for a rather long but interesting week. LS has told us that we’re not here to play, that this is not a vacation. I feel like she doesn’t have to tell us. Some of us already know what we signed up for.