December saw the first Ake Arts & Book Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria. British writer Christie Watson was one of many authors taking part. This is her report, first published on BookBrunch.

Kuto Road, Abeokuta (c) Melvin Baker (Wikimedia CC)

Kuto Road, Abeokuta (c) Melvin Baker (Wikimedia CC)

We arrived at Lagos International Airport, a group of poets, novelists, artists, a graphic novelist, activists, some of whom were frequent visitors to Nigeria, others who had never visited any African country. I tried to imagine how it would feel for them to be shaken down for dash – a bribe – to wait in Lagos traffic, to experience for the first time Lagos, as I had 12 years ago. I remembered my own love at first sight for a city with the heightened, excited personality of a toddler: nonsensical and exhausting, and so funny.

But there were plenty of new experiences for me too – I had never travelled in Nigeria with civil defence escorts, sirens blaring, guns waving, using any means necessary to get us through the go-slow and off the highway. Nigeria is a difficult country. I don’t know of other book fairs where it would be necessary to transfer a bus full of writers in this way. But security was essential: our movements had been advertised countrywide. Nonetheless, we travelled in high spirits, laughing, talking, already teasing each other, watching Lagos swell around us. When we arrived at Abeokuta a party was there to greet us, and I haven’t been hugged that tightly since… well, ever.

It was to be a busy week: I didn’t see much of Abeokuta, which translated into English means “the town beneath the rock”, (known as “refuge among rock”, famed for its clusters of rock protruding from the earth, and Olumo Rock, a gigantic granite outcrop), but it felt perfect: green, quiet, the ancestral home of Wole Soyinka, Ake’s centre.

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