An Encounter with the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka

Adamu Usman Garko

Adamu Usman Garko

January 2021 | Nigeria

An Encounter with the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka


The night before the trip I didn't sleep a wink, perhaps I found a stranger in me. I couldn't close my eyes, not because I didn't want to, but thoughts of morning's arrival kept my eyes bereft of sleep. I prayed and when I get tired of praying, I would gingerly go outside peeping through the window, my mind in awe of how I made it among the eighty four finalists from all over Nigeria who would breath for four days in Lagos and in the Abeokuta home of Nigeria's only Nobel Laureate as participants of the 2018 Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange programme held annually to mark his birthday.


As the night steadily opened into morning, I saw how owls made night a solace for their songs and how everything died for a new birth. Although I'm used to staying up late at night before going to bed, this was the first time I vainly stayed awake for the whole night, waiting for morning, because when it was morning, my dream would come alive in bliss.


It was 10:30 am when I bid farewell to my teachers and headed, with our school manager and English teachers, to the Gombe airport. As we passed the green grass beside the curbs, I kept staring at my watch; it will soon be 11:00 am, the takeoff time of the Lagos-bound plane. Boarding a plane itself was a far fetched dream brought home to me now by destiny.


At the airport, my bag was checked-in and I bid farewell to our school manager and English teacher. The bright smile I saw on their faces was the best semblance of a glossy orchard. I felt strange, I felt I was in a dream; the plane was now vividly before my eyes like a balloon. As I walked into the plane, every step was accompanied with a prayer.


I located my seat, rested on it and fastened the seat belt. I thought a lot about the takeoff time, how would it feel? I had a selfie then switched off the phone. As scheduled, I would be spending a night in Lagos before heading to Abeokuta.

Already, there was a guide waiting to take me to the hotel. At the hotel, I at once felt drowsy with fatigue, but he instigated I should eat before going to bed. I ate and slept like a baby. I woke up around 5am when the cock was about to crow. I prayed and had a bath. The guide came and took me in a car to Abeokuta where all the finalists were to converge on. Luckily, I arrived early, so I got the chance to quench my curiosity before heading into the Cultural Center, venue of the day’s event.

I'd eventually love Abeokuta more than Lagos because in Lagos I could only breathe the sweat of men all over the sky due to their love for work under the sun but in Abeokuta, the mixed smell of dawn and green grasses assailed my nostrils. I thought how beautiful it would be to dwell therein.


We entered the Cultural center, my guide handed me over to the producer, a woman with a marvelous heart. She asked about my flight and expressed her excitement at seeing me arrive safely. I signed-in a paper to show my arrival and was given a tag and a paper; the paper contains a poem of the great sage which I was told to go and study against tomorrow when we would discuss its hidden meanings. A direction to a floor up shown to me and I walked up the stairs stepping  and watching other  young participants with luminous smiles all over their dimples. That was when I thought home could be in the segregation of distinct people coming to blend. The last step opened me into a big hall lighted by white-yellow bulbs.


We were seated, everyone holding his phone when a woman headed to us, calling for our attention. She would be with us all the time, she said and asked us to call her Lynda, her first name. She made us sit on some arranged chairs and wait for food. After eating, we turned to her. She asked us to all introduce ourselves. About thirty students did, then the next person was a girl whose introduction was followed by a loud clapping and applause because she said she could sing, and dance. Lynda beseeched her to dance, and she did. It was awesome. It was my turn and everyone was curious because I spoke with a distinct Hausa accent.


Lynda pronounced we would do some exercises: debates, spelling bee, and cultural exchange. She grouped us and we started with the debate,to share and exchange ideas, culture and traditions. By 9pm we were all wearied and ended the day. Back at the hotel, everyone bathed and slept. I woke up around 2 am and prayed, perused the poem and beseeched God for a successful day ahead of us. In the morning, we were told we would be visiting Professor Wole Soyinka's house. What did you expect but a grin over my excited face.


The journey started like a daydream, but we held onto the belief that if Wole Soyinka was a robot we were going to see him today, if his hair was truly not cotton to our knowing ,we were going to see them. It was a time for us to jubilate and forget the nightmares of dream, and see the bushy comely haired African poet. It was scary when we heeded to an opened way into a gloomy forest.


I never thought a Nobel Laureate would live in this forest. Whatever it was, nature loves him and he loves nature. He lives in nature and nature augments inspiration. We walked into a space at the heart of the forest. We were given a poem to eat, digest and birth something out of it. When we did, we submitted. Most of us were better at writing and not at analyzing poems.


We had performances. And we eyed the sun on our way to Olumo Rock. We first walked into a gallery, into the world of sculptures, into the cave of designs and many adorned drawings and paintings. We lighted the little darkness in us and woke the lightness in us to sway and dig new things in the softness of our thirstiness. Then we climbed steps. We climbed Olumo Rock and were shown a cave and told so many things about it.  I was dumbfounded and astonished at the stories this Rock carries, perhaps that is why sometimes history lies. Then I sighted the first school, then the first television, then we walked down to home.


We showered, ate and discussed, then night came.


Early in the morning we were taken to Wole Soyinka's home; forest. We walked to his tent,. We stood and waited for him to come out. Whilst chanting ‘Kongi’, a name he loved being called, he came out like some alien. We gingerly entered his living room with amusing chants as he walked past and stopped for warm handshakes. One after the other, we shook hands with him, passing out through his library. As my turn came, the sky chuckled in my hand, his warm, soft sensual palm touched mine. As I passed through his library, the smell of books filled my nostrils. How I'd loved living there, to open many doors through books. Kongi followed us as we squatted. It was time for prize giving and questions.  I presented an Art Work to him. I was so lucky that I was the only one that gifted him such.


We went back to the literary forest and had a lot of mentorship sessions and workshops in writing after which we left for the hotel for rest and prepared ahead of our last night in Abeokuta. We used the opportunity to discuss and exchange phone numbers.


We knew it was the first day in our lives we were being thrilled and having a one-on-one encounter with Professor Wole Soyinka.  If history doesn't write us, we'll write ourselves into history and be the history for tomorrow. The stars shone the more that time, our hearts were touched earnestly by the love of the organizers. We came to the stage and mustered our identities, and throbbed the heart of the flutes. Then the burning fire burnt to ashes and we by then engulfed our body with the coverlet of home like happiness. We forever remember each moment that still plays in our head like hallelujah songs.

 

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