The story of the Non-launch... of
“Journeys around and with Kongi – Half a century on the road with Wole SOYINKA”
Some time in August I asked Wole (that is: Wole SOYINKA, Nigerian Literature Nobel 1986) by e-mail and then also on phone whether ’he might just be available for the launch of my book on our fifty years together on the road?’ (x1) Wole looks into his faithful laptop and really discovers a time-window: he will, in fact, be around in the Nigerian capital Lagos by the proposed date of September 6th.
“But DEFINITELY NO LAUNCH.
Just count on my presence at the event!”
I promise, since I understand Wole wants none of the usual Nigerian LAUNCHES, when some OGA (= big man), nowadays quite often a civilian author, who earlier spent many years in uniform, launches his most recent self-inflating gibberish in print. And that at a LAUNCH in one of the more expensive Lagos or Abuja hotels, in a huge hall specially rented for the occasion, with numerous other Ogas in attendance. And with those present spraying the author with 500 Naira notes (that is sticking a currency note on his sweaty front…), and buying ‘first’ copies for any amount. And so we will have nothing of that sort – DEFINITELY.
My proposal even goes further than that… First I tell the ‘man’ (as Wole is also being called in Nigeria) that the event in the local Goethe Institut is supposed to start at 4 p.m. And then I propose to him that the event will most probably start - African-time-wise - at only “Let me add another half hour, which will then make it So, if you arrive any time after that, that is 90 minutes late, that is fine with me. I shall reserve a seat for you in the last row.” Wole agrees. And I tell the Goethe organizers so.
I start reading early after all, with only some 15 minutes delay, and then discussion starts. At about or so the last discussant gets up to tell me in frank words: “Mr. Meuer, you did make this all up. You announced that Mr. Soyinka would be present, very well knowing that he would NOT come.”
And hardly has the discussant said so, that Kongi (another one of Wole’s many names at home) enters the hall and is being shown to his vacant seat. Whereupon the entire ‘show’ simply breaks down – as I had expected it would WHENEVER he would appear, whenever the ‘man’ would appear. I welcome him and declare the event closed: “Time now for refreshments and some finger food.’ A good laugh is being had by each and everyone outside in the garden, and Wole chats for quite some time with those who had come to the ‘presentation’.
(But not before I had presented to him his beloved Grappa, several Salame, some smoked Black Forest ham, as well as some Peperoncino, packaged by the Italian producers in form of a hand-grenade with the apt inscription DINAMITE.)
presenting that ‘dinamitic’ Peperoncino
And then he tells that he will call me later on cellular in the evening, which he did shortly before midnight, to tell me: “Lunch tomorrow by noon at my place in Abeokuta.” to which my reply is: “Yessah, understood. Roger and out.” And together with Goethe director Arne Schneider I did finally find his place – again. Abeokuta has moved much closer to Wole’s place in recent years and the road is tarred right up to his land, but not quite to his house: you have to branch off to the right, and the last 200 meters or so have been left un-tarred, red laterite. Also from an almost tree-less landscape you suddenly dive into deep green under-growth, trees, pass a sort of dam between Wole’s two fishponds, and then you see his triangular- red-brick house. But what is that? I see four big police vehicles with red and blue signal lamps mounted on top, and almost a dozen heavily armed policemen loungingaround. I make a gesture as if prepared for a body-search but then the policemen laughingly wave me into the house. Wole has three guests who did arrive in time: a Nigerian top man from a very big European oil company, as well as a male and a female ‘oyingbo peppe’, whites. The oil company director for the whole of Africa and his wife, as I find out by asking ‘whatbusiness are you in?’ They are the ones who have brought that impressive cortège of policemen, quite useful in Nigeria these days, where you can hire your own police escort of MOPOL if you are prepared to pay for it… And Wole to add: “Well, some people had offered me some sort of police protection but I refused.” And indeed after the French couple have left there is not a single policeman to be seen again on Wole’s compound. It is as peaceful as ever, and there is no danger for Wole’s collection of wines from all over the world! After the – usual – excellent Nigerian food and some equally excellent wines it is warm bye-hug and then: “See you in Germany next time. Will collect you at Frankfurt airport and take you to Bayreuth for that Markgraefin–Wilhelmine Prize on October 17th. And since your next date in Germany is only on October, 23rd in Mannheim, I suppose we can at long last spend the time in between to do that long-planned tour of the Alsatian wine region between Colmar and Wissembourg? “ I am – once again - being disappointed since Wole says: “No, it’s again off, since after Bayreuth I will have to fly to Marrakesch for a poetry festival.” That’s it then – again. But at least Wole will read in Mannheim, in the Planetarium, that is under the stars – fittingly since he will read from his collection of poems “Samarkand and other markets I have seen. “ And the following day he – the ‘pagan’ – will then read a series of poems more or less in praise of his own Yoruba Pantheon, Shango, Olodumare and above all his preferred deity OGUN – in a church (!) in Speyer.
And then the presentation tour continued…
First in my Yoruba home village of ODOGBOLU, where my good friend Yemi Oyeneye (‘formerly known as…, all former documents remain valid…”) had assembled several chiefs for the presentation in the ‘Young Aspirants Club’ (sic!). His son, born four years after my first visit to Nigeria, now with Nigeria’s biggest cellular company, bought six copies straight away, to… ‘present to my co-workers, so that they might get an idea…’, of what da ‘man’ is all about. Oh, I almost forgot… the reading at YABATECH had to be cancelled at the very last minute: we were already at the door, when some usual Lagos hectic communication by cellular went on… the students were on – some – strike – and they might just have felt tempted to pelt those ‘OYINGBO Peppes’ with stones… But the readings a UNILAG, the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and also at my old university, the University of Ibadan did all take place. And then BYE to Naija and the usual trip by bush-taxi along the coast, first to TOGO, where the local Goethe Institut in Lome – again - showed no interest, being “too busy” with some quaint lectures on ‘Religion in Africa’, on which theme I heard a rather boring, academic presentation: all said and heard before! Which made me wonder how they could possibly NOT be interested in the ‘man’ who is, after all, the number one proselytizer of African religiosity, but may be the ORISHA simply don’t fit into the local director’s strange world-view… I did, however, force the local librarian to buy a copy of my book – with Wole’s OBATALA text therein – for the library. The Ghana Goethe DID show some interest, but not on the Institut premises, the latter being busy all that week of my presence with holding German language tests: quite a challenge, since no less than some 150 Ghanaian ladies want to pass that proficiency test, to, at long last, join their ‘husbands’ (…) who are already in Germany. We did go the African Studies Centre at Legon university though, where the audience was composed mainly of professors, virtually all of them FEMALE. And when I read the piece about German academics, who, according to one NOAM CHOMSKY are ‘also not nice people’, the head of African Studies asked me whether I knew the term ‘KAKADEMICS’. I had to admit that I had NOT heard that term before but would now use it freely ! A very pleasant late afternoon that one. (I also showed the good profesoresses some of the CDs containing readings and conferences by Wole, and the ladies immediately wanted to grab those CDs. But I had to tell them that those would at first have to go to the planned SOYINKA archive at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, which would then make all those materials available for free – and that world-wide. Only to learn after my return to Germany that this is most probably a no-go-show, since … German Academia, though very much wanting that material, will most probably not be able to let me do that job since I am not in possession of an academic title…) And then it was yet again another 48-hour drive by bus and tro-tro from Accra through Kumasi, Tamale, Bolgatanga, Navrongo, Paga to OUAGA, Burkina Faso… In Ouaga only a few weeks before a brand-new GOETHE had opened under the able leadership of Dr. Stepan. Who within days arranged a presentation at the local Université. And lo and behold, almost one hundred students were present at my presentation, this time in French. The audience was most attentive, and towards the end one of the professors asked when my book would be available in … German ? I have no clue. But I proposed to him that he propose to the local Goethe, the German Academic Exchange Programme DAAD and whoever… that they give me a scholarship to translate the book into German… we shall see… Meanwhile I have been asked, invited, honoured to present the book at Bayreuth and also at the ‘Allerweltshaus’ or ‘House of the Mix-Up’ in Cologne, not to forget in my own village here in the – politically correct – Schwarzwald or BLACK Forest !
and here for some of my readers…
Reaktion from Jakob Köllhofer, 12.10.2008, 14.33
So so immer im Clinch.
Ja, wenn du deinen Freunden Bömble mit Lunte überreichst, musst du dich nicht wundern, wenn dir die Welt immer wieder um die Ohren fliegt.
Jakob J. Köllhofer
Direktor, Direktor Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg
“why are you wondering that a frayed world starts flying around your head; since you dare tend a bomb with burning fuse to your friends?”