The first thing I smelled when I walked into the banquet hall at Ake Festival 2016 was jollof rice - the pleasant and familiar smell of "party jollof rice." There are two reasons for this, one, I was particularly hungry after the two and a half our trip from Lagos and two, I had made it to the venue at the tail end of lunch. The smell was unbelievably welcoming and so were the unfamiliar faces that paraded the room. The faces included a litany of Ake Fest staff members, attendees, journalists, writers, editors, old friends, new friends and people who were yet to become friends and in the organized chaos, I felt welcome. As I walked out of the banquet, I saw people with shoulders hunched over their half-eaten plates of jollof rice poring over a newly purchased book and I knew that I was going to enjoy my first time at Ake.
Ake is the kind of place where you giggle with your new found friend when you find out that your favorite author is their favorite author. Ake is the kind of place where the shelves of the makeshift bookstore are lined with copies of Zadie Smith's new book, Swing Time, James Hadley Chase Novels and everything in between. Ake is the kind of place where author's you've admired for years are casually introduced to you and even offer a smile and if you're lucky a firm handshake. At Ake, young writers full of talent come in days early to attend workshops, volunteer to the man the bookshop and safeguard the food and drinks section.
At Ake, chances are that you will walk past Tendai Huchu playing table tennis in the hotel lobby or Ngugi wa Thiongo smiling during the soulful singing of the Adunni Nefertiti quartet. At Ake, you will definitely see Lola Shoneyin, or LS as she is affectionately called, handling business and making sure the show runs smoothly. At Ake, the African literary community gathers like moths to a flame to enjoy books, music, and most importantly each other.
As a first time Ake attendee, Ake is everything I imagined it to be and more.