story of the Non-launch... of
around and with Kongi - Half a century on the road with Wole
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.
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 5 p.m. "Let me add another
half hour, which will then make it 5.30 p.m. 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.
start reading early after all, with only some 15 minutes delay,
and then discussion starts. At about 5.31 p.m. 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."
Chief segun Olusola, former boss of Nigerian TV and Nigerian
ambassador, giving presentation speech, against background
of picture showing da 'man' and his drummer Tunji Oyelana,
during 'Voyage around', Berlin, House of Cultures, 1990
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'.
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.)
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 lounging around. 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 'what business 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
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 supposed 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.
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.
I almost forgot… readings at UNILAG (the University of Lagos,
the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, the University of Ibadan,
whereas 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…
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.
Then onward to the Goethe Accra…
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.
is NO Kakademic - African Studies boss at Legon, Accra
and she is neither !
nor is she !
(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
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…
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 !
"Journeys around and with Kongi - half a century on the road
with Wole Soyinka" Verlag Thomas Reche, Neumarkt 2008