Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Hargeisa International Book Fair

The Hargeisa International Book Fair: Day One

The Hargeisa International Book Fair is far more than a book fair. It is now in its fifth year running and hosts authors, poets, musicians, film-makers, artists, playwrights, actors and circus performers, both Somali and non-Somali.

The book fair is being held in the Working Men's Club in central Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland which declared itself independent from the rest of Somalia in 1991. The territory has built itself up from the rubble of war, has a growing economy and a functioning democracy.

The earth was sprayed with water from this donkey cart to stop things  getting too dusty
The book fair is the brainchild of Jama Musse Jama, a Somali who fled to Italy during the civil war which broke out in the late 1980s, has lurched through various incarnations and is still not over today. Jama lives in the Italian town of Pisa where he has a publishing house, a vibrant website and a family. He is the author of several books. He was until recently a lecturer in Mathematics at Pisa University. Now he works as a computer scientist. Oh, and he invented a computer game based on a traditional Somali board game called Shax.

Jama Musse Jama welcomes us to the book fair
Ayan Mahamoud is the other force behind the book fair. She organises numerous Somali events in the UK and elsewhere, including London's Somali Week.

Ayan Mahamoud (in orange) and Zahra Ahmed, who help out at the fair

Quman Akli has been working day and night to make sure the book fair runs smoothly. Here she is carrying a lute for Hudaydi, also known as the King of the Somali lute:

There are stalls selling books, paintings, photographs, handicrafts, clothes, cake and drinks. Mini-libraries have been set up so people can borrow books and read them in a specially designated seating area.

This man bought my book

Locally published books for sale

Scarves and incense for sale. I bought both.

A singer outside a Somali hut

There were many bookworms at the fair

The book fair opened with Somaliland's national anthem and other songs.

Then the famous Somali poet, Hadrawi, who had been sitting quietly on his own at the back of the stage, spoke to the crowd. The large hall was completely packed. Many people had to wait outside, so a big screen was set up for them to watch and listen to the presentations. 

There were lots of fascinating books for sale at the fair including Somali translations of George Orwell's Animal Farm (launched last year) and Chekhov's short stories, which was launched this year.

Somali translation of Chekhov on top of Somali translation of Animal Farm

The British-Somali author, Nadifa Mohamed, flew to the book fair from her home in London to talk about her award-winning novel Black Mamba Boy and her new novel (and even the idea for her third).

Nadifa Mohamed
There are now proper yellow taxis in Hargeisa. Last time I came (earlier this year) there were only buses, informal taxis and private vehicles. I had my first taxi ride home from the book fair with Nadifa Mohamed and the Brazilian film-maker Iara Lee.

Nadifa in the driving seat

Nadifa Mohamed, me and Iara Lee

The Hargeisa International Book Fair: Day Two

Day Two started with the British-Somali writer Nadifa Mohamed talking about her novel Black Mamba Boy. She also spoke about her second novel which is now in its final stages. Its working title is 'Milk and Peace'. It focusses on the lives of two women and a little girl during Somalia and Somaliland's decline into civil war. 

Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa also spoke about her third book which will be about the people who were born on the same night as she was in Hargeisa hospital in August 1981. 

The book fair seemed even more crowded on day two. Young people from Readers' Clubs from all over Somaliland came to make presentations, read and buy books, meet authors, watch films, listen to music and engage in the debates.

Meeting young members of Somaliland's Readers' Clubs

More bookworms
It was then the turn of the organiser of the book fair, Jama Musse Jama, to speak about recent books he has published, including 'Essays in Honour of Muuse Ismaaciil Galaal' which he compiled. Other titles were also launched including 'The Vulture has Landed', a collection of short stories by Ahmed Ismaacil Yusuf. There was a fascinating discussion of Somali Studies by Dr Laura Hammond of SOAS, Dr Michael Walls of UCL and Ridwan Osman a PhD candidate at Cambridge University.

Jama Musse Jama and his new book
Then it was time for a true musical treat, a meeting of the great musical minds of the King of the Somali Lute, Hudaydi, and the New Orleans jazz musician, Evan Christopher. This was Evan's first visit to Africa. 

The King of the Somali Lute, Hudaydi

Evan Christopher
The music was truly amazing, transporting the huge crowd to a place they had never before been. Here are a few recordings I made of the music:

Hudaydi meets Evan Christopher One

Hudaydi meets Evan Christopher Two

Hudaydi meets Evan Christopher Three

I also recorded a conversation with the two musicians. You can listen to it here.
The Hargeisa International Book Fair: Day Three

This was the day for the environmentalists:

The Somali environmentalist Ahmed Elmi

Amina Milgo presented her book on the environment and showed a film about how charcoal making is wrecking the environment, as are the plastic bags and other rubbish.

Hadrawi, Ahmed Ismaacil Yusuf and Jama Musse Jama enjoy the discussions

Helen Conford of Penguin Books spoke to the crowd about how local authors can write for an international audience. Nadifa Mohamed and I were on the panel, and shared our experiences:

Nadifa Mohamed and Helen Conford

Dr Laura Hammond of SOAS presented a new book on diasporas called 'Politics from Afar'. She said many Somalilanders are 'part-time diaspora' people as they spend equal time in the diaspora and in Somaliland.

Then it was time for me to speak about my book Getting Somalia Wrong?. It was the first time I have spoken about it on Somali soil. I broke the news that the Somali translation of the book has just been completed. This has been made possible by some generous Somalis, who have contributed their time, money and other resources. After it is thoroughly checked by Somali intellectuals from different parts of the Somali territories, it will be made available online for free by my generous publishers Zed Books.

My book (among others) on sale at the fair. It sold out twice! More copies are being flown in from Nairobi, Kenya and will be available for sale in the Oriental Hotel, Hargeisa.
This young lady helped sell my book.
It was a wonderful experience especially because my former BBC colleague, the great Somali journalist and thinker, Maxamuud Sheekh Dalmar, did the translating. This is his first trip home to Somaliland in 36 years. He has been receiving a hero's welcome.

Maxamuud Sheekh Dalmar

My book has been for sale at the Maan-Soor Hotel

With VOA journalist, Ismail Hussein Farja

Another bookworm in a book fair baseball cap

Listening to the debates

Organiser of the book fair, Ayan Mahamoud

We were then treated to some singing and dancing by a young music group:

Dancing boys

Nadifa and I took a ride on the bus
Hargeisa bus (about 20 US cents a ride)
The mosque at the venue was often full to bursting at evening prayer time

Meeting old friends and making new ones

I bought this bag made from discarded plastic bags

There were always lots of comments and questions. This young lady asked why so many books in schools were about Tanzania, Kenya and other parts of Africa, not about the Somali regions. She received loud applause.

Day Three ended with a screening of Iara Lee's film, Cultures of Resistance complete with Somali subtitles. Iara appeared in a beautiful cloth she had bought in Hargeisa and wrapped around herself.

Ayan Mahamoud introduces Brazilian-Korean film-maker Iara Lee
Mosque outside the book fair venue. 

Fresh local fruit on sale at the book fair

I bought some tea bags and hair conditioner at this very tidy and well-stocked supermarket

The Hargeisa skyline is dominated by telephone wires, even though most people have at least one mobile phone

The Hargeisa International Book Fair: Days Four and Five

On Day Four there were presentations by the well-known Somali poet Said Salah who is based in Minnesota and the Russian Dr George Kapchits who launched his new book called 'Somalis do not Lie in Proverbs'. It analyses 249 of the most popular Somali proverbs. Dr Kapchits speaks fluent Somali. The evening of day four was reserved for women poets.

George Kapchits' new book 

Somali art for sale

I couldn't resist buying these paintings of Somali camel bells, sticks and pots by these young artists.

Nadifa Mohamed and young fans

My fellow-journalist Mark Tran of The Guardian newspaper arrived from London and wrote a great piece about the book fair. 

I didn't go to the book fair on Day Five but I heard the day concentrated on science, archaeology, language and culture. A special session was devoted to the arts of neighbouring Djibouti. There was also a short story competition for young people. 

For a full programme of the events at the book fair please click on this link:

This website has lots of good information about the book fair:

That day, I decided to go to another event - a diaspora investment conference held in The Ambassador hotel near the airport. All the business heavyweights were there:

The big names in Somaliland's business community
One of the people speaking at the investment conference was Moustapha Osman Guelle, one of the five Somali brothers who have set up a Coca Cola factory in Somaliland. You can see him sitting at lunch with three of his bottles on the table. A young lady at the conference asked him whether he was planning to launch Diet Coke. He said Coke Zero would be available from early next year. Someone else said 'what are you doing about the rubbish caused by all the empty plastic bottles'. Moustapha Osman Guelle said next year his company will buy hydraulic presses which will squeeze all plastic bottles in Somaliland (not just Coca Cola ones, but all the thousands of other empty water and other drink bottles) into bales which will be shipped to Mumbai and Shanghai for recycling.

Edna of Hargeisa's famous Edna Hospital meets Hudaydi and Evan Christopher

Ambassador Hotel at night (inside and out)

I saw some interesting things in Hargeisa including a group of men digging a channel for a fibre-optic cable that will come from Djibouti, improving internet access in Somaliland (which is pretty good already).

Digging a trench for the fibre optic cable

Somali (camel) milk float

The goats enjoy eating the rubbish

The owner of the Man-Soor hotel, Abdulkader Hashi Elmi, feeding the big-eyed, long-necked gerenuk who wander about the grounds

Somaliland's cats are slim and elegant

The hotel's gerenuk love standing on tiptoes to eat fresh leaves

I was interviewed by a Somali journalist inside the Somali hut where it was comfortably cool. We sat on fresh hay.
Please click on this link for my blog on the sixth and final day of the fair: Last day of the fair

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