Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Sixth Hargeisa International Book Fair - Day Two

"It is a marvellous thing"

The day started with readings in Somali and English of the great Somalia poem Daalacan or 'Clarity' written by Hadrawi. The hall was packed. Those who couldn't fit in crowded around the windows or gathered around a big screen outside which had a live feed of the event.

Books for sale at the fair 
The Scottish/ British poet W. N. Herbert, who helped translate Hadrawi's poems for the book 'The Poet and the Man', started by saying that it was a "marvellous thing" that "poetry is at the heart of Somali culture" in a way he had never before encountered. He said he had come to Somaliland on a 'poet's pilgrimage'. 

Bill Herbert said he could access the spirit of Daalacan because what was happening to him now was, in some ways, similar to what was happening to Hadrawi during the time of Siad Barre. He talked about a government that didn't care about its people, about corruption.  

Hadrawi then stood up to read the poem. The audience flew with him, as this gentle, humble man spoke fire and wisdom. Like Bill Herbert (who is also humble and gentle), his voice rose and fell, soft then strong. I cannot say Somalis revere Hadrawi because Somalis are irreverent. But I can say they love him.

Hadrawi reciting Daalacan
Bill Herbert then read his English translation, which was equally strong and beautiful. At the end Hadrawi banged the table with both hands to show his appreciation.

Bill Herbert recites Dalacaan/ Clarity
We were then treated to a photo exhibition by the Dutch photographer Petterik Wiggers who has been taking pictures in Somalia and Somaliland for more than twenty years. He showed us photos from refugee camps in Ethiopia where Somalilanders fled to after civil war broke out in the late 1980s. Many of the people in the audience were young, and visibly shocked by their history shown in black and white.

Hargeisa is ruins after it was bombed from the air by the Somali government. Hargeisa was called 'The Dresden of Africa'
Wiggers also showed us photos from the early 1990s where he said there had been a bit of misunderstanding in Somaliland. I was in Somaliland at the time. The 'misunderstanding' led to violence. The lady in this photo is holding a gun.

Petterik Wiggers in action

Book fair organiser Ayan Mohamud saying thank you to the investor Coco Ferguson, who champions and helps fund the event 

Book fair lunch at Guled restaurant
In the afternoon, the Nigerian author, poet, lawyer, editor, publisher, blogger, goodnessknowswhatelse, Chuma Nwokolo read some poems and excerpts from his short stories. The audience loved them all.

He also told us that when he told the staff at Lagos airport that he was flying to Berbera, the had know idea where it was. They asked 'Is it in Asia?', 'Is it in Africa?'. 

He said he hoped to open the floodgates, so that next year there would be at least three Nigerians and two Ghanaians at the seventh Hargeisa International Book Fair.

Then the British author, Michela Wrong, who has written books on Zaire (now DR Congo), Eritrea and Kenya, gave a talk. She read a passage from her book about Zaire, and showed us a picture of President Mobutu. 

Lots of people asked questions including one young man who asked about a point Michela had made in Chapter 17 of her book on Eritrea. The book fair director, Jama Musse Jama, showed me how the hairs were standing up on his arms because Michela's book had only been put on sale the day before. This young man was already on Chapter 17, such was his enthusiasm for the book.

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