The SABLE Literary Festival is part of the brilliant new collaboration - the Mboka Festival of Arts, Culture and Sport, 7-17 January 2017 - in warm and delightful Gambia. Mboka means ‘One Family’ in Wolof.
In my role as the first Sable Poet-in-Residence, I was invited to read and deliver workshops. It was an honour and complete privilege. However, I was forewarned I would be worked very hard and indeed I was.
On 9th January 2017, I was extremely excited and equally nervous to be reading that night, at my first ever poetry event in the continent of Africa. The reading, where I was a special guest and highly anticipated poet (apparently my online presence and videos were eagerly searched for and watched), took place at the new African Poetry Library, also known as Mango Tree (due to the impressive mango tree in its yard), Banjul. The event was also captured for the news on Gambian national television.
I was exposed to many young, talented Gambian poets and spoken word artists, in particular the dynamic poetry outfit and writers' group 'The Clouds'. So honoured to share the stage with them.
‘The Clouds’ invited me to deliver a lecture to them two days later. My talk focused on my life journey as a poet since 2001, my Sable Poet-in-Residence role, plus writing tips they could apply to their own writing journey. This was delivered at their headquarters in Banjul.
Spending time with The Clouds also gave me an insight into the political atmosphere for young people and their desire for a greater entrepreneurial spirit in Gambia. They spoke eloquently about the potential for Gambia, at a time when Gambia itself was experiencing a shift in presidential personnel.
On Thursday 12th January, I was programmed to deliver a workshop at The African Poetry Library. After much soul searching, deliberation, hair pulling and brow wipes from my (now) fiancé, I finally prepared a keynote presentation, then took a taxi down to the Library. The numbers were small, but the workshop produced great discussion and varied and rich pieces of writing.
Friday 13th January was the showcase for the The Mboka Festival. This was held at the beautiful Senegambia Hotel and included the introduction of our esteemed Kenyan writer and keynote speaker Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong'o, who had only arrived in Gambia from California that afternoon, to a grand drum, dance and song welcome (captured on film). As well as myself reading poetry to my own produced soundscape and imagery, the evening contained UK based Numbi Arts and their beautiful collaboration with local artists and musicians, storyteller Nzinga and US based half Gambian academic and poet Rosamund S. King.
On Saturday 14th, I was gifted an opportunity that created an immense shift in me as a poetry educator. Even though incredibly challenging due to the class size, their delay en route due to traffic, the language hurdles and different learning needs, I thoroughly enjoyed delivering a poetry workshop to the Jambanjelly Basic Cycle School, again at the African Poetry Library. The thirty-five eager to learn, polite, endearing students, aged eleven to seventeen, also overcame shyness and came to grips with my Jamaican British cultural nuances, to produce excellent work. A presentation of their work, as well as recitals of their favourite poems took place out in the yard, under the mango tree. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life, without a doubt. I'll be eternally grateful to this wonderful school for having me!
Later that evening, we took a couple of taxi rides to see the excellent production of Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong'o's play 'The Black Hermit', at Ebunjan Theatre in Bakau. Expertly directed by Janet Badjan-Young, she later stated, "It is a very relevant play for The New Gambia."
Sunday 15th, our last day in Gambia laden with luggage, we attended the brilliant talk given by Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong'o. His lasting message to Festival attendees, particularly local Gambian writers and creatives, was 'to nurture and publish both written and spoken Gambian languages' to sustain their heritage.
Two days after we returned from Gambia, the outgoing president conceded defeat and the new President was received, heralding new hope and a new direction for beautiful Gambia.
I will be forever grateful for the trust and belief in me, as well as mentorship provided by Kadija George and Dorothea Smartt, which enabled me to have such a rewarding, character building and culturally engaging experience that will stay with me a lifetime.
By Patricia Foster
A snapshot of The Gambia’s Mboka Festival of Arts Culture and Sport 2017. Posted by James Murua.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INAUGURAL MBOKA FESTIVAL of ARTS, CULTURE AND SPORT IN THE GAMBIA AND ANNOUNCING 2018 DATES http://standard.gm/site/2017/02/28/highlights-inaugural-mboka-festival-…