Last week I attended a conference on “The Importance of Indigenous Languages to Economic, Social, and Cultural Development (a rough translation of the conference name in French “Interet et Importance des Langues Nationales dans le Processus du Developpement Economique Social Culturel et Politique” and Hausa “Mahimmancin Harsunan Gida ta Hanyar Rubutu Don Ci Gaban Tattalin Arziki Al’Adu da Kyautata Rayuwa da Siyasa”), held in Damagaram, Niger, from 8-10 December 2009. From the papers presented, (all of which were in Hausa on matters related to Hausa language, literature, and culture) and the participants, involved, it mostly turned out to be a conference on the importance of Hausa, with the significant exception of the participation of Alhassane Hamed-Ittyoube, a Nigerien writer, translator, and illustrator of Tuareg heritage, with some beautiful looking books in the Tamajaq language using the Tifinar script he passed around for us to look at. Although his primary languages are Tamajaq and French, he speaks some Hausa and interacted well with the mostly Hausa literary crowd that arrived from Nigeria and other parts of Niger. Unfortunately, for some reason I can’t quite understand, he was stopped from reading an excerpt from one of his rewritings of Tamajaq oral literature at one of the open-mic events. He was reading a translation in French, which another Nigerien writer was translating into Hausa. He was about two minutes into his reading, and we were all enjoying the piece, when there was some discussion I couldn’t hear, and he was not able to finish. I was sorry about that because his involvement in the conference seemed very important in providing a voice for minority-language literatures in a conference that was ostensibly about indigenous language[S] rather than just Hausa. I will try to write a separate post on his work and the interaction we had during the conference.
With that aside, it was very enjoyable to be on an expedition with so many Hausa writers (including novelists, poets, journalists, and academics), and to be able to be a part of the two evenings of open-mic events, in which authors read poems/short stories/excerpts of novels and received much critical feedback from fellow writers. The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly, and full of jokes, especially when novelist/screenwriter/poet Nazir Adam Salih sang a love-song, with a full sing-along chorus, to an unknown lady and was mercilessly teased with spur-of-the-moment response songs for the rest of the trip.
There is much to say about the week, and I will likely split this post up into several smaller ones on specific themes. So watch out for further posts throughout the week.
The events of the week included arrival on Monday evening; an opening ceremony on Tuesday and an open-mic Tuesday night; paper presentations on Wednesday morning and afternoon and another open-mic Wednesday evening, a closing ceremony Thursday afternoon with visits to the museum and the Emir’s palace (or the Sultanate of Damagaram). About six of us women also took a trip to the market on Thursday evening.
Friday morning, about seven of those of us who were heading back to Kano trekked, dragging rolling suitcases, laptop cases, and market bags of tapioca, to the Damagaram public transport depot. There was much haggling over pricing and space. We nearly left in a small bus, but when the driver attempted to cram more passengers in, though we had settled on a price for a certain number of seats, we disembarked and left the park to arrange for a vehicle elsewhere. I will tell the story of our rather dramatic border crossing in another post.
The most personally disconcerting part of the trip (other than the dramatic border crossing that I will write about later!) was being in Niger with no money!! I went to Niger in public transport with several writers from Kano. At the border, we decided to wait to change money until we got to Damagaram, assuming there would be a better rate there, but once there we were met at the public transport depot by one of our Nigerien hosts and never actually got to a place to change our naira to CFAs. So, many of us went for about three days without having any money. Fortunately, our hosts were generous enough to feed and house us, so it wasn’t a major hardship, but it was a little disorienting to not even have the money to buy a sachet of pure water or a bundle of tissue. On the last evening, some of us women took a trip to the market and were able to find a trader to change a little naira. I immediately went in search of pure water having not had anything to drink since early in the morning! That said, it is amazing that we were taken care of so well that we were not too pinched without our cash!
Overall, it was an excellent experience. There were a few grumblings about accommodations and organization, but that seems typical of most conferences. I did feel badly that Hajiya Hafsat M.A. Abdulwahid, an important writer, the first female novelist in Hausa and winner of the 1979 NNPC writing competition for her novel So Aljannar Duniya, was not given better accommodations. She graciously shared a room with me, but a person of her status should have been given something a little better.
More details later.