Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Saturday, 17 July 2010: Voi to Mombasa and ISOLA conference

I didn’t want to make the first pizza from the last blog entry too obvious, but I have tell you now that our hotel last night was called the Silent Resort, and true to such a topsy-turvy adventure, it turned out that all night long, I listened to the dulcet thumping of a delightfully repetitive African pop bass line.  And when I say all night, I mean all night…music still pumping as we left… Whence the beat, you might ask?  No doubt the natives in the secret underground caverns that stretch from Egypt to the Grand Canyon, via Voi and surely a right (or wrong) turn in Albuquerque.

Adrian, Beatrice, and I packed ourselves back into our trusty car—which has by now had a flat tire, a punctured gas tank, and alignment perfectly calibrated for Moon craters, and hit it bright and early for Mombasa and the 8th conference of the International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa (ISOLA).  The terrain went from scrubby des(s)ert to coconut cream pie as we hit the coast, where the heat and humidity are fairly staggering (though they’ve got nothing on a Delhi summer). 

We arrived in the afternoon at the conference hotel and venue, called the Leisure Lodge, which, despite its name, is not a retirement home in Florida but rather a lovely beach-hut-turned-circus-tent kind of resort, complete with monkeys inside and outside the main structures.  Because we had arrived after the start of the conference, Adrian and I had to slide into conference mode immediately, as we attended papers, meals, and schmoozing sessions.  I was fortunate to be able to meet with Judith Jefwa, a professor at the University of Nairobi, with whom I had been in touch via email a few month earlier, and who had expressed some interest in contributing to the anthology.  I also briefly met Dr. Peter Wasamba, chair of the Literature department at Nairobi and head organizer of the conference, who was kind enough not only to insert me into the conference late, but also to distribute among the delegates the Call For Papers flyers for the anthology.  The sessions on this day and the following were fascinating, especially for a scholar very much of the page such as myself.  As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the performative aspect of oral literature represents a whole new dimension to art, and it was eminently and elementally edifying to be among top scholars in the field.

What better way to top off a day of oral literature scholarly discourse than to enjoy the massive hotel buffet while listening to a local musician’s Casio goodness renditions of John Denver? 

I would have preferred the Beatles, or at least this Beetle.

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