Friday, August 13, 2010

Sunday-Monday, 18-19 July, 2010: ISOLA conference

On Sunday I was up early for the first session of the ISOLA conference, hoping that perhaps I could give my paper if a delegate did not arrive, since a scheduling snafu had slated my paper to arrive before I did.  I went to one of the panels that included Mubina Kirmani, an Indian Kenyan who had written a book on the large Indian population in the country—a topic that I thought might dovetail with my own research.  The panel members were all there, unfortunately for me, but they were kind enough to let me give a brief, 10-minute spiel on the Anthology.  Immediately after, I was called away by a conference worker because they had, at the last minute, found a spot where I could do my whole paper—a dollop of goop fortune on this, the last day and the last panel.  I was escorted to another open-air hut-like building, with a session already in progress.  After papers on music and dance, and the nature of conflict (not a bad preamble to nonsense), I was able to give my paper.  All went well, though there was an odd moment.  Just after I performed the throat singing piece, “Dürgan Chugaa” (from the group Alash), a whole troop of monkeys descended from the roof area and gathered on the rafters, looking on curiously.  The audience members found this most amusing, claiming that my grumbly kargyraa style of throat-singing had called the monkeys, which might very well be true. It was certainly a conference-first for me!

Yarn-artist's rendition of Mombasa monkey
mesmerized by throat singing. Note: the mesmereyes.
After the session, and over the next couple of days, I was able to meet many oral literature scholars from different countries, many of whom were interested in our project and may be able to contribute. 

The sessions having finished around noon, Adrian and I declined the conference trip to Mombasa in order to orchestrate our fieldwork material from the Osiri Beach area and even begin a little translation.  We sat in the lobby as the monsoon-like rains fell and darkness settled, finally able to look back on our long hours of recordings.

On Monday, I went on the conference excursion to the “marine park” and Wasini Island.  After an hour and a half rough boat ride, during which many folks got sick (not I, with a steely stare at the horizon and a steady chew of my South African biltung (jerky)), they cast out the anchor in the open sea and told us to don our swimming costumes—for the marine park turned out to be under water!  Most of us, dressed in our conference casual, were not quite prepared to go snorkeling—and besides, our green pallor would have made us difficult to distinguish, and pluck out, from the heaving seas.  We headed to Wasini Island for a lovely lunch, a tour through the village, and a look at the coral gardens, a green plain bordering mangrove swamp, dotted with jagged coral boulders in fantastical shapes.


  1. Truly the monkey business at the Conference was puzzling to some, and even though I wasn't around when it happened some people asked me later how 'your friend' could summon the monkeys. But that magic unfortunately wasn't part of nonsense.

  2. Never underestimate the mystical powers of nonsense!