Location: Tiamiyu Salvage Street, Opposite Bar Beach, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Venue: Terra Kulture.
The pain is timeless;
The emotion is empathic.
The pain is mutual;
The atmosphere was with pin-drop silence.
What made November’s reading of CelebrityRead special was not only about the shades of celebrities that were invited or the literary enthusiasts that thronged the venue to see their various celebrities nor the students of Grayscale High School that were in their uniforms; it was the undertone and the theme every of the discussions at the programme revolved on – AIDS Awareness. At first, it was as if the literary event was holding at the grave yard of a forgotten cemetery. The silence that welcomed the event was solemn and pregnant with silent sorrows for those that had fell victims to the terminable but manageable disease of HIV/AIDS. The programme was organised in partner with LeND, YAT and Tier; organisations whose aims are all driven by a purpose: to stop the scourge of HIV/AIDS and help victims of the disease against discrimination.
Desmond from LeND gave a paper presentation on when the commemoration of HIV/AIDS’s victims as World AID’s day started, the history of the disease and the statistics of the victims of the disease so far. His presentation further made the solemn silence thicker.
The war on AIDS was declared open at the event with the music from the brother duo, ELERI, whose music carried the tone of war, though a declared war on the excesses of the government.
Myne Whitman read first from her book, A Heart to Mend. To underscore the importance of the programme, Myne Whitman, the author of the romance novel (A Heart to Mend) had to travel all the way down from the US, the journey she said took her three days of boarding planes from planes and transiting between airport to airport. Myne read from a passage in a book that talks about the situation of the lead characters’ (Edward and Gladys) sex life.
She said, “I mostly write about romance. You know sex still remains the major way of contacting this disease? And there’s no way you want to talk about romance without bringing in the issue of sex. When I want to write about sex, I make sure I write about it in a more matured and responsible manner.”
Modele, a song writer and IT consultant, read next. She took her time to tell a nostalgic story that left the audience with pungent feeling.
“I was at church sometimes ago. After the preaching, the pastor called a lady who was HIV positive among the congregation to talk about the disease. After the lady’s speech, the pastor asked that whoever was HIV positive should come to the front. I was surprised at how people were standing up, note that these were the people we had shared handshakes together and sat with each other on the pew without any discomfort. They all looked healthy. No one would have known they were positive if they hadn’t stood up. So, there was no way for discrimination at that time even if one wanted to. It would be something else if one changed character with the same people you had laughed and shared pleasantries with. It could just be anyone.”
Modele read from Ben Carson’s book, a memoir, titled ‘The Big Picture’. The part of the book she read illustrates Ben Carson’s wavering academic journey and his breakthrough; how he came from the bottom of his class to the top through intensive reading. The reading was reflective and humorous. The audience were constantly bursting into sporadic laughter amidst suppressed groan of hilarity of the difficult time of Ben Carson when he was the dullest of his class. Ben Carson, in his memoir, was able to change his life and rewrite his story when he began giving much time to reading all kinds of books at home through the effort of his mother who did not only forced him to read, but also to write reading-reports on what he had read, though she couldn’t read. His shine came when he was able to tell the name and origin of the rock a teacher brought to the class one day. He took his classmates by storm as he won their respect through his explanation of the rock. He later said years after, whenever parents listened to his story and come to him to ask what approach they could use to tame their children and make them study like he did, his response to them has always been; “those years when we were forced to read by my mother, parents were the ones controlling the house, not now that it is otherwise”.
Essence, a female singer and music composer, claimed to have started reading at the age of 8.
“I had grownups before, whenever they fling any book away; I was always picking them up. I found myself reading at a very tender age”
Before she started her reading of the book that inspired her most, she also had a story of a HIV testing experience to also tell.
“People were talking about the issue of knowing your HIV status and various ways by which it could be transmitted. I remembered I had removed almost all my teeth before; premolars o, molars o. You know these public hospitals now? I wasn’t really sure of their sterilizers and I was too afraid I might have been infected too. So, I made a step of braving myself also for it. When I got to the hospital I told them I was there for HIV test, all they did was a pin prick on this my little finger. That’s was just all o. After that they told me I was only to wait for some few minutes for the test result. When the result came my heart was almost out, however, it turned out positive. And I thought to myself, ‘before nko, before nko, is it not actually going to be positive?’
“What I just want to say is that anyone could be infected with this virus irrespective of your colour, skin or status as there are other ways it could be transmitted.”
Essence, the next celebrity to read, rather chose to read from the books of proverbs called ‘African Proverbs For and About Children’ written by Helen Ajayi. Essence read some of the proverbs as she also provided their meanings to them. Some excerpts of the proverbs read:
“A frog does not know there are two types of water until it is put inside a hot water”
“A lamb that walks alone is a prey to the world”
“A man who does not have a house shouldn’t buy a broom”
Tosin Jegede? You remember her? Anyone who had listened to that didactic song of “parents listen to your children, we are the future of tomorrow…” would be able to recall who Tosin Jegede is. She reeled off a short piece, The Photograph, written by Tony Gamadia. The piece was about the sharp shock one experiences when one’s loved one is lost to the virus called HIV.
Chude Jideonwo, the co-ordinator of The Future Awards came some few minutes late even though the programme itself did not start on time. Chude read a short story on HIV written by his friend, Tolu Ogunlesi. The story titled ‘Women Are Not Left Behind’ is a story of two semi-literate women. One knows something about the virus and explains it to her friend, the second woman; in an amusing way that hitches more to the pride she is trying to get from being the one who is enlightened on the disease called HIV/AIDS. What makes his reading refreshing and easily comprehending was the manner Chude Jideonwo read the story: vividly; stressing out the discourse between the women to pass their different moods and situations clearly.
Performers were not also left out of the show too.
Eleri sang ‘Let the War Begin’ to give voice to the rage directed at the government, Christine Ben-Ameh (Winner, Nokia First Chance) thrilled the audience with a number titled ‘May Be This Is Love’, a song dedicated to her late friend (an HIV patient) who later died in an automobile accident few weeks to her wedding. Chinedu read T.I.A. (This Is Africa), a poem he said was a retort to his inability to vote in the last election. Every performer had angst and blazing feeling to vent in one way or the other; some were on HIV while the rest were on the bad policies of the government.
Inculcating reading habit in the minds of youths and children isn’t the only task of one organisation. Even if the venue of CelebrityRead was filled to the brim, it wouldn’t still have equalled to a pinch percentage of the population of Victoria Island let alone Lagos. What CelebrityRead organisation is doing is just a contributing task, which will take ages, to be frank, to affect people in the long run. With some of the crop of people, save for those who were really there to only network and students who must have been present just to mark the World Aid’s Day significantly, one wouldn’t need to sniff the whole air before one realises that they were just people who have come to attend just any social event to while away boredom and showcase their sophistication.
At CelebrityRead, Celebrities did read and tell stories… I’m so happy I was there!