Not sure how the game started, but at some point during one of our airport lounge waiting sessions, my group of writers started passing their passports around – and assessing and granting awards to the deserving. I believe Jon Lee Anderson, who writes for the New Yorker and turns out to be a one-time Dorset neighbour, picked up the gong for “Fattest Passport with the most Visas”. Yet, well-travelled though he was, he turned out a Hargeisa “virgin”. Naturally, like me, he spoke no Somali, but unlike me he hadn’t yet learnt the trick of sitting next to a swift translator so that when a killer comment made in Somali brings the house down, he can get an instant translation!
I have said it before but it bears repeating: one of the strengths of the HIBF is the vigour of the Somali language literature and its strong profile with the youth. Last year i witnessed the launch of a major dictionary project, and this year, as with last year, there were many more books by young writers – and the more experienced ones as well. For an ancient language with a new written tradition dating only as recently as the Said Barre era, it is refreshing to see an African language that is growing, rather than endangered. Suddenly it is possible to imagine the Road Not Taken by an earlier generation of African leaders and policy makers: fluent reading and writing nations with citizens literate in multiple tongues, invigorated by an acquisition of international languages without the sacrifice of their indigenous.