‘Parents want children to read, but they don’t read themselves’
By Godwin Okondo
WHEN Head of Library and Information at the Goethe Institut-Nigeria, Lagos, decided to embark on ‘Reading Ride: A Transformative Road Trip from Lagos to Liberia!’, he probably underestimated his own ability to accomplish it. The road trip on a motorbike from Lagos to Liberia was conceived to have reading events and distribute books to children along the way across seven West African countries. This amazing feat was accomplished by Georges Gambadatoun and his colleagues – a documentary photographer, Tope Asokere, who rode with him, and writer and social researcher, Patrick Odimnfe who remotely followed the trip. The trio recounted what were unarguably exciting experiences at the recent National Conference and AGN of the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP) 2023, held at Julius Berger Hall, University of Lagos. They were featured in a panel discussion with journalist and writer, Anote Ajeluorou, moderating the session.
Speaking on his motivation for the road trip, Gambadatoun said, “I work at the library of Goethe Institut, and when it was closed in August for the holidays, I thought of doing part of what I love to do, which was book-reading with children. The idea was supposed to be like a mobile festival connecting people in West African region via books.
“My colleague, Tope, came along with me, while Patrick stayed back in Nigeria and was creating content for us. We moved from Lagos to Liberia; we read to children everywhere we had the opportunity. We had a beautiful experience and it was self-funded, and at a point we had to sell our watches to get cash, and we also had to ask friends for cash, but we did it and that’s what matters!”
Asokere also recounted his own experience straddling the bike behind his friend and riding across international borders. Perhaps, more than Gambadatoun, Asokere was even more excited about the trip and easily served as prime motivator for his friend to accomplish the daunting trip.
Georges Gambadatoun and Tope Asokere all set for the ‘Reading Ride: A Transformative Road Trip from Lagos to Liberia!’ in Benin Republic
“I really didn’t care about anything that happened at the time, because I had an incident sometime ago that brought me to Lagos,” Asokere said. “My friends told me it was too risky being behind a bike for that long journey, but I didn’t care. If this was the last gift I was going to give someone, I think this was what I would have done. I faced my fears and I conquered them, and today I’m happy I did.”
Odimnfe, who stayed behind to take care of the publicity part of the trip, said, “Many times, I wished I was on the journey. The beauty of the whole experience was that they had a broader realization of the African context, of things, their experiences with immigration officials, which is even worse in other places than Nigeria. But besides that, it was a beautiful experience and I captured most of those in writing. There was a moment where they visited a family and read a book to their children; the parents were so happy and wanted to lodge them.”
A trip with multiple takeaways, the Beninoise, Gambadatoun, happily shared some of the lessons they learnt along the way. For instance, he urged parents to engage in activities and habits they want their children to imbibe, the major one being the habit of reading, which parents should cultivate also and be the example they want their children emulate.
“It’s easy to move books across the border, as long as they’re locally produced,” he said. “The border officials take advantage of the fact that many people do not know the law. We are in ECOWAS, and as long as something is locally produced in Africa, you can move it freely. The experience is more of meeting people and talking to them about books, and we had two major targets. Children were happy to get books, and parents also.
“Parents want children to read, but they don’t read themselves, and we told them the importance of sitting down and reading with their children. In Cote D’Ivoire, I shared some books to some kids, and this two-year old boy started reading, then he came to me. His name is Musa. I described the pictures in the book to him and he was repeating it to his parents. Everything you read with your children, that child will be telling the story to himself, and every time you’re not around, that child will pick up the book to read.”
Having broken the ice on this first trip, Gambadatoun can’t wait to hit the road again next April and August. But he’s looking for sponsors and collaborators for the next ‘Reading Ride’ adventure, as he’d had to pawn his possessions and also reach out to friends just so he and his mate wouldn’t be stranded on the way. He outlined his projections for the next trip, and envisions a group of Reading-Ride-Tourists, some on bikes, others in a bus, all packed with books and on the road to spread the gospel of books and reading all over Africa.
An African night entertainment: when book reading replaces grandma’s fireside folks tales session as Georges Gambadaoun reads to children in the Cape Coast, Ghana
According to him, “We are having a collaboration with a library in Ghana. Someone reached out to me in Bénin Republic also. The next trip will be in April, and then in August again. We’re also collaborating with the NBRP. The last one was a spontaneous programme, but now we are trying to plan ahead. We funded the last one, but I don’t think I want to fund the next one myself.”
Gambadatoun also spoke on security during the road trip, especially when they had to travel at night at a point. Security concerns, according to him, were more acute in Nigeria than in neighbouring West African countries. His greatest fear, he said, was the health of his bike. He feared that it could possibly breakdown along the way, which could be a real nightmare, considering his lean financial standing during the trip.
“The plan was to travel during the day, but there was a point where we needed to travel at night, and that was the first time. We were in Cote D’Ivoire; we were moving to Abidjan and the border formalities took too much time. So eventually, we had to cross the border at night and I was scared. I asked someone who told me that people travel at night, so we did.
“My fear was my bike. It’s relatively new, but I was afraid something might happen to it. There was a little damage to the front tyre on the Nigerian side of the road when we hit a pothole and we couldn’t change it, but fortunately, we were able to travel with it. The front brake system was damaged at some point; so, we had to manage the back brake for the rest of the trip, because we didn’t have cash for repairs.”
Georges Gambadatoun and his bike in front of Books Before Boys Inc. office in Liberia
Just as every beautiful moment has its challenges, Gambadatoun said it wasn’t quite an easy trip in spite of the exciting experience, adding, “While planning the trip, I was expecting some money, which never came and I felt like cancelling the whole thing, but I had told people about it. Tope was really motivated about the whole thing. With all the challenges we faced on the way, at a point we felt like stopping.”
Having lived and travelled a bit in Europe, Gambadatoun is appalled at the nightmare border officials pose to travellers in Africa. He expressed frustration at what he experienced in the hands of border officials who were bent on fleecing him at every turn. At some point, it became a game of wits; there was no antic he didn’t deploy just to outwit criminal border officials, including sitting on the bare floor and even feigning to be crying, which elicited laughter from his audience. In spite of all that, Gambadatoun remains undaunted and is ready to hit the road again in April and August next year. His love for spreading the gospel of books and reading to children is simply too great for border officials to kill.