Khayakazi Mgojo has been around. She’s a diplomat by profession, “but the title of being a “diplomat” is only in effect when I am posted to serve in a country abroad. My job both in South Africa and abroad is to build and strengthen (political, economic, trade, cultural) relations between South Africa and other countries. We (in the foreign service) are the face of South Africa and the South African government and we facilitate the interactions between foreign entities (government, business and people) and South African stakeholders. When posted to a country abroad, I become this bridge between South Africa and my host country. That link has resulted in a life of travel. Khayakazi has lived around the world and in Africa. She shares her experiences with MADAMAFRICA.
I started travelling outside of South Africa when I was in High School and that was to Swaziland. My first proper trip abroad was to the USA (New York, Washington DC and Boston) in 1999, when I went on tour 2-week tour with the Stellenbosch Libertas choir.
I’ve always had wanderlust and I guess having a job and earning a salary meant I could start realising my love for travelling. I have visited Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ethiopia, the Sudan (North), Senegal, Ghana, Burundi, Egypt, Kenya, Germany (my godson is German), the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the USA, the Caribbean, Argentina and then there was a crazy week-long holiday to Dubai where my friend and I went overboard with the shopping and ran out of money within our first three days.
I was fortunate to be posted to Côte d’Ivoire where I resided for five and a half years. Our Embassy was also responsible for Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That meant that I travelled to these countries every few months to conduct official business. Even though I was living in Abidjan, it felt like these countries were my home as well because I would travel to each country after a few months and would be in a country for meetings which would last up to two days; because of the scarcity of regional flights I’d end up spending a week in the country.
Abidjan: The pulsating energy, pride in oneself and in one’s country. My weekends of lying on the beach, sipping on a cocktail in Grand Bassam and Assinie, dancing until 7am in Rue Princess in Abidjan’s party central Youpougon, chilling at the Ritz in Treichville, Pre-clubbing karaoke and dancing at Havana in Zone 4, going to music concerts (Oumou Sangare, P-Square, Tiken Jah) at the Palais de la Culture in Treichville.
Burkina Faso: The humility and kindness of the people. Having the best ever grilled chicken at an open-air restaurant/art gallery called Espace Gondwana. They play live traditional music.
Niger: Shopping for handmade jewellery, leather goods and curios at the Village Artisanal in Niamey. Sadly, I never travelled outside Niamey because of security concerns and high and realistic threat of diplomats being abducted by militants.
Sierra Leone: You have to visit the countryside bordering Guinea Conakry. It’s beautiful and lush and people are generous. They’ll offer you some palm wine and snacks to keep you going until you reach your destination. In all my travels to Sierra Leone I, and everyone around me, would always worry about what mode of transport I’d use to get from the airport in Lungi to the city in Freetown. I would have to call Sierra Leone in advance and ask them to advise me on what was currently sanctioned by the Transport Ministry as being safe (for that period) to carry passengers. The funny thing is; foreigners aren’t the only ones who would panic about such things. I’ve sat in a helicopter, across a lady who commutes daily to Lungi and the lady was crossing herself and praying throughout the 15-20 minute helicopter ride. The best memory? Crossing the pitch black ocean from Lungi to Freetown in a rather rickety hovercraft at 23h30 at night. This is after the (usual) helicopter had crashed on the airport tarmac, killing the entire Togolese soccer team. Everyone was jumpy and nervous because none of the modes (helicopter, hovercraft, ferry) of travelling from Lungi to Freetown are ever without incident. My colleagues (back in Abidjan) called me to find out if I’d arrived safely and while we were chatting, the hovercraft hit a rather rough and huge wave. The screaming that ensued?! Hahaha! A few days after I returned to Abidjan from Sierra Leone, my Ambassador called me and told me to switch on the TV news. The hovercraft that I’d used to and from the airport in S-L, was on fire in the middle of the sea and passengers were jumping into the sea to save themselves.
Liberia: Chilling at Mamba Point Hotel with all sorts of weird and suspect characters: International Aid workers, mercenaries, UN officials, dodgy-looking foreign business people, diplomats and the odd holiday-maker. The things one would see and the stories you would hear while drinking yet another Tonic water (or Gin and Tonic, at cocktail hour) to ward-off the mosquitos. In my last 1 and half years, a stunning resort (RLJ Kendega) was built with exquisite chalets right on the beach. I was one of the lucky few who got to stay there at ridiculously discounted rates just before it was officially opened. The South African chefs (happy to see a friendly face from home) would go out of their way to prepare the most delicious meals for me. I was stranded in Monrovia because aircraft were grounded after one crashed and I spent that week lying on the beach, going to the Spa, eating and watching DVD’s with the South Africa hospitality team that had been brought in to train the Liberians.
Togo: Random road-trips discovering the towns like Agneho (neighbouring Lomé) and driving to Afloa; the border of Togo and Ghana.
Ghana:I always went to Accra whenever I needed a weekend break from Abidjan. All I did in Accra was party, shop and do my (natural) hair. The nightlife at Aphrodisiac and The Office) rivals that of Abidjan but of course, nothing compares to Abidjan. Even the Ghanaians would tell us that they spent their weekends partying in Abidjan.
Angola:The insane night life. The area to hang-out in at that time was the Ilha. We’d go dancing until 4am and 2-3 hours later be sitting in a meeting only to repeat the pattern again.
Burundi:I loved Bujumbura but the highlight of my trip there was lazing around at the beautiful Bora Bora with cocktails literally on tap.
Sudan (Northern):In Khartoum, I enjoyed sailing on the Nile River and having lunch on board the board during the mini-cruise. I was sad not to have gone to Juba, the capital of South Sudan due to violent clashes in the South.
Senegal:I usually avoid markets because of my fear of crowds but whenever I was in Dakar, I would go to the market to stock-up on “bazin riche” fabric and boubous from Senegal and Mali.
Living in Abidjan during the “war” or crise (as they called it) taught me to be resilient and brave. I lived alone, yet nothing ever happened to me. I would drive through roadblocks when the city was on lock-down, negotiating and sometimes shouting my way through the throngs of angry youths. Being a young, female traveler in all these countries taught me how to be savvy, to be open to whatever new experience is thrown at you and I became even more tjatjarag than I was before. Yes, some situations require that. Each country reminded me that I was a black queen. The respect, attention and compliments I got were humbling. People go out of their way to assist you. Not because they expect something but because women are revered. I learn that West African ways are African ways. Ubuntu is not an exclusively South African concept. People get into a bank, an office a taxi and they greet everyone. People open up their homes for you and no matter how poor they are, they will share the little food that they have with you. They will make sure you leave their home with some cassava, plantain or whatever they have in their pantry. Should you compliment someone on an item of clothing they will offer it to you. The drivers in my office discovered that I loved mealies (only eaten by the very poor, in West Africa) and when they got over the shock of seeing me stop by the roadside to buy mais grille, they started bringing me some grilled mealies whenever they spotted it during their daily office errands. The local staff I worked with, still sends me pure Karite butter which they order from Burkina Faso.
The best thing travelling around Africa is the people. They make what could be the worst experience into the best. Their jolliness and the “can-do” spirit is very infectious. The greatest thing is that you fit-in. I fit-in so well people have mistaken me for a Ghanaian, a Nigerian and a Kenyan. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve been asked about my tribe in Ghana. As a black woman travelling around Africa it is refreshing not to look like a foreigner. People almost always are very welcoming and they will be even more hospitable when they discover that you’re a foreigner.
Top 5 experiences
West Africa in its entirety. That region has an energy and vibrancy that gets under your skin and you never want to leave.
Eating Alloko (plantain), attieke (cassava) and grilled (fresh-caught) fish, roast chicken accompanied by fresh chilli sauce: Abidjan and Francophone West Africa. Loved the dirt-cheap beef/ mouton choukouya (chopped-up kidneys and cheap meat cuts grilled together) and brouchette de mouton (spicy mutton kebabs), especially around 4am when one is leaving the night clubs.
Pepper (pepe) soup, “zoo” soup and fufu in Ghana. The jollof rice in Senegal and Ghana
The night life in our Continent is phenomenal. I don’t go clubbing in South Africa but, once I set foot in the rest of the Continent, I party like the possessed. What I like is that the night clubs have a good generational mix (not only for young people) and you see married couples in their 60’s slow dancing to Zouk on the dance-floor, alongside people in their 20’s and 30’s.
If you love to shop for beautiful art, traditional outfits, material/fabric, and hand-made jewellery then you are in the right Continent.
Enjoy Khayakazi’s snap shots