Mali is Magical …

George Gladwin: Hi Lerato…
Lerato Mogoatlhe:Hi, how you be?

George Gladwin: Me, I’m OK… For a second there I thought you were ignoring me, but otherwise I’m cool.
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Same here, sorry about disappearing last week, SMSed, but ha, it turns out none of my texts to SA numbers made it. No, I was thinking gore why you be hating and not responding to my SMS the same night?

George Gladwin: Hehehe, no airtime! LOL!
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Then I did not hear from friends and family… they called to throw tantrums and I was told they have not been getting anything.

George Gladwin: So where are you right now? Which country?
Lerato Mogoatlhe: In Ivory Coast, Abidjan

George Gladwin: Are there any hot chicks there?
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Yoh… I have never seen so many hot chicks – dang!

George Gladwin: Phela, I need to have to have motivation to go so high up in Africa – and I’m a guy… that helps
Lerato Mogoatlhe: I have to be real: THEY ARE FINE! Those booties, my word! Do u know how very plain I feel at the moment?

George Gladwin: Ahhh… you see now there’s a reason already for me to go there, but I’m sure there are tall, dark and handsome brothers too, right?
Lerato Mogoatlhe: You bet, otherwise I would not be extending my visa. LOL!

George Gladwin: LOL! Damn, South Africans – extending their visits already
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Something about Ivorians in general – they are chic.

George Gladwin: Hehehe – Ivorians is that what they are called that’s sooo cool
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Their work suits make them look like Armani models. The only bad cut I saw was on an Ivorian who’s been living in America for seven years

George Gladwin: LOL! America will condemn you
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Make you fat, steal your style, self-esteem… the whole negative lot

George Gladwin: The first time I heard of your trip was through a friend, and they said that you are brave to be able to leave everything and just travel the continent. What made you do that? That includes job, boyfriend, family, friends and the works… basically, your comfort zone
Lerato Mogoatlhe: A few things, my blackness was and is sometimes a pain for me in South Africa. It felt a lot like when I was growing up, black people still packing at the grocery store, the manager almost always white and my sense of where black people belong remained distorted by what I saw. Apartheid wanted us to be servants, and we still were. It hurts me that poverty belongs to primarily black people

George Gladwin: Have you been to Boksburg?
Lerato Mogoatlhe: My reasons are also what made it easy. Another reason was my love for African literature and music, which certainly planted the seed from when I was about 14, I just did not actually think I would do it. Then as an adult with great wanderlust for the whole world, I thought, well, better start at home. I was given courage and motivation by a trip to Ghana in 2006, something just happened…

George Gladwin: Those are the ones who actually do it – at most times
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Ones who dream young?

George Gladwin: Yep! Those who dream and do…
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Because it’s a simple space, you remember the awe those dreams inspired and if the dreams still seem possible, then why not go for them?

George Gladwin: Here’s to the crazy ones…
Lerato Mogoatlhe: My other adult reasons ke South Africans thinking we are better than the rest of Africa… Hellooo? The last to be free? There is something marvellous about not dealing with our psychological damage and hang-ups. It feels nice, no one has, in the past five months, asked if I work here. When I step into an office… I used to get that a lot at home, “sorry sisi, no job” or “is the madam here”. This is when I shared a flat with a white friend.

George Gladwin: People like you, Akona Ndugane (and Lelethu Lumkwana) are leading the pack of young South Africans travelling the world and doing it on their own, which inspires a lot of people back. Did you think what you are doing would make a difference to other people?
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Of course. I am here so others can follow. Too many people say they dream of Africa. It sounds clichéd because so few of us do Africa. We hold the rest of the world in high esteem, and ourselves in no esteem. So when I decided, last year, to finally pack my bags, I felt that I was something of a “chosen one”

George Gladwin: Like it was your destiny?
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Certainly

George Gladwin: A lot more females, than males I know dream of Africa…
Lerato Mogoatlhe: Africa has always been sacred to me, I never hated it. I have never not known about Africa… My life was surrounded by many African nationals, starting with my shrink at 17! LOL!

George Gladwin: Hehehe
Lerato Mogoatlhe: My initial interaction was through people I envied and aspired to be like. My sense of Africa has always been inspired by love and reverence. Mara, I looked at some things as well, and I did not like what I saw. I stopped being a Christian because it denounces Voodoo, for instance. Demonising it is demonising me; it is African, therefore it is mine.

George Gladwin: Hmmm… Interesting point. I’m sure your mother won’t approve of such thinking or beliefs
Lerato Mogoatlhe: She’s to blame, actually

George Gladwin: We are planning a road trip for this December (wanna go to Swaziland, Moz, Botswana, Zim, Namibia and Cape Town). What tips can you give us before we hit the road? Hau! Blaming mommy dearest! But I understand – everything that we are, we learn most of it from our parents.
Lerato Mogoatlhe: A bit about my mom, she never bought anything but books. And the more I asked for – just to get her to open her purse in my name – the more she bought and engaged me on what I read, like my uncles. I was side-lining ka Achebe when you poor dears where doing Shakespeare. My education, I’m 29, never focused on Africa in a way that would lead me here. So my family went out of their way to give me alternative education, down to summer ya standard 6 being used by my uncle to break down Biko and BC.

The road trip… Enjoy it. Lose your Joziness. Let things happen on their own, and don’t obsesses about having control all the time. Just go with the flow, make detours here and there and try to be more of a local than a tourist. And drop your standards. I assume it will be on a shoestring budget..?

Lerato Mogoatlhe: The most amazing thing is to surrender to the moment. It adds magic to the experience

George Gladwin: That’s the way I hope it’ll go. So which countries have you visited so far? Which ones were AWESOME and which ones didn’t you really like that much? Cos I know this is Africa phela…

Lerato Mogoatlhe: Started in Senegal. Then Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, now here. All were awesome. Each added something to my soul. Here is a breakdown;

Senegal is still very traditional, yet has made space for the other side of life, kinda like how your Muslim kid will want to wear low-cut jeans and let her G-string show. I found that so amazing; to be sure of your spirituality and not let it ride on anything but conduct and character.

Then there was Mali … I am going back there as soon as possible. That is why I am hanging around IC and not rushing to Togo and beyond. Mali is magical, and for me, ah, the music… that is an obsession. I actually pity people who do not listen to Malian music, not just Salif Keita tu, because then they do not know the power of Malian music… makes me think everyone else is making noise, really. The culture, history, richness of it all – live performances in Mali? Always brilliant, music is GOD in Mali…

Burkina Faso was crap. I was road-weary, tired of French, itchy to get back to Ghana and just not in the mood for the country. Went to Bobo Dialoso and Ouagadougou… All the time just kept thinking, “get me out of here”. I went to our embassy and it was like family. It is still new and not fully staffed so there are no airs and graces. Ended up having an awesome chat with our Ambassador. He is a lover of Africa and shared some of his magical moments, including three weeks in the Sahara, just a tent and the night sky in Morocco so, of course, I am heading there. We also spoke about our cultural consumption, that being my obsession. When I still wrote ‘On the Down Low’ for City Press, he was a fan, thought it was a very relevant voice and called me a troublemaker – that was flattering, cos I do not aim to please, really. I was also called a Segatlhamela masisi, good luck translating, brave feels so soft a term. So I was motivated to keep going, this trip is about Chanting Down the Fear we have for Africa, it is manifesting in different ways. Ultimately, people will stop fearing and loving… that big part includes war-torn countries – though not DRC at the moment. What a bummer…

Ghana is my home, for being an introduction to the region of my obsession. I lived there for two and a half months this time, and I want to go back, gosh! I want to spend a few months of every year there. It is an English-speaking country; Ghanainas are very friendly, very welcoming and love you like you are a long-lost brother or sister. That is saying tons because West Africa ke ubuntu personified

*This conversation was carried over to the next day we chatted online

Writer: Lerato Mogoatlhe            Photographer: Max Mogale