What is #54before54?
Similar to #30by30, #54before54 is an objective to travel to 54 countries before the age of 54. More specifically, I hope to visit all independent and internationally recognized countries in Africa. The plan is to leave airports in all countries – well, as many as possible – to see notable attractions and learn more about the history, culture, customs, art, music, national dishes, and way of life of the people there. I will prioritize interactions with the people themselves (read: “locals”). I would also like to capture and share photos of the beauty and/or interesting places and sights of every city to encourage others to do the same and promote travel in Africa.
The goal was developed after my first extended solo trip and first time in East Africa in late 2015-early 2016. At the time I lived and worked in Dodoma in Tanzania. Unfamiliar with the city and context before I arrived there, I experienced culture shock. Aside from the fact that Dodoma – the capital of TZ that is a 6+ hours drive away from Arusha and 8+ from Dar es Salaam – was a big change because I have always lived in or near a metropolis, I came to realize that life in East Africa is quite different from that in the West (the region I am most familiar with).
Firstly, it was interesting to visit a sub-Saharan African country where an indigenous language – Swahili – is the official and primary method of communication. Then, while I am conditioned to look left-right-left to cross a street and do not drink much tea, I now lived where people drive on the right and some take “tea breaks” for almost an hour twice a day. Further, although I had never used a latrine, I had to do so several times a week. More importantly, I found out that Tanzanians do not cook or eat plantain like Nigerians, Cameroonians or Ghanaians (read: the way I like it).
I started to appreciate the fact that I was not always rushed or in a hurry in Dodoma. Coming from Lagos especially, I liked meeting deeply religious yet slow-to-speak (in every sense) and generally quiet people. I had ugali, a dish made with cornmeal or maize flour that looks and feels like sticky dough, for lunch. I also ate nyama choma, grilled meat, and chips mayai, an omelette with onions, tomatoes, peppers and fries (chips). “Mambo” and “habari za asu buhi” (instead of “jambo”) were my greetings to peers. I said “shikamoo” to greet senior staff at the office. I also carried toilet paper everywhere. More importantly, I stopped putting items in my back pockets in case they fell in a latrine (or anywhere).
Some of these situations and realizations were definitely uncomfortable and/or frustrating to deal with. As I think about my experience today, I feel grateful, however. There is value in stepping out of one’s comfort zone to learn about others and possibly discover new interests. If possible, I want to re-experience some of these situations in different cities in Africa.
Since I announced the goal in July 2016, I have visited Liberia, Kenya, Mauritius, Niger, Ethiopia (briefly), Congo and Rwanda. With the exception of Mauritius, the trips were in the context of my work. I will soon start a new role in Senegal and look forward to discovering number 20 of #54before54!
Please ask for permission to use my photos if you would like to do so.