54 Before 54: Lori Kemi’s Ode to Africa

As black travellers, visiting Africa is naturally something we all want to do. If it’s not to reconnect with your roots or culture, then it is to visit countries where people look like you and share certain experiences. The hype of it all can sometimes seem borderline romanticised, so it is always refreshing to get a dose of inspiration from travellers who are committed to showing the daily realities of Africa.

Loriade is one of them. Speaking with Loriade quickly reminded me of the realities of being in Africa as our video call was abruptly ended and I couldn’t reach her for a while. Loriade eventually called back.

“Sorry,” she laughed, “the electricity cut out.”

Born in Washington D.C. but also Cameroonian and Nigerian, Loriade made her first trip back to Africa at 6 months old and was mainly raised in Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Tunisia. What distinguishes Loriade from other travellers showcasing Africa is that she has lived in many of the 20+ African countries she has travelled to, travels solo most of the time, and contributes to the betterment of Africa in a number of ways.

Source: lorikemi.com

As well as documenting her travels on Instagram and her blog, Loriade

spends her day as an independent consultant for NGOs and international organisations, focusing mainly on public health and education in Africa. Her reasons behind #54before54 is inspiring to say the least.

MT: Which three African countries do you highly recommend?
LK: Mauritius, Rwanda, and Ghana.

MT: Which African country had the most impact on your life and wanting to work in Africa?
LK: Tunisia. It was my first experience of realising that I’m black, as ridiculous as it sounds. My parents worked for a company that relocated to Tunisia and had 1000 employees. Tunisia is an Arab country where people tend to have fairer skin than most employees of the company my parents work for, so when we first arrived, we were suddenly everywhere in the city. I think a lot of Tunisians weren’t used to seeing so many black people.

Some of us were called monkeys and Africans – even though Tunisians are Africans as well – so that experience hit me in a shocking way and made me think “woah. You’re Black. You’re African”.

I became very aware of my identity at the age of 13. Luckily, my parents reassured me that being black wasn’t a bad thing to be.” - Lori Kemi Click To Tweet

This experience prompted my thoughts about wanting to work in African countries and changing the perception.

MT: What event sparked the reason behind #54before54?
LK: In 2015, I was awarded a fellowship grant to work for an NGO in Tanzania for four months. It was my first time in East Africa, and I realised then there is so much about Africa that I don’t know.

I didn’t speak Swahili, and as the primarily spoken language, many Tanzanians don’t speak English. For me, due to my upbringing, it was so strange – living in a country where people didn’t speak French or English!

As much as I want to work in Africa, there’s so much I don’t know about the people that make up the continent, along with culture, history, music, and food.

At that point, I told myself: there are 54 countries in Africa. If I can take the next 21 years to try and visit 2 or 3 countries a year, I should be able to visit all of them. This is one continent, but we live in very different ways and have different histories. But these are differences to embrace.

Source: lorikemi.com

MT: What is your overall goal of #54before54?

My goal is to become more knowledgeable about the different countries and cultures through the people I meet. My overall goal, however, is also to share different aspects of Africa.

Amongst the people I went to school with, when they heard that I decided to start this venture and leave my comfortable life in D.C., many didn’t understand and were clueless on what I’m will be able to do here. A lot of people aren’t aware of the different opportunities that you can have while on the continent.

I have a feeling that many also don’t know about the different countries within the continent. A lot of people’s idea of Africa is South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and maybe Tanzania for a safari. They may also be aware of Ghana, but that’s about it. There are so many other countries that are often overlooked.

So my goal is show people that there is more than what the media shows us and more than what people currently show you on Instagram, because people often travel to the same countries. I want to highlight the diversity of the continent.

Lastly, I want to inspire people. I particularly want to inspire people of African descent to consider travelling the continent before heading to places like Dubai. If you are visiting places like Dubai because of the beaches and mosques, there are so many beaches and mosques in Africa.

If you want to go to Santorini to take breathtaking photos for Instagram, you can go to Mauritius and do the same thing. - Lori Kemi Click To Tweet

I want to share my experience and inform people while encouraging them to explore more destinations and to become more knowledgeable.

MT: Which country has been your favourite so far and why?
LK: Mauritius. It’s an African country although they, and black Africa, sometimes forget that.

I loved going there and seeing how beautiful and clean the country is, and although they have their development challenges, they’ve managed to build a reputation as this top worldwide destination with amazing beaches and things to do. There’s something for everyone. If you are more interested in the cultural aspect, you can find that. If you want to travel and spend your time on the beach, that’s fine too. It’s one of those countries that can appeal to different types of travellers. For me, it was a welcome discovery that Mauritius is a part of Africa and the continent has countries like that.

MT: What’s been your most challenging experience in Africa so far and what did you learn about yourself from it?

LK: Tanzania because it was the beginning of everything. I was in a city called Dodoma. It’s an inland city without a beach, so it’s very dry. It was challenging in a number of ways. I had to change my diet. I ate a lot of “local” chicken, which is extremely hard and skinny, and ate a lot more fish and red meat.

Culturally, it was tough. Since most people only spoke Swahili, daily tasks such as going to the market became a hassle. I had to quickly adjust by picking up a few phrases to get by. It was my first time living in a non-urban area, so opportunities to meet young people in lounges and clubs were hard to find. It was a completely different setting to what I was used to. I really felt like a fish out of water.

I wanted to travel Africa to learn, but in doing that I learned so much about myself.- Lori Kemi Click To Tweet

The people are also very chilled. Coming from Nigeria where people tend to be a bit more assertive and fast paced, a lot of people tended to be very welcoming but also very curious. They also always wanted me to be in their presence. I’m quite an introverted person, so I like being able to socialise on my own terms. But I was in a setting where that just wasn’t the case. I had to quickly become a part of the culture, take part in activities and eat with them, so it become overwhelming. It proved to be difficult to ask for my personal space so I didn’t offend them.

I look back on that experience and I’m proud that I made it through. At the time, I felt like I should have just stuck to what I knew, which was travelling to West African countries. I can definitely find positive aspects of it now. Keeping that experience in mind has helped me in different settings later on in life. For example, while I was in Niger, I had to change my habits, routines and dress more conservatively.

Niamey, Niger. Source: Instagram, @lorikemi

MT: People often get anxious at the thought of travelling to Africa solo. What are your top tips for picking a country to travel to in Africa?
LK: My first tip is to pick a country that is very well covered in terms of travel resources, just to have a better and more structured trip. There will be a lot of information on hotels, currency and the weather, so it will be a much more interesting experience.

My second tip is to go to countries where you speak the language. Language skills are very important. For English speakers, many of the East African countries will be a safe bet. In West Africa, it’s a little bit harder as a non-French speaker.

My third tip is know what experience you want to have. From my experience, West Africa is more about good food or buying fabric to make outfits, as well as music and nightlife. My experience was completely different in East Africa – it was more about the safari and zoos. Don’t get me wrong, there are great art scenes in countries like Rwanda, but think about the experience you want to have and whether that country has an abundance of that.

Safety is another factor to consider. There are many authoritative governments that will not tolerate travellers who do not follow the rules. This isn’t always a factor, but definitely something to consider.

People often get anxious about travelling Africa because of the stereotypes, food and diseases. But planning your trip properly will reassure you about some of the things you are concerned about. - Lori Kemi Click To Tweet

If you want to stay updated on Lori’s quest to visit all 54 countries in Africa – and she is doing tremendously well – follow her on Instagram or read her latest stories on her blog, lorikemi.com.

Melanin Travel

Encouraging you to keep exploring the world through advice, inspiration and experiences.