I was about 14 or 15 when I read a book called Without a Silver Spoon. I can’t remember who the author is or where it was set but what stood out for me were small things like when it mentioned jollof rice. I remember thinking: “Ooh, I wonder what that tastes like.”
Small things like that made me curious about these little components of Africa. I knew that one day is one day and I would just have to go.
I eventually decided to travel Africa on my own.
I started in West Africa and stayed much longer than I was intending to because, very early on, it became clear to me that something big was happening. I was a journalist at the time and people were often complaining about how Africa was always being written about negatively — Western media this, CNN that — so I started writing about life on the continent.
What really stood out for me was that, in West Africa — and I suppose around the continent generally — when people eat, everyone is invited.
When I first got to Timbuktu, I was invited to lunch: rice and meat or fish and sauce served on these large dishes. And there’d be four, five or six people eating from the same dish. That was really very intimate. Eating wasn’t just something you did on the go. It meant family, fellowship, jokes and a lot of love.
My time there showed me how to live communally. Coming from a place of eating alone in Johannesburg to eating with other people from one plate was really amazing.
In his book, Afrika, My Music, Es’kia Mphahlele says Ghana and Nigeria gave him Africa. I used to wonder what he meant by that but when I got there, I understood.
It was the simple things I experienced there that really made me live my blackness; my Africanness. — Lerato Mogoatlhe (37) as told to Carl Collison, the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian