From her hometown of Calabar, to Accra, Lomé, Cotonou, Grand Bassam, and Abidjan, Salem shares an unforgettable experience traveling through West Africa.
What were your motivations to embark on a tour of West Africa? My goal for a while has been to see all of Sub-Saharan Africa by the end of the 2030’s, so I wanted to add a few countries on my list last year. It was a financially stable year for me and I was able to contribute a large percentage of my income to my travel fund, so I decided to take 5 weeks off from work and make a tour out of it.
How many countries did you visit? I visited 5 countries and 8 cities: Calabar, Lagos, Uyo, Nigeria. Lome, Togo. Cotonou, Benin. Accra, Ghana. Grand Bassam, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
I know one of the countries you visited was our home country— Nigeria. What differences or similarities stood out to you between Nigeria and the other West African countries?
Even though there’s a harshness to Lagos, there are still so many moments of tenderness like in the smile of a market woman trying to convince you to shop from her stall, or the oga that held my hand and helped me cross the street at Lekki Epe Express Way.
I think Nigeria, particularly Lagos, is very loud and highly energetic as a country. In ways I haven’t experienced yet in any other country in West Africa. Our food is also a lot more varied. I felt like in general Nigeria had the most diverse food options, but maybe that’s just the Calabar woman in me speaking.
As for similarities, there’s a warmth and hospitality present all over West Africa that I felt all the way from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire. Even though there’s a harshness to Lagos, there are still so many moments of tenderness like in the smile of a market woman trying to convince you to shop from her stall, or the oga that held my hand and helped me cross the street at Lekki Epe Express Way.
What did you do first in each city you visited? I have the same routines for my first day in an African city (after getting my phone situation set up): go to the market, find the nearest beach, eat some fresh fruits, and take a nap.
Describe your experience in one word: A full body exhale. That’s how I felt every single day I was in West Africa.
Did you travel alone or with friends? Since I did my trip in different legs I had a couple of experiences with friends and a few by myself. As soon as I landed in Nigeria, I wanted to spend the first 5 days of my trip alone just grounding myself and experiencing Lagos on my own terms.
Immediately after, the next week was spent between Uyo and Calabar with family which was really special. Next, I travelled to Accra with my sister-cousin where we met up with my friends and spent most of the other weeks with my friends. A close friend of mine has a travel agency, Magic and Melanin, and thanks to her planning we were able to have access to so much in the other countries.
Since I had a bit of a hybrid trip, I actually enjoyed each of those experiences. I enjoyed the cities I visited alone, but also knew that my loved ones made a lot of the other experiences way more fun. My favorite memory from Accra was my sister-cousin convincing me to go out every night. I tend to be more mellow with nightlife but her energy was contagious and it pushed me to be more extroverted. Which I am so grateful for, in light of the corona virus and the fact that we’ve had to be home all year. My memories are all I have.
Another favorite memory was being at a beach in Grand Bassam with a few of my close friends. We sat in a circle, said some prayers, set intentions, ate, laughed, smoked, and indulged in pure joy. As much as I love my solitude, these moments with my loves were priceless to me.
What were your favorite things to eat, see and do?
Food: Shito and Fried yams from Ghana always hit.
In Nigeria, I indulged in the best Jollof and in Ekpang Nkukwo (a Calabar delicacy). In other countries I ate as much fresh fruit and fresh fish as humanly possible. I love how these two things are so accessible in West African beach towns.
Activities: I visited a local museum in every city I went to. I am a bit of an African history nerd so I love adding to my arsenal of knowledge about the continent.
I mentioned earlier my love for markets. I feel markets are a place you go to get a pulse of an African city and see the community in action. I love just walking around there. And finally, the beaches.
Tell me about a memorable moment from your travels–one you’ll look back on, and tell stories about: I think being in Accra for the year of the return was so memorable. Just seeing the whole city bursting out of its seams with African descended people from all over the world. It made me wonder who we would be as a continent if we had never encountered the violence of slavery and colonization. It felt magical.
I remember lounging in Republic Osu eating shito and yams one evening and running into over 7 people I knew from various stages of my life who I didn’t even know would be in Ghana. It felt like a family reunion.
Another memorable thing for me was getting into a whirlwind romance of sorts during my time in West Africa. I’ve always secretly had that “eat pray love” fantasy of running into someone in a new country and having a whirlwind with them.
My whirlwind was so beautiful and superceded my fantasies when we kissed into the New Year. We both knew nothing would last after the holidays so it was nice to get as much of each other as we could.
If you had to convince someone to visit one of the countries you did, which one would it be and why? Agh that’s a hard question. I want to say Nigeria, obviously because that’s home…but I think my authentic answer would be Côte d’Ivoire. It just has a calming, soothing, and beautiful energy about it. The architecture, the people, the built environment just screamed creative and lovely and you can’t help but feel beautiful too while there.
If you could rewind and relive your trip, what would you do differently? Honestly not a thing! I think I was very present with myself and whatever space I was in through the entire trip so West Africa owes me nothing else.
Once we are all able to travel safely and freely again where are you looking forward to visiting next? Senegal, Cuba, and Tokyo are some of the biggest places pulling at my heart strings right now.
Salem and I are friends, so I’ve heard about this trip before, and I was excited to share some of her stories with all of you. She talks about it with an excitement and joy that’s almost palpable and makes me want to embark on my own travels through Western Africa. Like me, she appreciates slower paced travel–walking through markets and museums, and resting on beaches. I love to learn about + enjoy cities in these ways too!
What was the last place you really enjoyed visiting? I love hearing from you. Leave me a comment to let me know.
thank you for reading!
Click the ellipses ‘…’ icon in the sidebar or the follow button to subscribe to this blog & get every featured story as soon as I hit publish.
Same footprints, Different sands