In Conversation with: Chineme Ezekwenna
Hi! My name is Chineme, and I'm a francophone Nigerian-American who doesn't like staying in one place for too long. I'm a wanderer who's lived on three continents.
When did you get bitten by the travel bug?
From birth, lol! My parents have lived on three continents and while I was growing up my family moved around quite a bit. Thus, I blame them for loving to bounce around, and my travels follow the same trajectory that they took: Africa, Europe, and North America. However, for the past three years I have been focused on traveling to #shitholecountries in 'Africa'.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I guess that's a number that I should have written down somewhere. Ha! I just counted, and I'm currently at 12, with about half in West Africa. I want to travel to at least 45 African countries in my lifetime.
Which countries are you yet to visit?
Too many to count! Top on my Africa list are: Togo, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Cape Verde, Sudan, and Mozambique. My global list includes India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Portugal, Germany, and Belgium.
During your travels which country was your favourite to visit and why?
Oh, that's hard! Each place I visit has memories I hold dear and a special place in my heart. That being said, two of the recent countries that I LOVED and practically had to force myself to leave were Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire. If you've ever been to either, I'm sure you understand. I love so so so many things about each. For each country, I spent a significant amount of time in the economic capitals: Dakar and Abidjan. My favourite thing about my travels are the people, music (art), and food. To top it off, I love the French language, so it's always nice to live in a country where French is the official language. In Dakar, I especially loved the proximity to the ocean and the numerous beaches and islands. In Abidjan, I loved the various local markets and club scene.
How frequently do you travel and given the resources how often would you like to travel?
For the past 6 years, I've travelled on average to four countries annually. I would love to continue this pattern and even increase the country count to 10.
What inspired you to start photography?
I've always had an eye for finding beauty in the mundane, and I've loved photography for as long as I can remember. However, I didn't really see myself as an actual photographer until last year when I bought my first DSLR and started actively snapping and posting my photography. There were two guys in my life who unknowingly showed me that I should just start. I came to the realization that I don't have to be an expert photographer like Yagazie Emezi, TY Bello, Tom Saater, or another one of my favourite photographers to start sharing the beauty that I see with the world.
How did the idea of poetry infused photography come about?
I started jotting down my musings in 2015, but they were for my eyes only! But then about one year ago, I started posting them on my website: TravelingWithChi.com. In June one of my friends was doing the African Writers co-sponsored one-month writing challenge and she encouraged me to do it as well. That's when I decided that I would kill two birds with one stone by combining two things I loved - words and photos. I love telling stories that make people feel, and I felt that combining the two would make them so much more poignant. After the month was over, I decided to continue based on the feedback from those around me.
Of all the photographs you have taken, which one is your favourite?
What??? How am I supposed to answer this question with only one picture? I attached three. ;)
1. The picture of the old man with a walking stick was taken in Senegal near Lompoul desert. Small children can be seen in the distance. I love the colours and the different stories that can be told.
2. The picture of the mother and three small children was taken in Abuja, Nigeria. This photo especially resonated with me, since in my family we are two girls and two boys. I posted this picture on my mother's birthday.
3. The picture of the man playing tennis in the ocean was taken at Ngor Island in Senegal. I love the composition of the photo: the sky, multi-coloured ocean, the water running off the ball, and the beautiful dreaded-man. Right before I took this picture, the man pictured had hit me with his ball. He apologized, so I forgive him, mostly. Lol.
Apart from blogging, poetry and photography what do you do?
What don't I do? I call myself an international development practitioner, and I've worked in the fields of international education, human rights, and good governance as a program manager, project coordinator, and resident director. I also dabble in freelance communications/marketing.
Describe a typical day in your life...
I can't remember the last time I had a typical day. Lol. I get to set my own schedule, so one week I could be working almost nonstop, while the following I might be lounging around at home or catching up on other projects. I am trying to incorporate yoga and Jesus time into my daily schedule as constants that help keep me grounded.
What is the soundtrack to your life?
Afrobeats lol. I LOVE music, and with my eclectic music taste I don't think I can pinpoint one song let alone one artist. If it's not a Naija tune, it would have to be a sad/depressing indie song. Now I'm listening to quite a bit of Bethel Music, especially Bryan and Katie Torwalt.
Who inspires you the most in life?
Hmmm. Different people inspire me for different things. I know it's cliche, but my mom inspires me for her character, work ethic, and unwavering faith in God. Nigeria women in general inspire me for their determination, dedication, and resiliency against all the obstacles that are thrown against them. They are the ones that make me want to work hard not only because I look back at all the sacrifices they had to make - so that future generations and I will live in a society that is more just, secure, and loving.
If you were give up something for a year what would it be and why?
I would say my phone, but who are we kidding?!
What is your advice for other budding travellers and what are the essential factors they need to consider before taking up travelling?
People ask me about traveling all the time, and one of the first things I tell people is that if traveling is really your passion then you should prioritize it. Take the time to research your destination (what is the lingua franca, currency, basic greeting, etc) find deals, save money (this might mean simplifying your lifestyle), and just go. Sometimes people are so scared - of new experiences and even themselves - that they never embark traveling or discovering new things.
Before traveling, it's good to go with a plan, even if it's not completely figured out. For example, when I traveled to Abidjan I didn't secure my housing until approximately two weeks before my travel date. However, I already had a budget of all my expenses and a list of places I wanted to visit and things that I wanted to do.
What are you most fond of, about having your roots in Nigeria?
The resiliency, strength, and intelligence of the Nigerian people. No matter where in the world we find ourselves (because we literally are everywhere), we always excel. I also love how Nigerian culture is appreciated around the globe by people who are not Nigerian. For example, in many West African countries it's common to hear Nigerian music being played not only in nightclubs, but also in grocery stores and other business establishments.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who used her voice via both her pen and lens to inspire, motivate, teach, empower, and activate positive change.