Kemi’s East Africa invasion series: Part 1 – Kenya (Of old friends and new giraffes)

Hi guys!!!! ‘O to jo meta, oooo’ (a.k.a it’s been a while). How are you doing? Keeping well? You already know I missed you, really, I did.

First, a big shout-out to the people who DM’ed me to ask/harass me about the next post. I know this might sound cheesy, but it feels so good to be wanted. 🙂 Thanks guys! I love being able to share my adventures with you and I appreciate all your comments and feedback. It has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, thank you thank you!!!

Ever since my trip to Tanzania last year, I have been secretly desiring an East African invasion for 2017. So to kick things off, I was in Kenya last weekend, and I had an amazing time. It was not my first time in Nairobi (last time I was there was in 2011), but it felt like the first time all over again. I am all for revisiting places these days, because I believe there are always new things to explore and new perspective to be gained.  Remember I said I was trying to be more deliberate about my travels going forward, so this trip was more about rekindling friendships and less about sightseeing. As I reflected on the beautiful time I had with the folks I spent time with in Nairobi, I realized that I met all of them (except for one) in the course of work. Yes, you read that right – WORK!

You see, we typically spend a lot of our time/life at work and one of the ‘perks’ not stated on our employment offers is the lasting, beneficial friendships that we can build, cultivate and keep with our colleagues or clients. That’s not to ignore the fact that we also meet some ‘blessedly’ difficult people at work. *shudders*. Anyway, Nairobi was an eye-opener to the blessings of friends that I had picked up over the course of my career.

Mr FS, 2017

Stop 1: Mr FS and Ms DAO – my souvenir-brother and sister from my time in Tunisia. I met them while on a project in 2013 and it was friendship at first sight. Mr F instantly adopted me as his baby sister, and I guess I was Ms D’s side-kick, lol. I spent a good number of my weekends with them and the memories of our weekend away in Sousse celebrating Mr F’s wedding anniversary remain fresh in my mind to date. I had not seen Mr F since I left Tunis in 2013 so it was such a delight to spend time with him and hear about all the progress he has been making. I didn’t get to spend as much time with Ms D (I promise to make it up to you girl – I promise) but we still managed to catch-up over loud, almost deafening music at Kiza.

The struggle to get the perfect picture, lol
Different years, same pose!!! I need an UPGRADE. 
The full Sousse crew

Stop 2: Ms AN!!! My sister-girl from way back in 2011 when I joined the Firm. Our friendship started in Lagos and has now relocated to Nairobi. In reality though, our friendship now resides on the streets of WhatsApp – this is where we play catch-u, so it was really good seeing her again. Her couch in Lekki played host to me several times, and now that she’s moved back to Nairobi, her hosting skills seem to have gone up 10 notches. She cooked up a storm for me in the name of Saturday dinner and in exchange, I did the dishes – fair, right? I just wanted to ensure that she doesn’t think twice about hosting me again, lol. Just securing my accommodation for next time :-).  After wolfing down the food, having serious conversations about work/life, and laughing till our ribs ached, we put on Naija music and started dancing. We had a house party all by ourselves. It was such a LIT evening. I left her place sometime after midnight – more than 5 hours after I arrived.

Hello Ms AN’s pout 🙂
AN’s feast!

Stop 3: Ms LA – my business school senior who I only met in 2015. She was such a gracious hostess – she sorted me out big time and organized the cab that took me on my Saturday morning touristy ‘waka’; she also negotiated an unbelievable fare for me and on Sunday, took me to the salon to get groomed (I think she just had mercy on me and helped me fix my bushy eyebrows and chipped nail polish situation), and she stuffed me with some yummy Chinese food before I left for the airport, all in a bid to make sure I didn’t get tempted to eat in-flight food, lol.

KO + LA #inseadmoments

Stop 4: Ms AOO!!! The fierce lioness of Kenya. She is definitely going to be President of Kenya someday, take my word for it. I met her at work circa 2012/2013 when she transferred from the Minneapolis office to spend a year in Nigeria. I think it was one of those ‘love on the dance floor’ type of connections. We both LOVE to dance. Interestingly, she was the one who made me write my first blogpost ever – it was an article for the McKinsey Women blog and she nominated me to continue to take over her spot when she was leaving the Firm. I think I managed to do 3 or 4 blog posts over about 18 months before I gave up. Look at me now, I have written 10 blog posts in less than a year. Wow! We have more capacity than we think we do.

First attempt at blogging – pictured with the global MD for McK (shameless plug, I know!)

We had breakfast on Sunday morning (notice how a lot of these meet-ups were over food? I am convinced that relationships get strengthened over meals. I have not done the research yet but I am sure this is part of the mystery of the communion) and then we went to church together. I thought it was only at the clubs/parties that Nigerian music had taken over. Wrong! All the praise/worship songs in church were the same as the ones sung in church back home in Nigeria! The only difference was that the people were not as extra in their dancing, hahaha. There was no shoki, no shakitibobo, no azonto, just some good ol’ clapping and regular dancing unto the Lord.

Ms AOO – future President of Kenya ( you saw her here first!)

Stop 5: Ms FA. This was a bonus surprise. We literally crossed paths at the airport. She landed less than an hour before I took off. I love airport meet-ups! I really can’t explain why but I do. Maybe because it is better to pass time talking to someone you know than just people-watching or struggling with airport wifi, lol.

Airport jamz with Ms FA

Beyond having an amazing friendship-full weekend that left my heart bubbling over, I had some other interesting experiences on this trip.

Red-eye flights: These are not the easiest flights to be on. All these flights that take off at odd times like 12:55am are just painful. You can’t nap for fear of missing the flight and the airport seats and plane seats are too uncomfortable to get any decent sleep. Note to self: Never again! (Except of course it is completely unavoidable)

Can someone give me a bed, please?

Traffic: The traffic in Nairobi is special. Goodness! It took about 90mins to get from the airport to the hotel, which was only about 20km away. This is a shorter distance compared to driving from Lagos International Airport to Victoria Island (~ 25km ) but the drive felt like we were going double the distance. I slept through the trip sha (remember I had just gotten off a red-eye flight so I was exhausted). I thought that was going to be my last ‘go-slow’ experience but I was sooo wrong. There is traffic almost EVERYWHERE in Nairobi. Inexplicable traffic!! At least in Lagos, you will see the broken down car/truck that’s causing the traffic or the wedding event centre whose guests decided to park on the road. Not so in Nairobi, no reason, no cause. One of my friends said the traffic is spiritual. I agree! Kai, after spending a good chunk of my Saturday afternoon in traffic, I agree that Nairobi traffic beats Lagos traffic, hands down! Lagos 1, Nairobi 0. 🙂

Traffic – Nairobi style
More traffic

Tourism: Kenyans have cracked this tourism business, end-to-end! I give it to them. To start with, their $50 visa-on-arrival make them a preferred destination for everyone. No one really likes to fill visa application forms and queue at embassies to beg for visas. Once you are in, there is a variety of activities you can engage in, depending on your preferences are – explore wildlife (either on a safari, at national parks or at some of the specific animal parks) or shop till you drop at the different local markets; eat to your heart’s fill or go tea/coffee tasting; or just drive out of town to go hang out with the Masai people. I had very limited time for sightseeing (only Saturday morning) so I chose to go to the Giraffe Centre and the Elephant Orphanage. I naturally have a phobia for animals (blame it on the dog that chased me around my friend’s compound when I was about 7/8) and so, being in such proximity to these animals was, errrr, initially uncomfortable. But I got into the swing of things and started enjoying feeding the giraffes. At some point, I think I got too comfortable, lol.

Such a happy giraffe feeder
z giraffes in all their glory
Eddy the Giraffe
Pet giraffe???

The Elephant orphanage was an experience. It is open to visitors only between 11am – 12noon daily, and the queue to get in was looooong. It was one of the few times I have seen ‘oyinbo’ people rush for stuff, lol. That Nairobi traffic spirit also found its way to this queue, sigh. We essentially gathered to watch the baby elephants come out to eat. They feed them like babies, literally – with a milk through a feeding bottle. It was so cute to watch.

Baby elephants drinking milk

I was also fascinated by how the baby elephants enjoyed rolling in sand and getting dirty. Isn’t this how human babies also like to play in sand and get dirty? I think I must have eaten a fair share of sand as a toddler, lol. When it was time for them to go back to their nurseries, there was no resistance. They left in a single orderly file. I am sure some of us need to go and learn that skill from the baby elephants, lol.

Rolling in the deep

On my way out of the orphanage, I met a masai guy and we did the usual jump. That was fun! Not sure I nailed the jump but yeah, whatever, lol.

Happy jump times are here!

Uber drama/why you must have a functional phone: Hmm, that’s how my uber broke down on my way to FS’s house o! See panic!!! I jumped out of the car and sharply called FS on my Nigerian phone (for once, I didn’t mind the cost) to come and get me from where the car broke down. All sorts of random thoughts ran through my head, especially as okadas (motorbikes) riding past slowed down to talk to the driver in languages I could not understand. Thank God for safety o!

Le Uber

Other random observations:

1) All the road-side corn sellers were men! Although I saw women selling other things on the road, I did not see any woman selling roasted corn. I guess corn is a ‘guy-thing’.

2) Eh ehn, I forgot my sunglasses and was hoping I would find someone selling Ray Bans in traffic – no joy! I trust my Lagos brothers, they would have sorted me out sharp-sharp.

🙁 This is what happens when you don’t have sunglasses. Err, not sure what that other Aunty was looking at o, lol. 

3) Kenyans LOVE bananas! There were bananas everywhere – at every junction, street corner, kiosk, etc. I figure this is how foreigners are surprised by how many orange sellers hang out on the streets of Lagos.

4) I was surprised at how everyone described distances between places in kilometers, (similar to how it is done in the West). I had always thought it was a Western thing but it seems its only folks in Nigeria that describe distances between two places in minutes. Or am I on my own on this one? Am I the only one that still gets confused when people are describing the size of a room – 25 by 34 square foot? I guess it’s not too late to learn distances and dimensions  *shrug*

Next stop in the East African invasion is Uganda. I will be attending another colleague-friend’s wedding and I can’t wait to see if they will have small chops, lol. Trust me, I will come and tell you all about it! I also have Rwanda and Burundi on my radar. Let’s see how much of East Africa we can cover over the next few months.

If you are planning trips to any of these spots, hola at your girl. We might just be able to sync schedules or bump into each other at the airport, at the very least.

That said, let me end by thanking God for the blessings of fantastic colleagues that have no time for office rivalry but rather have become friends/sisters. I am deeply grateful! Do you have colleagues-turned-friends you are grateful for? Froleagues ???!!! Nice word, Oxford dictionary please take note. Hehehehe.  Do share in the comments section.

Hugs,

Kemi

What skydiving in Cape Town taught me about trust in God

May day, May day! Lol. Okay, that’s me just being an alarmist. I have missed you guys so much! I took some time off social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc). It was a well-needed break, to be honest. I know I am not a daily poster on Instagram but to be honest, I spend a LOT of time being a low-key stalker, lol. At least, I am the kind of stalker that actually likes pictures and leaves comments, instead of just doing waka pass, hahahaha. Seriously though, I realized how much time-share social media has in my life, and I decided to go on a detox. A few people asked if I deleted the app from my phone – nopes! It was right next to WhatsApp  (speaking of WhatsApp, does that count as social media as well?) and I saw it several times a day. I guess I was also trying to teach myself some lessons in will-power and self-discipline. Maybe now I can actually look past the dessert section of menus or still look and choose the fruit salad, hehehehe. No further words on this desserts matter. *lips sealed*. That said, I apologize for all the messages I missed. I will respond shortly. Thanks for your kind understanding 🙂

Sooooo, while I was away, a lot of things happened! I took my first helicopter ride (thank God the Abuja airport has been reopened, yaay!), I visited Cape Town for the first time (more on that later in this post) and I finally went sky-diving!!!!! Yup, I did it guys. *insert loudest scream here*

I told only a few people about my plan to go skydiving, mainly because I wanted to be accountable to some people and make sure I didn’t chicken out last minute, but also because I didn’t want anyone trying to talk me out of it. I already had many excuses, I didn’t need any extra discouraging comments. Of course, I only told Mama Kemi AFTER the fact, and even then, I broke the news to her in person when I got back to Lagos. I was just casually showing her pictures from my trip and then, boom! I showed her the pictures and videos of me jumping and flying (yup, that’s what I call it). She actually took it much better than I expected! God bless our mamas. Funny enough, on the day I jumped, I sent her pictures of me in my harness just before I got on the plane, but I am sure she had no clue what it was I was about to do.

After I went zip-lining in Singapore, the caption on my IG post was something about that being a rehearsal for sky-diving. Little did I know that it was going to happen barely a month after.

Our words are powerful!

 

I had been planning an Easter trip to Morocco with some of my close friends but sometime in March, based on logistics (I have been looking for a legit way to use that phrase, lol), I was unable to go on that trip. I had a work commitment come up and I had to prioritize getting the visa for that over getting the Moroccan visa. I also looked at my bank accounts, and frankly, I could not afford the trip right after the Singapore one. It was painful but I had to cut my coat accordingly to my cloth. I hope I get the opportunity to go on an all-girls trip really soon (between weddings, pregnancies and babies, Jesus take the wheel!)

When you ‘enter’ Morocco by photoshop, hehehehehehe 

Anyway, since I had to go to South Africa for work the week after Easter, I figured I could make lemonades out of the ‘no-Morocco’ lemons I had been given (I am on quotable quotes roll on this post, lol). I decided to take 2 days off work (Easter Tuesday and Wednesday), get to South Africa a little early (thank God the ticket prices were the same regardless of the dates) and go on a low-budget vacation to Cape Town. I managed to buy a cheap ticket from Johannesburg to Cape Town and used my hotel points to book a decent hotel (see why you need to get on all those loyalty programs ASAP?). The Lord is good!

I really wanted to chill on this trip – eat, sleep and read. I ate a lot, slept okay and read a bit too. As I was travelling alone, I didn’t have sufficient motivation to always get dressed to go and sit in a restaurant alone, and because I was on a budget, hotel room service was not an option. So UberEATS was my saving grace on this trip. I could still eat great food, at an affordable price without moving an inch – okay, I had to go down to the hotel reception to pick up my order- but yeah, you get the point. Long live Uber!

Food, food, food!

I got to spend time with old friends based in South Africa. Danielle from my YALI days  and of course my darling business school buddies – Ofentse and Lakheni. I also attended a braai (South-African barbeque party) which Lakheni’s family was hosting but forgot to take pictures because the food was so good *covers face*

Good people make me smile!

 

I had only 3 touristy things I wanted to do in Cape Town – visit Robben Island (popularly known as the political prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration, visit Table Mountain (one of the 7 wonders of the world) and go skydiving.

I was completely subdued by the Robben Island experience, I managed to take only one picture there. It was such an emotional and enlightening experience. I got to know about some of the unsung heroes of the apartheid struggle – Robert Sobukwe and Walter Sisulu – just to mention a few. It gave me a fresh appreciation of what it means to lead from the sidelines or from the background. This whole concept of leadership from the side is something I am exploring now and maybe I will write about it one day when it has been fully crystallized in my mind. I have renewed respect for South Africans and the redemptive process of forgiveness that they are going through. I pray that the healing and reconciliation continues and is perfected very soon. Amen!

Robben Island

Table Mountain was a view and a half! God is GREAT! God is an incredibly talented designer! Wow! Cameras cannot really do justice to the breathtaking beauty of Table Mountain. Before you ask, yes, I took the cable car up the mountain. Maybe if I had more time, I would have hiked up. I think even if I had more time, I would have still taken the cable car up, lol. Table Mountain photo credits go to the lovely Ms Tayo who I reconnected with at the wedding I low-key gatecrashed on Easter Monday in Cape Town.

With Tayo on Table Mountain 🙂

 

A view and a half!!!!
Feeling like a G on Table Mountain

Don’t judge me, I was a legitimate +1, lol. Being a +1 (a.k.a hand bag, a.k.a I only know the person who invited me, a.k.a I actually don’t know the bride or groom personally) made me realize that the major thing I enjoy about weddings (apart from the small chops) is being able to share in the joy of seeing my friends FINALLY beginning their journey to forever. So yeah, you probably won’t catch me at a wedding where I don’t know the bride or groom personally again, lol. That said, the scenery at these wine estates and vineyards in Cape Town are just gorgeous. I finally understand/see why Cape Town is a destination wedding favorite for Nigerian couples.

Isn’t that view (and maybe the girl) just gorgeous??

 

I won’t bother giving a motivational speech about my skydiving experience because my big uncle, Will Smith has already done that here. Nevertheless, I will try to describe how I felt with before, during and after the jump.

The day before, I was all cool and calm about it. However I didn’t sleep much the night before and I was awake and ready by the time my pickup arrived at 7am. By the way, I chose the skydiving company on the recommendation of one of my brothers who had jumped there a few weeks before. I would never do such a risky thing without major research o!

When I arrived, I was still cool as I signed the forms (they make you fill and sign a 4-page form which in summary means ‘you are on your own’, lol), and listened to the briefing. Things got real when they suggested that I go up with the first pair of divers, hehehe. I politely declined and said I’d rather wait for another pair of people to jump first. Between the time when that first pair went up and when I finally went up, I visited the bathroom like 3 times. Lol. The queasy feeling in my stomach was real. It was the same queasy feeling I got in my tummy as a little child whenever I had done something wrong and was awaiting the return of my parents to come and execute judgment upon me.

The 4-page form of life!

Gosh, I was afraid! I kept thinking ‘who sent me message oooo?’ As they say, delay is not denial. It was finally my turn to go up, I was the last person and there was no hiding place for me. I tried to act cool again for the camera, wore my harness, got on the truck and headed to the airplane.

This is my ‘who sent me message ooooo?’ face, lol

As part of my coping mechanism, I did a few quirky things to make me feel better – I put on my batman t-shirt (don’t ask me, it made perfect sense to me at the time) and I wore my brightest red lipstick (I figured if I’m going to fly, it would be good to do it pretty, lol). I also did a little dance just as we were about to get on the plane (see full video of the jump here) and got someone to write ‘JESUS ROCKS’ on my palms. Silly things but they definitely made me feel more confident about what I was going to do. I mean, if I was going down, it had to be with Jesus o! 🙂

JESUS ROCKS!!! (Plus my batman tee and popping red lipstick)

Going up was cool, the view was so magnificent, I found myself humming the hymn ‘O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hands have made…then sings my soul my Saviour Lord to thee, HOW GREAT THOU ART!’ It got colder as the plane went higher and higher (and we all know my relationship with cold) so I was so grateful I had worn my INSEAD jumper as well. When my tandem handed me the goggles to wear and start shifting towards the door of the plane, I knew it was over. My soundtrack changed from ‘how great thou art’ to ‘heaven is my home’, lol. I died like 5 times already. I kept thinking ‘what if’. I said my last prayers for like the 20th time and just waited. It was shame that did not allow me chicken out. My tandem didn’t even bother counting for me, he just jumped! The mighty rushing wind that greeted me as we jumped out was intense. I looked down and the worst kind of fear I have ever felt gripped my heart. There was really no turning back.

Saying my last prayers AGAIN!
The JUMP!

Then I remembered the money I paid for the pictures and videos and quickly started smiling, lol. An Ijebu girl is an Ijebu girl whether on land or in the air, hahahaha. Seriously though, after the terror I felt for the first 10 seconds of the free fall, I spread out my arms and started flying. I felt so free, so light, so at peace. I didn’t want it to end. I actually loved flying!

Not sure why I look like I am being tortured here, lol

This is what fear looks like – it involves a lot of teeth and nose, lol

I believe I can fly!!!

And then in the middle of this blissful flight, one crazy thought came to my mind ‘what if the parachute refuses to engage?’ Jesus! Why won’t these crazy fearful thoughts leave me alone and just let me be great? Thankfully, the parachute cooperated when it was time and I thoroughly enjoyed floating around, taking in the view and gisting with my tandem. I asked how many times he jumped in a day and what he enjoyed most about it. Can you imagine? We had a full blown conversation floating in the air! Amazing!

The parachute worked, yaaay!

Landing back on earth (see me sounding like an astronaut that went to Mars or Venus, lol) was such an anti-climax mehn. The familiar suddenly became boring and I would have really liked to be in the air for much longer. Not sure I wanted to jump out of a plane again but I definitely wanted to hang out floating in the air again. Maybe in a hot-air balloon or something. All in all, it was an AMAZING experience! I felt very fulfilled about achieving this goal after a few years of toying with the idea and quite proud of myself for being able to face my fears and ‘do it afraid’. I did it shaking, I did almost peeing on myself, but I did it anyway! If I listened to all the reasonable reasons for why I should not have jumped, it would still be a wish/dream I might never have realized. Now I am hoping to transfer this same daring ‘risk-taking’ drive and energy to other areas of my life, and just dare to achieve some other goals I have set for myself.

Feeling like an astronaut, osheeeey!

Don’t get it twisted, the doubt will come, the ‘what-if’ questions will pop up, the nay-sayers will give counsel, the fear will envelope your heart at different times on the journey, but you just have to take that leap of faith and trust that God will not let your parachute fail and let you crash. He’s got you!

Here’s to being daring and doing things afraid this month of May and for the rest of our lives! Remember, God’s got you!!!

Hugs,

Kemi

What’s next after 30 countries? Falling in love again in Singapore!

Oh Singapore, I really really love you. I spent 6 days in Singapore – you would think that after all my mouth, I was going to relocate there, lol. Those 6 days have to be the most activity-packed days of my life, so far. Pheeew! Of the 6 days, I had only 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) to be a tourist, so the real title of this post should be something like ‘how to explore Singapore in 48 hours’.

No comment 🙂

I realized that in my former post, I did not disclose the purpose of my travel to Singapore. Well, I went there on a spiritual retreat to attend a conference called Kingdom Invasion. After I completed my project 30 by 30 (30 countries before 30), it seemed like the next logical goal would be 40 by 40 or something fancy like that. However, that didn’t excite me as much. Instead, my new goal was to become more purposeful about my travels. I have a coach who spends ALL of his vacation days attending events (conferences, seminars, revival calls, etc) centered on God’s Kingdom and how to manifest His presence here on earth as it is in heaven. Instead of just envying him and calling him #goals, I decided I would start attending at least one of such events every year. And so late last year, I signed up for Kingdom Invasion as my first trip for 2017.

Kingdom Invasion!!!

Kingdom Invasion is an annual event beyond church or denominational lines. It was 4 days of teachings and impartations about how to fulfil the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that says ‘thy Kingdom, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ It had over 1,000 delegates from about 40 countries and teachings led by 5 amazing teachers – Bill Johnson (Head Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. If you are into gospel music, you probably know Bethel music well); Heidi Baker (an American missionary sent to Africa who actually lives in Mozambique and is taking the gospel of Jesus to most remote parts of Africa), Lou Engel (a firebrand man of prayer and fasting who is constantly rocking back and forth while standing or sitting, and is leading the prayer revival in the US) ; Ed Silvoso (the pioneer of the message of city and national transformation through the gospel and author of the book ‘Anointed for Business’ which reveals God’s mind and practical ways through which your job or business can be your ministry) and Shawn Bolz (Word of Knowledge minister who has demystified what it means to hear God and how we can translate God’s voice in our day-to-day lives). The time I spent there was absolutely life-transforming and I am excited about the practical manifestation of all I learnt and got during the conference. My biggest takeaway was a deeper revelation of the crazy, unrelenting, unbelievable, border-line ridiculous LOVE that God has for all of us. *goosebumps*.  I definitely fell in love with Jesus ALL OVER AGAIN!!

To crown it all, I attended the Friday night worship session with Bethel Music’s finest – Brian Johnson, Amanda Cook and some other amazing worship leaders. Whooooosh! That was amazing.

Brian Johnson and the Bethel Music crew

So, I was done with the conference on Friday night and my flight back to Nigeria was on Sunday night. I had 2 options – just sleep in and take it easy or go hard and max out on being a tourist for those 2 days. I am sure you know what option I went for, lol. Sleep is important but yeah, I figured I could sleep on my flights back home. No food or movies, just sleep.

Over the course of the week (specifically during the conference’s break sessions when I had time to daydream, lol), I started making a list of 10 must-do activities in Singapore.

1. Spend the day at Sentosa Island – includes visit to Universal Studios, beach bumming and some physical activities
2. Eat chilli crab (which is the Singaporean local delicacy)
3. Visit Chinatown and Little India
4. Visit the Botanical Garden
5. Catch the sunset and amazing view of the city at Marina Bay Sands
6. Visit the Gardens by the Bay
7. Visit the zoo during the day or go on the Night Safari
8. Take a long walk on Orchard street (you may choose to shop or not)
9. Extra for Kemi: Attend service at Joseph Prince’s church
10. Extra for Kemi: Visit the INSEAD Singapore campus to get closure, lol

 

Closure, finally!
Hanging out with Joseph Prince

Around mid-day on Saturday after having my first sleep-in for the whole week, I set out to tick off most of the activities on that list in the 34 hours I had before heading to the airport on Sunday night. The cool thing about Singapore is that because it’s a single city-state, everywhere in the country is within a 45-60mins drive range. This meant I did not have to worry about going out of town or missing out on some major attractions due to location. So I thought to myself, ‘Kemi, this your plan is kinda feasible’ 🙂

Good people, I am proud to announce that I managed to accomplish 60% of my target. When people start using percentages, you know they are trying to sound more profound than is necessary, lol. Okay, okay, I managed to tick off 6 of the 10 things on my list, and I even got to hang out with 2 of my favorite girls from business school.

The struggle to get a good selfie with Shaivi and Malini was real

Sentosa Island was a lot of fun! Too much to do, jeez. I managed to get a picture in front of Universal Studios, lol. There was no time to actually go inside to explore and get on all the crazy rides. You need a whole day to do Universal Studios justice. However, I got my adrenaline rush from ziplining at the MegaZip Adventure Park at a nearby beach also on Sentosa Island. I figured I could still visit the other Universal Studio theme parks in the U.S and in Japan (I will take any excuse to go back to Japan, lol).

Just in case I never get to Universal, at least I have this picture 🙂
Zip-liner Kems

The night safari was also beautiful. So many animals, all well-behaved roaming freely and staying in their lanes. For the first time in my life, I saw zebras (fun fact: zebras are actually black with white stripes), elephants, hyenas, monkeys, hippopotamuses, rhinos, lions, and giraffes. I even saw a tiger!! The tiger was the only animal that was kept behind a wire fence. I guess they must have realized that tigers can’t mind their business, lol. It was so dark and flash photography was prohibited so the pictures didn’t come out great. So sorry, no pictures from the night safari. You should just go there yourself to behold the breathtaking beauty of a night-time zoo.

I was torn between going to the Botanical Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay, but I chose to spend time with my friends at Ce La Vie (the restaurant at the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands); catching the sunset and just being satisfied with taking pictures of the Gardens by the Bay from the rooftop. I love plants and gardens but it’s not that deep, really! Lol. I promise you, the view from the Ce La Vie was just as gorgeous.

Gardens by the Bay – spot the domes and the super trees

For me, the 3 most striking things about Singapore are how green the city is, how many malls they have and how much food is available.

Greenery: Singapore is like Dubai with more greenery. Singapore reminded me so much of Dubai. Apparently, Dubai got their inspiration for the building their city from Singapore. There are trees and plants EVERYWHERE! It’s almost ridiculous. I got tired of taking pictures of the scenery, because it was like taking pictures of the clouds. Duh, clouds are everywhere so there is nothing unusual about it. That’s exactly how plants and trees and vegetation are everywhere in Singapore.

Greeeeen!!

Malls: I thought Dubai had malls until I got to Singapore. Singapore is the winner o! There are malls EVERYWHERE. Infact, at every metro station, there is a mall. There is a whole network of malls connected by underground tunnels and bridges. It’s almost confusing, lol. And you have every imaginable shop in those malls. You need a lot of willpower or no cash to resist the shopping temptation in Singapore. Good luck!

Food: There is a wide variety of good food in Singapore. Eating out is like a national sport. I remember my classmates in business school saying it was cheaper to eat out than to do groceries and cook at home in Singapore. During the course of my stay, I ate all sorts – Indian, French, Chinese, Japanese American, Asian fusion etc. There are a lot of food courts and hookah centres everywhere you go. You can never ever starve in Singapore. Food is cheap, fast and tasty! After having such a great time with food all week, I had to make sure my last meal in Singapore was epic and memorable. I had the the black pepper crab (thanks for the recommendation Jumoke G) and it was hard work! Epic, memorable and plenty of work. De-shelling and extracting ‘meat’ from the crab was work. At some point, I got so tired, put the tools they gave me aside and just started using my hand, lol. Thank God for good friends like Shaivi who rescued me and started de-shelling for me. I think you burn all the calories from the meal by just working through it. All the same, it was quite an enjoyable experience. I genuinely believe there is a business opportunity to sell de-shelled chilli crab to lazy people.

See the TOOLS I was given plus a bib for protection, lol

 

The joy when the black pepper crab finally arrived!
I gave up on that last piece!

On my flight back home (when I wasn’t sleeping and hopefully, not snoring), I was reflecting on how Singapore has ZERO natural resources but managed to turn their nothing into a country that is the hub of trade in Southeast Asia.Their efficiency is great, everywhere is clean but Japan is still my personal winner. They are also very open to foreigners, although (as usual), I did not run into many black people. When I got back to Lagos, I was tempted to begin to whine and complain about everything that wasn’t working BUT I remembered my decision to go on a negativity fast (as inspired by Heidi Baker) and instead, started to focus on the things that are working. The airport is looking better, the wait times on the queues are shorter, the A/Cs are working well, there are fewer touts hanging around the airport these days and things are getting more efficient. And to make things even better, Mama Kemi offered me a delicious hot meal of amala, ewedu, gbegiri and plenty pieces of meat when I got home. Mama Kemi for President!!!!

Amala – before Kemi happened to it!
Amala – after Kemi happened to it!

I must confess, it was hard to leave Singapore. The time was too short, I didn’t spend enough time there and I feel like I did not get the chance to be fully immersed in their culture. So I have to go back, yaaay!

Doing a negativity fast in Singapore was super easy since everything works, but to be honest, it hasn’t been as easy in Nigeria. However, I shall not relent. Anyone want to join me on this negativity fast? We can do this till the end of April. No negative talk about anyone, anything, no complaining about Nigeria, no whining about talented drivers in traffic, no cursing politicians and all that. Just positivity and optimism all day, every day. Deal?

Here’s to good vibes, positivity and joy all the way!

Kemi 😉

p.s – please don’t try to do this crazy 48-hour vacation. My feet are not smiling at me now.

My Singaporean dream is finally becoming a reality!!!

Hello people!!! I know it has been too long, I am so sorry for my silence. Let’s just blame it on Mr Work. Or maybe not. I sincerely apologize for being MIA. That said, I have mad respect for people who work full time and blog full time as well. Shout out to rockstars like KacheeTee  who make it look so easy. I had to DM her to ask if she had quit her job to blog full time, lol. I love her style and her commitment. I only got to know about her blog when she featured me on her blog, and now, she is my place of escape in the middle of a hectic day. And no, she didn’t pay for this plug, lol. I am just blown away by how she is able to do it ALL! Now that I am done crushing and famzing, let me tell you what I have been up to (apart from taking some nice professional pictures, he he)

Serious face or smiley face? Which do you prefer?

I FINALLY got my Singapore visa this week!!!!!!!!!!!!! Remember  it was on my wish list of countries to visit and I am so glad I am one step closer to getting there. But there is a backstory to the “finally’ part of getting this Singapore visa. As I filled the form (like the visa application form filling champ that I am, lol), everything was going great until I got to the last section where they ask all sorts of questions – are you a criminal, have you ever been deported, are you planning to elope, etc. Usually, I breeze through that section and just tick ‘No’, ‘No’, all the way. But not this time. When I got to the question about if I had been denied a Singapore visa before, time froze for a few seconds and then I ticked ‘Yes’. Feel free to grab some popcorn now, lol.

Flashback to 2014, when I was applying to business school. Pause. I know I still owe you the full story on that project, I promise to get to it soon. Unpause.  When I was applying to INSEAD, I chose the Singapore campus because I really really really wanted to live in Singpaore. I became fascinated by Singapore in 2007 when I read the book ‘From Third World to First’ written by the man who led Singapore’s incredible transformation journey – Lee Kuan Yew. In less than 40 years, Singapore leaped from a third world country with poverty, bitter history, divisive colonialism and other usual relics of colonial rule (does any of these sound familiar?), to a first world, super developed country that is the envy of nations – they have one of the best airlines in the world, one of the best airports in the world, one of the busiest trade ports in the world, and definitely, one of the cleanest and most organized societies in the world. Fun fact: chewing gum is illegal in Singapore. I could not understand how they were able to make the same leap that Nigeria needs to make in one generation, and I figured if I went there to see for myself, live in their midst, immerse myself in their culture and understand their mindsets and thinking, then maybe, just maybe, that spirit of excellent transformation could come upon me too, and I would come back home to contribute my quota to helping Nigeria take her rightful place. How’s that for a noble reason to want to live in Singapore?

This could have been my campus but…

However, that my Singaporean dream was cut short by an email I received on 25th November 2014 telling me that my student visa application had been rejected. Ehn? Rejected ke? How? Why? What did I do wrong? I checked my application again – I completed every field correctly – what could have gone wrong? Instead of feeling sad, I went straight into problem-solving mode and asked if I could appeal the decision. They said yes and so I started writing this great appeal letter.

Snippet of THE appeal letter

See me trying so hard to explain myself, telling them I was a good, debt-free, tax-paying citizen of Nigeria who had no plans of breaking any laws in Singapore. I photocopied all the visas I had ever been granted, with the entry and exit stamps to prove I was a good tourist who never overstayed my visas and therefore would not overstay my visa in Singapore. I attached every document attachable. I even considered getting a letter from my Pastor, telling them I was a good child of God. Hahahaha. Now it is funny, but at that time, it was not, *straight face*.

In church, praying and taking communion like a good child of God, lol

While I was writing this letter of appeal, one of my senior friends called in a favour with the Singaporean Consular to Nigeria and explained my situation. The guy got personally involved with my appeal which gave me some hope. After all of this, you would think the appeal would be granted. Nopes! It was rejected again! This time they didn’t even follow up with a phone call as was done the first time. It was at this point I concluded that it was not my time to go to Singapore yet. I had done everything humanly and spiritually possible (I prayed and prayed and prayed. I even tried blackmailing God by fasting and crying, lol) to no avail.

I was devastated for like 2 weeks. That Christmas holiday was not fun. Can you imagine going back to the office in January after they’ve done send-forth party for you? Haha! I was already receiving alumni emails, but in January, I showed in the office like ‘Guess who’s back?!?!?!’

I’m Back!!

Eventually, I had to defer my admission and change campuses – this is how I ended up in France. I have to admit that it all worked out for my good. You see, Prophet Isaiah knew what he was talking about when he said ‘God’s way and thoughts are better and higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55 vs 9). As I reflect on that experience, I realize that it was good that things did not go according to my plan. The extra 6 months I spent at work helped me grow professionally (which helped my transition back to work less challenging), helped me raise more funds for school (this is how God saved me from having to set up a ‘Gofundme’ page halfway through the school year), gave me the chance to travel to Mauritius for the office retreat (I would have missed it for the second time), and so much more. I strongly believe that I went to school at the right time – I had a great year in school, travelled a lot and by God’s grace, got selected to be valedictorian by my fantastic classmates. I am not sure all that would have happened if I had gone earlier. Steve Jobs did not lie when he said ‘you can only connect the dots backwards’.

I think part of my coping mechanism during this period was also remembering that I had gone through a similar experience when I was trying to go to the US for my undergraduate studies. I was denied my America visa (I spoke about it briefly in the valedictory speech), I wept all the way from the embassy in Victoria Island to my house in Ogba (that’s like 2 hours of crying in traffic), shook it off after a few days and then resumed the application process to go to Covenant University. I boldly say that the values instilled me in while at Covenant University have contributed greatly into shaping me into the woman and young professional that I am today. It all worked out for my good!

So next time things are not going according to your very well-laid plans, don’t despair. Just trust that it will all work out for your good according to God’s excellent plan. His plans and thoughts towards us are only for good, always for good. So trust! It is not easy when you are going through, but at the end, I promise you, it will end in praise, in rejoicing and in joy!

Have you ever had any rejections, disappointments or delays that eventually worked out for your good? Please share in the comments section. I am looking forward to reading your stories and testimonies.

Hugs,

Kemi

p.s – I will definitely write about Singpaore and share whatever lessons I learnt there when I return. I am hoping that I am more inspired and ‘mind-blown’ than I was when I went to Japan about a year ago (see Japan story here)

p.p.s _ I need to read Lee Kuan Yew’s book again. I think it will help fan the embers of hope I have for my beloved Nigeria. Nigeria, you will be great – you have no choice.

Here’s My Go-To Travel Hack for 2017!

My first travel hack for 2017 is here, yaaaay! But first, Happy New Year folks! It’s not too late for that now, right? I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and New Year celebration. What did you get up to? Did you find ways to show love to other people outside your immediate circle of friends and family? Did you write your thanksgiving list or letter? Did you remember to be mindful of all the amazing things that happened for you in 2016? Did you remember to say ‘thank you’ to the people that rocked your year and came through for you? Did you remember to reflect and (try to) plan for 2017?

Snippet of 2016 thanksgiving letter

 

I switched things up this time and had a truly green Christmas. I eventually decided to go with the staycation option and it was great! How come nobody told me that being a couch potato was so much fun? Hahahaha. I won’t lie – I had a little travel envy, especially when I was stalking folks on social media, but I had a truly refreshing holiday. I spent a lot of with time with my family – even went to see The Wedding Party movie with my mum (risky move? I know!!) , visited family and friends, tried working out frequently to burn off all that Christmas indulgence and managed to finish reading a book. I also attended weddings (and used them as photo opportunities, lol), connected with my IJGBs (I Just Got Backs – this is the Nigerian slang used to refer to Nigerians who live abroad and visit home only for holidays), attended a vision board/goal setting party/event (not every time play, sometimes serious), and finally, attended the Bez Live concert which was phenomenal – Bez is an amazing performer. Bez Live will be in Abuja on 18th of February, so make sure you attend if you are in that corner of Nigeria.

Wedding guests that slay – behold Tim-Tim and Kem-Kem!

My best part of the concert was when Bez’s big sister, Lydia Idakula-Sobogun, mounted the stage and led an impromptu worship session as a way of inviting God to come and handle all the technical glitches that were threatening the greatness and success of the concert.  Would you believe that after that, the sounds and lights remained stable till the end of the show??!!?? See God o! Wow! He is interested in EVERY single detail of our lives, and would never watch us being disgraced or put to shame. Ask Bez!

At the Bez concert with my home-girl, Aramide

 

Okay, moving on to 2017. I know a lot of us are already busy living out the great plans and dreams we have outlined for the year. Did you remember to include your travel/recreation goals? You did not?? Really? After all this time we have spent together? Really? Anyway, if you are not sure if you want travel goals or how to achieve the travel goals you have set, this post is for you.

No goals? Really?

 

Now, to my go-to travel hack for 2017 – last week, 2 of my friends (yes, I am ‘famzing’) who are leading Nigeria-based travel entrepreneurs & tour guides– Social Prefect and Naija Nomads decided to make travel life easier for all of us by releasing their 2017 travel calendars – whooooop!!!! These awesome people have simplified the travel process for us, and all you have to do is pay up and show up. You don’t have to think too much, or do extensive research (try to find hotels and tour guides in these strange places) or wonder how to even get there in the first place. You don’t have to do anything, well apart from pay and show up!

Social Prefect Tours 2017 calendar

I was beyond excited when I saw their Instagram posts and I have already started plotting which one of the trips I would love to join. Rwanda is definitely calling my name and I plan to answer it well.

Naija Nomads – June 2017 trip

I absolutely love these calendars because it gives me enough time to plan – aka save money and get time off work – ahead of the trips. There is something for singles, something for couples (hello Valentine) and something for the ‘it’s complicated’ folks too, lol. There is something for the South-West Nigeria lovers, something for the Eastern Nigeria lovers and something for the Northern Nigeria lovers. There are day trips and full weekend trips. There is even something for the Africa lovers too! There is something for everyone! Can you see/read how excited I am?

Naija Nomads – February 2017 trip

 

Naija Nomads – March 2017 trip
Naija Nomads – April 2017 trip
Naija Nomads – September 2017 trip

 

Naija Nomads – December 2017 trip

 

If you need more information, kindly follow Social Prefect Tours and Naija Nomads on Instagram, or contact them through their respective websites. There are also other awesome travel entrepreneurs and tour guides that have amazing adventures up their sleeves this year. Check out Unravelling Nigeria, Abuja-based Globe JauntersEat Tech Travel, – these are some of my many travel crushes on Instagram 🙂 

So, what about you? Which of these trips do you plan to attend? What are your other travel goals for the year? Please share in the comments section below, and maybe we might all end up on the same trip soon. Now that would be super cool!!!

Here’s to achieving ALL our goals (travel and otherwise) this year!

Cheers,

Kemi

Where to spend Christmas? I am dreaming of a GREEN Christmas!

*playing Mariah Carey’s Christmas album in the background*

Hello beautiful people, long time, no read. I know it’s been a while, so many things have happened since I last wrote – President-elect Trump, WIMBIZ annual conference, Ondo elections, Wedding Party premiere (reviews, anyone?), and so much more.  I am super excited about the new month of December and all the season represents – giving, sharing, loving, dining, exploring and even more giving.

I know so many people are wondering where and how to spend the Christmas holidays this year. I am as well. The ways in which I celebrate Christmas have evolved over the years. From hosting Christmas parties at home, to taking family trips both abroad and within Lagos (Mama Kemi is the queen of staycations), to more recently (when the ajala travel bug bit me), taking solo trips and returning just before December 30th to ensure I ‘cross-over’ and spend New Year with family.

Since 2013, on my flight back home from wherever I had spent Christmas, I type up a thanksgiving letter to God, highlighting everything that I am thankful for in the year. Everything from my family to my career; from safe passage in all my work and personal travels (doing Lagos-Abuja safely every week for 6 months deserves special thanks to God, no?) to friends and family who got engaged or married and loved ones who had babies (adding to my ever-increasing list of god-children and my bridal train); from new friends made and old friends I am still in touch and in love with, to my health, well-being, weight, and BMI (lol);  from my ‘toasters’ and the fun times, the break-ups and the lessons learned, to improvements in my spiritual life and attitude. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! The first thanksgiving letter I wrote was 8 pages long, font size 12, regular spacing – you get the point. I wasn’t generalizing, I was mentioning actual names of people, places, exact events, organizations, etc. I don’t think I realized I knew how blessed I was until I wrote this letter. It is easy to say ‘count your blessings’ but how can you really count those blessings if you don’t ‘name them one by one’? Sorry for the digression (not really sorry sha, lol)

Give THANKS!
Give THANKS!

My first Christmas away from family was in 2011 which I spent in Calabar. I spent some time in Tinapa with a close friend and his family, and then moved to Calabar town itself on Christmas Eve as they geared up for the main carnival. My dear friend Andie was a fabulous hostess, and I enjoyed spending Christmas morning at her family house, listening to Mariah’s Christmas album on replay while getting ready to go to church for the Christmas service. Afterwards, we went party/get-together hopping across town and I met up with some old friends who also came in from Lagos for the carnival. I also had a blast spending time with some new friends I made at the airport during the severe 10-hour delay on our Lagos-Calabar flight. The carnival on 27th December felt truly like Africa’s biggest street party. I know I have not been to any other African street parties yet, but the sheer number of people was overwhelming!  And you know we have numbers in Nigeria, so I would not really doubt that claim, lol. It was amazing to see how the quiet little town of Calabar comes ALIVE in December!

Calabar, 2011
Calabar, 2011

To be honest, I actually really missed not being with my immediate family on Christmas day but being with long-time friends helped. Whatever the case, make sure you are spending time with your loved ones. After crossing the first non-family Christmas hurdle, it became easier to go away again. Christmas 2013 was spent in Dubai, mainly resting and reflecting. Big highlight of that trip was seeing the world famous Cirque du Soleil on their Michael Jackson Immortal tour. It was mesmerizing! I remember having to close my mouth more than a few times, lol. When you travel, not every time shopping, sometimes memorable experiences!

Enough reminiscing. Kemi, what are ‘we’ doing for Christmas this year? Being the planner that I am, I would have figured out the answer to this question since October (usually after the birthday celebrations) but for some reason, I have not been able to finalize Christmas plans. I had some grand plans to visit Zambia with my Aunt (my uncle is married to a Zambian) but somehow that didn’t quite pan out. ‘Somehow’ here really means forex, lol. So I have eaten some humble pie and decided to look inwards (within Nigeria) to figure out how to have a very ‘green’ but memorable Christmas. In fact, I don’t like white (snowy) Christmases – you know my relationship with cold and winter is not exactly warm. 🙂

Here are a few ideas I have toyed with but still have not had the time or mental space to conclude on – I need help!

  1.    Calabar (again!) – I hear that every year the carnival gets better and bigger, and I think it would be fun to see how things have evolved 5 years later. Social Prefect is planning a trip to Calabar this Christmas. I think I will hola at her ASAP to see if there are still spaces on that trip – they get pretty sold out quickly. Nigerians love a good party!

    Social Prefect Calabar Tour
    Social Prefect Calabar Tour (PC: Social Prefect)
  2.    Obudu Mountain Resort – Still staying in the Cross-River region, I think Obudu might be a great idea. Does the fact that it shares a border with Cameroon make it almost abroad? Lol. I have considered Obudu many times but because I am not a big fan of long trips, I have not been able to convince myself that the extra 3-4 or 5-6 hour road trip after landing in Enugu or Calabar respectively, will be worth it. I hear the cable cars are no longer functioning – can somebody please fix them?
    Obudu Resort (PC: Hotels.ng)
    Obudu Resort (PC: Hotels.ng)

    I hear these babies don't work anymore :-(
    I hear these babies don’t work anymore 🙁
  3.    Inagbe Grand Resorts – Still keeping it ‘resorty’, Inagbe also seems quite appealing. 15mins boat ride from Ikoyi and you are in Lagos paradise. I looked at the video tour on their website and it seems like a decent place with a good mix of fun activities and relaxation options. This might actually be worth exploring. What would make it even better would be to go with a group of loved ones!
    Inagbe so pretty!
    Inagbe so pretty! (PC:Inagbe Resorts website)

    Inagbe again
    Inagbe again (PC: Inagbe Resorts website)
  4. Staycation in Lagos – There is also the option of just booking a hotel somewhere in this Lagos and spending a few days there. It is always nice to have someone else wait on you. With all the concerts and events in Lagos this December, wouldn’t it be great to be able to enjoy the event to the end without worrying about annoying your neighbours when you get home late because your gateman will not hear you honking incessantly?  Around this time, most hotels have Christmas packages so I might be able to find a sweet deal. Now, all I need is the time to go hunting for this sweet deal. Sigh. Friends, please if you know any decent hotel with a good Christmas package, please share with a sister.
  5. Road trip across West Africa – Going by road to some of the neighboring West African countries also seems like a great idea. You get to see a lot of beautiful sights, enjoy the scenery and discover new terrains on a budget! My favorite countries for road trips are Ghana and Benin Republic. I am not sure I would want to drive to Cape Verde sha, lol. If you don’t want to have to explain to policemen at different borders that your car is actually yours (although it carries your father’s name) or that your international driver’s license is legit, I suggest you go with a tour company. They take away all the logistical hassle. All you need to do is show up, doze during the road trip, but please don’t drool! Pictures are unforgiving, lol. For Benin Republic this December, Naija Nomads has a tour between 27th and 30th December. Check them out!

    Naija Nomads goes to Cotonou
    Naija Nomads goes to Cotonou (PC: Naija Nomads)
  6.  La Campagne Tropicana Beach Resort – does this still count as Lagos? If yes, refer to (4) above. If no, refer to (3) above. Lol. The prices though, you will just want to do half-day there! If you know La Campagne prices, then you will understand my next suggestion.
  7.  Village runs – Reconnect with your roots. My last surviving grandparent passed on in June, so this is not really an option for me right now. But wait, even if you don’t have living grandparents, who says you can’t visit grand-aunts and uncles? This is definitely a nice, cost-effective *coughs* way to spend the holiday. Turn it into a culture trip – explore parts of your village/town you never knew existed, ask your older relatives for the history of your family/village and don’t forget to ask them to spook you out with folk tales and legendary stories.

    Horse rider display at Ijebu Ojude-Oba Festival (PC:BISCON)
    Horse rider display at Ijebu Ojude-Oba Festival (PC:BISCON)

Regardless of what we get up to, we must remember 2 things. First, the main premise of this season is GIVING. Gift exchanges are nice, I mean, who does not love Secret Santa? But this is beyond just exchanging gifts. Giving to people who cannot give you anything back in return is extremely powerful and fulfilling. Give it a try. The temptation to the tight-fisted in this ‘not-so-buoyant’ economy is very strong, but don’t let that stop you. It is the liberal soul that will be made fat. Make sure you include a budget line for ‘giving’ as you think about how to spend your 13th month or bonus. Give your domestic staff 13th month bonuses too. Take gifts to the orphanages or old peoples home. If you don’t have the time, give money to people who have the time and have set up programs to meet these needs. If you don’t have time and money right now, surely you have some old baffs/clothes, shoes, household stuff that you don’t really need anymore. No excuses guys!

Second, we must take the time to reflect on the year – the highs, the lows, the lessons learned, the changes that need to be made, the dreams that need to be revived, the risks that need to be taken, etc. I hear there is a new hashtag for this:  #turndowntoturnup. Don’t just use the hashtag, actually write down the things that you need to turn down, and the things that you need to turn up, turn it into a vision board, share with 1-2 people you can truly be accountable to and then run with it. Who hashtag alone ‘epp’?

Okay guys, we need more ideas. What are WE doing for Christmas this year?

Hugs,

Kemi

Finding my inner Picasso at 29 :-)

Hello good people! Now that it’s November (in typical Nigerian fashion, Happy New Month), I can safely declare that birthday season is over. That said, we are open for gifts all day, every day, lol.  This is also a good place to say Thank You again for all the good wishes, cakes, prayers, more cakes, gifts, calls, even more cakes and outpouring of love.

Its raining cakes - halleluyah!
Its raining cakes – halleluyah!

Thinking through how to celebrate my birthday this year was a bit of a task. This is what happens when you’ve done almost everything doable for birthdays. I have thrown house parties, non-house parties (my 21st birthday party was actually held at an event center – a bit OTT, I know *covers face* ha ha), hosted dinners, hosted dessert parties, and all sorts. When I turned 24, I found myself outside the country on a work project and I discovered how ‘peaceful and cost-effective’ birthdays could be when you are out of town.

24th birthday in Dubai
24th birthday – Dubai
25th birthday - Venice
25th birthday – Venice

Quick Tip: It is always a good idea to take the day off on your birthday. It’s really tough to be productive when you are busy answering calls, responding to messages and trying to feed your colleagues. Besides, your tasks/deliverables don’t know it’s your birthday and hey, work needs to get done, so it’s better to be officially away than to be distracted at the office.  The downside is that the cake/gift delivery guys might find it hard to locate your house, lol.

1st birthday party
1st birthday – game face on 🙂

 

5th birthday - game face still on!
5th birthday – game face still on!

Even as a little girl, I always insisted on celebrating my birthdays. I was one of those children who without fail, on their birthday every year, showed up at school with a cake and a crate of soft drinks (or minerals as we called it back then), and showed up at church later in the week on Sunday with another cake and another crate of ‘minerals’ 🙂

4th birthday - with Primary school Headmistress and Proprietress
4th birthday – at school with Headmistress and Proprietress

When I got to secondary school, I celebrated EVERY birthday in a big way (whatever big means in a Federal Government College situated deep in a village, away from any civilization) and birthdays at university were not any different.

18th birthday - mandatory cake pose :-)
18th birthday – mandatory cake pose 🙂
28th birthday - surprise celebration while studying for an exam
28th birthday – surprise celebration while studying for an exam

Now that I think about it, I was happy to spend other people’s money (OPM) on celebrating birthdays in a big way, lol (thank you Mum and Dad) but once I started working and earning, I became more aware of budgets and other constraints. Can I get a witness? Hahaha. Now it makes sense that the last big party I had was my 21st birthday which was just before I started working full-time.

23rd birthday ice-cream party
23rd birthday – Ice cream party (on a budget)

Anyway, fast forward to 2016, I had just gone back to work in September after a year away where I invested all of my savings and did not earn any money, and so, I definitely could not afford to travel on my birthday. So that ruled out any exotic foreign birthday plans  – I know my village is exotic in its own way but naa, lol. At the beginning of the month, I was so sure I was not going to celebrate, and I would just have a nice day at work. But about 10 days to the time, I started feeling that birthday itch and with the countless ‘what are we doing for your birthday’ questions that I was being asked, my brain started spinning.

I wanted to celebrate in a different way. I wanted to do something that would be memorable for me and my guests. I know some of my very good friends who attended my 21st birthday party still have some of the souvenirs we gave out (yes, we gave out souvenirs like it was a wedding, lol – don’t judge me, I was young, lol) but I won’t call them memorable. Besides, souvenirs can’t last forever. Having ruled out dinner, ice-cream, beach party (who has time to even coordinate?), destination birthday party (if I did this for my 29th, what will be left to do for my 30th, lol) and all the regular suspects, I was left with only one option – an art/painting party!

Paint The Night Africa is a company that organizes pop-up sip and dip events – where guests become ‘Picasso’ for a few hours by following the directions of a professional art instructor. The best part is that you get to take your own painting home!!! How’s that for a memorable souvenir?

29th birthday - Hello Picassa
29th birthday – Hello Picassa

I found PTNA on Instagram a while back while I was researching ways to celebrate my bestie’s 30th birthday but she wasn’t keen. I just contacted them, told them what i wanted and voila, we were in business. As I am an ‘ajala traveller’ and I still wanted to trick my mind that we were abroad for this birthday, I chose to have a travel-themed painting. It was a fabulous idea until it was time to paint.

It was all fun and games before we started painting
It was all fun and games before we started painting

I am one of those people who cannot draw a straight line or a circle without erasing at least once. So drawing and painting are not my forte. I would rather sing than paint – and people who know me well know that I’m not quite the singer, lol. What seemed so easy for most of my guests was so difficult for me. I was wayyy out of my comfort zone. I remember feeling so frustrated midway because my painting was not coming out as planned. My own mix of yellow and red did not produce the desired orange and my clouds did not form the right pattern. Yup, as birthday girl, I got to blame the colors and the brush for not cooperating with me, lol.

Halfway through - not looking good :-|
Halfway through – not looking great 😐

I was really getting worked up and then I remembered that we were all there to have FUN! It was not so serious after all – I was not in an evaluative situation and it was okay to have a different shade of orange or my own customized cloud patterns. I got the hosts to play some upbeat music, sat up in my chair, started making jest of other people’s paintings and decided to have a great time. And I did! The night ended on a high note – folks got to sign their paintings and take them home, we took tons of pictures and had a good time laughing at each other’s paintings.

Art Squad
Art Squad
More of the Art Squad
More of the Art Squad

This is what typically happens when you are trying out something new or operating outside your comfort zone. You get frustrated and uncomfortable with not being on your A-game. In those situations, the best A-game to be on is your Attitude game – your positive attitude game. As we learn, grow and progress in our lives, careers and businesses, we will always find ourselves in situations that stretch us and make us uncomfortable. You start a new job and you are no longer the expert in the room. You move to a new apartment and you are the newbie (or JJC as we call it) in the building. You start a new business and you are now the learner on the block.

The best way to navigate these uncomfortable situations is to have the right attitude. Have an open heart, open up your mind to learn, accept that your journey might be slightly different from others’, find reasons to laugh and have fun! In the end, it will be alright 🙂

My materpiece - not perfect but mine anyway :-)
My masterpiece – not perfect, but mine all the same 🙂

Here’s to new adventures and being on our positive A-game at all times!

Kemi

I played a Nigerian Bride In #TheBiggestWeddingShoot Ever

Okay!!! For those of you who follow me on social media, you might have seen my post about my new hobby – modelling. I played the role of the bride in the #BiggestWeddingShootEver, directed by the incredibly talented stylist and jeweler, Gbenga Artsmith, in collaboration with a number of other fabulous vendors (full list below). It even got featured on Bella Naija today.  Mama, I am arriving gradually 🙂 

I think I'd make a gorgeous bride *blush*
I think I’ll make a gorgeous bride *blush*

I have gotten numerous congratulatory messages and phone calls from people I know and people who I have not even spoken to in ages. I am gladly accepting the congratulations and keeping them for the not-so-distant future when it will be actually real. (Baba God, pick up, pick up!)

Disclaimer: I only met the ‘groom’ on the day of the photoshoot, and I have not seen him since then. He was so shy (hahahahaha) but he did a great job. I have newfound respect for actors. Playing make believe is not the easiest job in the world.

Kemi O takes on modelling

Pretending to be sooo happy! Lol
Pretending to be sooo happy! Lol

Why did I do the shoot? I could not let an opportunity to play dress up and get a free photoshoot pass me by, lol. Okay, I kid. I did it because I thought it would be interesting to express a different side of me, the side that likes to act. I did because I was trying to keep my dream alive.

You see, I have always had a love for drama – not TV, but stage. I am called a drama queen every now and again by my close friends. Right from my primary school days, I have always been a member of the drama and arts club. The only person that could see right through my acting back then was my Mum. Mama Kemi for CIA President.

In secondary school, I continued my acting career with the high point being when I played the leading role as Ogwoma in Zulu Sofola’s ‘Wedlock of the gods’. (Fun fact: Zulu Sofola is the first published female playwright from Nigeria). I remember spending my entire mid-term break rehearsing my lines. I remember falling ill with a fever the day of the performance and how I insisted on going on stage regardless. I remember how the fever disappeared as soon as I got on stage and I remember the feeling of fulfillment that overwhelmed me as the curtains fell (okay, they were manually drawn by my classmates) and the audience gave a deafening round of applause. I think I cried sef. Yes, I am one of those people who cry when they are too happy for words!

Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, feeling like a Princess

I am not sure what happened in University but between classes, tutorials, planning and executing events and trying to look good for the boys (just keeping it real, hehe), I managed to act only once in the 4 years I spent there.

After graduation, in a bid to keep the acting dream alive, I joined an independent theatre house called ‘Dream Play House’ (Ifeanyi Dibia, where are you?). We had big plans and several scripts lined up but between work and life, I managed not to get on stage. In 2010, we worked on a play called “To Love a Ghost” written by Ita Hozaife, but the closest I got to getting on stage was hosting the red carpet interviews. Close enough, NOT!

On the red carpet with Ita Hozaife
On the red carpet with Ita Hozaife

When I realized I might not get on stage anytime soon, I decided to continue to fan the flames of that dying dream by indulging in watching plays at Terra Kulture at least once a month. I don’t even want to calculate how much I have spent on theatre viewings. I remember saving up to watch Lion King on Broadway, Fela on Broadway, and other shows. I am always the first person to go and watch a musical (Saro, Waka, etc) or any other plays showing in Lagos. Every time I sit in the audience at such shows, I am inspired and reminded of my dream to be on stage.  I am not on stage yet – but I will get there. In the meantime though, I know that my life is a stage and everyday I am given the gift of life, I have the opportunity to play any character that I want. I could be Kemi the Consultant, Kemi the Ajala Traveller, Kemi the Aspiring Dancer, Kemi the Coach, Kemi the Writer, and now, Kemi the Model.

This is not my real face, lol
This is not my real face, lol
One of my first attempts at modelling -circa 2012
One of my first attempts at modelling -circa 2012

This photoshoot was my attempt to revive that dream of being on stage. An attempt to rekindle the flames of acting. I figured playing the role of a bride would be quite challenging as I had never been one before. The shoot was fun and it was quite a challenge too. Try looking happy to be with someone you have only just met. Try smiling when your ears hurt like crazy from the pain of gele. Try being joyful when you can imagine your mother’s voice asking you ‘’ta ni eleyi’ (who  is this? ) as she sees the pictures on Instagram (yup, Mama Kemi is on Instagram o, hehehehehe). Try giving the photographer a genuine smile for the 50th time. I really had to overcome my shyness, my fear of what people would say and the random congratulatory messages,  and just give the shoot my best shot! And I think I slayed it, if I must say so myself.

Suffering and smiling
Suffering and smiling

Do you have any dreams that are comatose, lying low or dead? I don’t think dreams die, they might have been asleep for a looong time but they don’t die. Fan the flames of your dreams today. Whatever it takes, keep your dreams alive. Keep your eye on the prize, don’t let your dream die. Step by step, little by little, poco a poco, you will get there. 

Cheers,

Kemi

Credits:

1st outfit: Asooke @ceomaniaalasooke, Makeup @doyinadunfe, Jewelry/Styling @gbengaartsmith, Photography @raremagic_gallery Event decoration @lavishbymichelleevents

Second outfit by @teethreads, Fabric from @remio.fabrics, Lemon green asooke gele @depeju_tribesasooke

p.s – I now know that I will not wear 2 geles (head-ties) on my wedding day. The pain I felt when the second gele was being tied was deep. I didn’t know when I started crying. I wonder how all these brides do it and still smile and look happy. Respect!

p.p.s – Photoshoots take forever!!!!! Why???

p.p.s – No more free photoshoots o! Henceforth, I will be accepting payments in cash and goods. Thank you!

My YALI experience with Uncle Barack and Aunty Michelle Obama in the USA

In 2014, I got an opportunity of a lifetime to hang out with the first Black president of the most powerful country in the World, Uncle Barack and his enthralling wife, Aunty Michelle Obama. Yup – you read that correctly. I got to see President Obama in person, and got a hug from Michelle Obama. No, it was not on Google hangout or via Skype, it was real! Live and direct, in the flesh, with my ‘korokoro’ eyes and actual hands, I saw and hugged Michelle. I am sure you get the point now.

You might wonder how I got this rare opportunity to hang out with one of the most admired couples in modern history who have continued to give us #couple goals year in, year out. You might wonder if I really mean it when I say that spending time with the Obamas was not even the highlight of this experience. The real kicker on my YALI experience was the opportunity of spending 6 weeks with 24 amazing young Africans from 17 countries, and being instructed on matters of public governance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Minnesota, one of the top 10 schools of Public Policy in the United States.

With my classmates at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Congressman Keith Ellison
With my classmates at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Congressman Keith Ellison

I want to help you stop wondering, by telling you all about this fantastic opportunity for everyday Africans to develop the skills and networks needed to build brighter futures for our communities, our countries and our Africa.

YALI is an acronym for the Young African Leaders Initiative, an initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. Quite a mouthful I know, but a very value-adding mouthful.
The first major programme of YALI which I was lucky to be part of was the Mandela Washington Fellowship, an initiative to bring together 500- 1,000 young African leaders between ages 25 -35, across civic organizations, private sector businesses and public sector institutions for six weeks of academic coursework, leadership training and networking at U.S. universities. The last part of the program, a Summit held in Washington DC, was led by President Obama and other leaders from the public and private sectors across the U.S.

With former U.S VP Walter Mondale
With former U.S. VP Walter Mondale

 

Before I go on, I want to let you know (just in case you did not know) that YALI 2017 applications are currently open on this page here and will close on October 26,2016. There is a LOT of information on the website about eligibility, selection criteria, how to apply, tips to strengthen your application, etc, so I encourage you to go and explore the website. I would have done copy and paste for you but I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism – it’s too early in my blogging career to be entering trouble, lol.

Sometime toward the end of 2013, I heard about the fellowship through a very good long time friend of mine Stephanie Obi (Hi Steph, e-hugs and kisses to you),a beautiful soul and online courses expert who teaches women how to package their knowledge, skills and life experiences into profitable online courses so that they can be free to do what they really love. Trust me when I say that the quality of information you get is closely related to the quality of your network (your people network, not mobile phone network, lol). She knew about my continuous search for personal development programs and knew I would probably be interested so she sent me a blog post link to the advertisement and asked me to check it out.

I read up the information on the website and the very first thought that crossed my mind was ‘naa, they are not looking for people like me. This is for really accomplished and established people doing great things already’. Then I read the questions and the spirit of laziness set in ‘ah ahn, this is too much work please. Aint nobody gat time for this’.  I must admit that I was wrong thinking that way.

First, the Fellowship is not looking for already-made superstars who are making impact in the public sector, private sector or social sectors. No, the Fellowship is looking for young, passionate Africans, who want to make an impact or change in their respective sectors. People who want to be solution providers, people who want to move from whining and complaining, to doing and giving, people who have decided that there is no backup plan for them and so Africa must work and rise to its full potential. The Fellowship is looking for people who have started taking steps (no matter how small) towards their dreams and goals of a new Africa (a new Nigeria or our respective countries), and need some training/education to be equipped for those assignments. The premise of the Fellowship is that the solutions to Africa’s challenges lie among Africans, and the program’s intervention is really about equipping young Africans with the skills, resources and networks they need to bring those practical solutions to life and make change happen in their immediate communities and countries.

The Fellowship is looking for people who will be selfless enough not to keep this valuable experience to themselves but come back home to share the insights and knowledge they have gained with other young people who could not participate directly in the program. The YALI Network is a platform that goes beyond Mandela Washington Fellows and includes a wide network of young change leaders. Essentially, the Fellowship needs YOU!

With classmates outside the Minnesota Legislature Building after a private tour

I finally got over my initial inertia and laziness with regards to completing the application a few days to the closing date. Not cool, if you ask me. I put myself and the ‘poor’ people I selected to be the reviewers for my essays under a lot of unnecessary pressure due to the really short timelines. This is why I recommend you start the application earlier, rather than later. Don’t be like me – be smarter and be kinder to yourself and your reviewers.

I had to take time out to think deeply about the 3 questions (now, they have 6 questions – sorry) and just write out all my thoughts. I had to dig deep to think about all my experiences and begin to write down my thoughts. In my opinion, writing a long rambling essay is easy but trying to make major sense in 150-200 words is not. That said, you will be surprised how much you can uncover when you take the time to dig deep into your past experiences. That seemingly random volunteering exercise you participate in in your estate or on your street, that community outreach project you did in church, that difficult project at work – all those experiences are part of your story. Do not discount them- you will be amazed at how important they can become as you fill out your application.

If you need some more help, there are tons of resources on the YALI website, within the YALI Network, on the YALI Network Nigeria Facebook Page and at the various YALI rollout events happening across Nigeria.

I will not be able to finish this post without talking about a few of the exceptional people I met during my YALI experience. Starting with my amazing classmates at the Humphrey School – the Zambian entomologist working with cotton farmers to empower them, the future First Lady of Zambia who does great work with the Youth and Sports ministry, my long-lost Burundian twin who runs a leadership academy in addition to running 2 airtime businesses, the Cape-Verdean guy who wants to run for Mayor in a few years,(now you all know who I am going to visit in CV), the Seychellen Member of Parliament who schooled me on how laws are really really made, the Swati prince who patiently explained the similarities and differences between South Africa and Swaziland to me, a Namibian beauty queen, my South African champ working on integrated infrastructure that will bridge socio-economic gaps, the Ethiopian scholar who is investing his life to affordable housing, and so many more amazing people that I cannot mention here due to space constraints including my brothers and sisters from the Nigerian contingent. I have very fond memories of my time with these people and a good number of them have remained good friends till date. My kids will have exotic godparents and ‘cousins’ from all corners of Africa.

With some of the beautiful MWF Nigeria ladies
With some of the MWF Nigeria ladies

So, if this opportunity resonates with you and you’d like to give it a shot, get started on it right away. Don’t think you can do it next year – who knows who will be in the White House next year! Act now – procrastination is not only the thief of time, but the murderer of opportunities. I cannot even begin to tell you how many things I missed or almost missed because of procrastination. Deep Sigh.

During your bathroom breaks at work today, actively think on your experiences and start penning down your thoughts on your phone notepad app (please abeg, remember to wash your hands after  and wipe your phone too). Open up that Microsoft Word document or Google doc and start writing. Take it to the Lord in prayer to ask if this is the right thing for you to do (but still apply anyway). Just start your application today! Applications close in exactly 2 weeks on October 26 – delay is dangerous! Grab your copy NOW!!! All the best! Make me proud 🙂

Cheers,

Kemi

p.s – Not every time play, sometimes serious work

p.p.s – I got my first TV interview (and so far, the only TV interview) when I got back from the Fellowship (Pt 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYqoYFA3ruI

Pt 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0-SVy9vatA

Pt 3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAFVinqCzmk

Pt 4 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7kHvtu-s6Y )

 

Kemi Onabanjo’s Journey to 30 Countries Before Her 30th Birthday

My name is Kemi Onabanjo and I am a certified ‘ajala’, or as my more learned colleagues would say, a travel enthusiast.

In June 2016, I successfully achieved a personal goal I set for myself – to visit 30 countries by the time I turned 30. The goal was aptly named Project 30 by 30, and I managed to achieve this goal a good 16 months ahead of time. Folks have asked me a lot of questions ranging from why I set this goal and how I managed to achieve it on a Nigerian passport, to how I funded the project and where I am headed next. So I decided to take a moment to answer all those questions and share the entire experience with the world. Here we go!

Travel mantra
Travel mantra

Why?

I have always been curious about the world. I remember devouring volumes and volumes of children’s encyclopaedias (I guess Google is the new encyclopaedia) while growing up and my parents having to buy new editions as soon as they were released. I enjoyed watching a program on NTA Channel 5 called ‘Children of the World’ where kids from all over the world convened somewhere (can’t remember where now) for cultural and talent displays. There was a little boy from Nigeria who used to play the xylophone and although I used to watch him with a mix of pride and great envy (as I could not play any musical instrument or sing to save my life), it was watching the kids from other countries in their beautiful costumes that gave me the most delight. I loved and still love to play the ‘country and capitals’ game – still played it on the bus ride to Idanre Hills last holidays, and I won, whoop! Sorry, I digress.

Although I was curious about the world, I did not start travelling until I was 13, and being a true Nigerian, my first destination was London, England! It took another 6 years before the next trip happened, and this time, it was to the other destination for true Nigerians – Dubai, United Arab Emirates! I went on both trips with my family and although, they were mainly to visit family and look for bargain deals (again, another hallmark of being a true Nigerian), we also managed to visit some tourist attractions. I don’t think I still have or remember any of the items we bought on those trips, but I remember how I felt when I first saw the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, the still policemen in front of Buckingham Palace, the imposing Burj Khalifa and the breath-taking sand dunes in Dubai. As my eyes widened in excitement every time I saw these things, it felt like my mind also popped open in enlightenment. The thrill from landing in a new country, looking out for similarities and differences with Nigeria, trying out new food (although that took a while) was next to none.

London, England - 2000
London, England – 2000

As soon as I started working and earning money, I started saving aggressively for travel – I even set up a dedicated bank account for my travel-savings. About 6 years ago, I decided to be deliberate about my travel destinations when I realized that my vacations almost always led me to the same spots – London, Dubai and Accra, Ghana. And that’s when I decided to start visiting at least 2 new countries every year – 1 in Africa, and 1 in any other part of the world. About 4 years ago, this goal metamorphosed into the Project 30 countries by 30 – and here we are today! Done and Dusted. To God be the glory! 🙂

Dubai, UAE - 2006
Dubai, UAE – 2006

 

How?

First, I have had the good fortune of having to travel for work to cool countries like Sweden (more cold than cool), Kenya, Cameroon, Tunisia, Brazil, AustriaIvory Coast, Benin Republic, South Africa, USA and Mauritius (dear future husband, you can strike that off the potential proposal/honeymoon locations, thank youuu). On my business trips, I quickly learned the art of exploring whichever city I landed in on the weekends. Sometimes, I deliberately arrive/leave a day earlier/later so I can explore the city, and I happily pay the hotel bill for that extra night because I essentially got a free flight to the country 🙂 I fell in love with some of these countries and I have gone back multiple times to explore other cities within them. I have plans to revisit some of them in the nearest future because there is still so much ground to cover.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

In deciding between which campus of my business school I should spend more time on, France was a more attractive option compared to Singapore, due to the miracle of the Schengen visa and the access it gives you to most European countries. However, the thought of living through winter scared me and I tried going to the Singapore campus but that did not quite work out right. Ultimately though, I can say that braving the winter and going to the France campus paid off big time! In the course of my 11 months in France, I managed to visit 8 additional European countries including The Netherlands (I never counted the many stopovers at Schiphol airport as visiting the country), Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia.  All things truly do work out for good for God’s children. Amen, Halleluyah!!!

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Visas – Being a Nigerian passport holder means that I need a visa for a good number of countries – even within Africa. Things are changing though, with more African countries opening up their borders and removing visa restrictions for other African passports. While we wait for that to happen, I have learnt the art of filling visa applications like a pro. I don’t even think about it, whine or worry about it, I just get right straight to filling it.

Quick tip: I have all the important documents scanned and saved in a folder on my computer – passport data page, work I.D. card, pay slips, template letter of introduction from employer, previous visas, even my grandmother’s birth certificate (lol). This makes it easier for me to put all the supporting documents together, print them a day to my interview and just hop to the embassy like a champ. It also reduces the stress associated with visa interview prep, where one is constantly worried about forgetting an important document at home.

I also constantly do a lot of research on visa hacks for that lovely green passport of mine. I am always looking out for countries I can visit without a visa, or where I can get a visa on arrival. You cannot imagine how elated I was to find out that you don’t need a visa to enter Mexico if you already have a valid U.S visa and that if you have a valid U.K visa, you can get a visa on arrival in Turkey. Plus, the fact that I only had to pay US$50 for a visa-on-arrival to get into Tanzania was a huge relief! These seemingly little visa workarounds make travel-life a little more pleasant.

Prison Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania - 2016
Prison Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania – 2016

Funding- Since I am not a trust fund kid (yet), I had to save a LOT to be able to travel. Life is all about trade-offs, so I chose travel over expensive shoes, bag and clothes. I also have the luxury of not having to worry about diapers and crèche fees yet. I saved in Naira and US Dollars. Every month when my salary got paid, I would change some small USD with my ever-faithful aboki and then deposit in my local domiciliary account (not under my mattress o!). I usually printed my USD bank account statements when I was going for visa interviews, as part of proof of funds.

It was frustrating to see that the deposits yielded no interest but at least it was accessible and I could withdraw it whenever I needed it. This habit of changing forex small small came in handy when I began to save for my business school fees.

Quick tip: Open a domiciliary account so you can start saving in USD for your travel fund. International flight ticket fares are usually quoted in USD, so you can pay for your tickets from that dom account. It will be less painful than paying hundreds of thousands of Naira.

If you can get a debit card linked to the dom account, even better. That way you can spend from your dollar card abroad without whipping out a calculator to calculate exchange rates and bank fees every time. This will save you from exchange-rate induced high blood pressure or tension headaches!

The current economic climate does not seem conducive for any forex related transactions now, but this too shall pass. We hope it will not last forever. As soon as this storm passes, open that dom account and start saving in USD.

Flights- For me, this was the biggest part of the travel expense. I love to travel but I don’t particularly enjoy airports or flying, so I try to minimize the time I spend getting from point A to point B. I would rather pay a little extra for a direct flight than have to stay at an airport for hours waiting for a connecting flight and being tempted by the evil perfumes at duty free that keep calling out to me, lol.

In my working years before business school, I always used the same travel agent (who has now become a family friend) because I did not have the time to go online. I would ask the travel agent to give me 2-4 flight options and their prices, and then I would choose the most affordable and time-efficient. When I became a student, and had more time and less money, I booked a lot of my tickets by myself, online – go figure!

Beyond flights, I have also used other modes of transportation to explore more and manage costs. I went on a 7-day cruise of the Greek Isles for my 25th birthday and I got to visit 7 cities across 3 countries – Greece, Italy and Turkey. On my last birthday, I took a train from Berlin, Germany to Prague, Czech Republic. During my last international trip with my best friend and her family, we also took trains from Barcelona to Madrid in Spain, and from Lisbon to Porto in Portugal. Trains are great – you don’t have to take off your shoes to go through security, you don’t have to get there 3 hours before departure, you usually would get a great view of the scenery and landscape, and you can sleep in peace without a seat belt holding you down.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Accommodation – This is another major culprit in the high travel expense category, and I have tried out a lot of different options in a bid to manage costs. I have stayed at all sorts of hotels (even the 0 star ones), hostels (more available in Europe than in Africa, and the best one I have stayed in so far was in Japan), serviced and non-serviced apartments (great for when you’re travelling with a group), Airbnbs (the new kids on the block which I absolutely love) and even once, I stayed at a colleague’s house who was out of town (this is a good way of getting super cheap accommodation if you have colleagues in other countries). Not every time 5-star hotel, sometimes hostel. However, on my birthdays, I always give myself a treat and stay at a fancy hotel for just that night at least. It’s a not-so-cheap way to get a free birthday cake, maybe some wine, and on some very good days, a free room upgrade! Hotels are usually very nice when it’s your birthday 🙂

Takayama village, Japan - 2016
Takayama village, Japan – 2016

Solo vs Group travel – This one is tricky. I have done both and I definitely prefer to have my people with me on trips. I think that memories are even more beautiful when shared with friends and loved ones. However, the coordination challenge is real. Between weddings, pregnancies and babies, vacation calendars that won’t synchronize, bosses who refuse to approve leave requests, and other unexpected life events, it is very challenging (sometimes impossible) to travel with your full squad. So, I have learnt to be content with travelling with just 1 friend, or joining a group of people where I know just 1 person. My trip to Gambia over the Easter break in 2014 was with a friend and 3 other ladies who were her colleagues from work. It was awkward for like 5 minutes initially and then we became a real crew over the 5 days we spent together. And today, when we see each other, we do warm hugs and try to catch up real quick on life. Now that I think about it, this is actually a good way of expanding your network of acquaintances and people you know.

Banjul, Gambia - 2014
Banjul, Gambia – 2014

Technology – Unfortunately, I am one of those late adopters of new technologies/apps (e.g., I only joined Instagram last November) but once I eventually get with the program, I definitely max it out. I have found some apps and websites that have helped make my travel experience easier in one way or another. My personal favorites are:

  • Yelp – This app uses your location to provide a list of restaurants, bars, cafes, and all things related to food, complete with ratings and reviews. The best part is that it provides directions to your chosen destination, and gives you the option to call and make a reservation.
  • Splitwise – Great for tracking your spending and splitting bills when travelling with a group. You know how easy it is for money matters to scatter friendships!
  • Been – This app helps to keep track of where you’ve been around the world, and it’s simple, yet powerful, visual of the world map helps you see your ‘gaps’ and can be used to draw up your destination wish list.
  • Booking.com – Especially great for alternative accommodation options like apartment-hotels, and they almost always have a deal/discount for you.
  • Uber – This is one of the safest and cost-effective ways to get around a city- enough said!

That’s all folks! I hope with these few points of mine, I have been able to convince you, and not confuse you, that it is great to explore the world through travel!  A lot of my choices of where to go and what to do have been heavily influenced by this project of mine. The moral of the story is this: you have to be deliberate about achieving your goals, travel-related or otherwise. It won’t just happen.  You have to make it happen for yourself, and with a little discipline and a lot of motivation, you can surely achieve it!

“Kemi, where are you headed next?”, you may ask. “What is your next travel goal?” Still undecided, but I have a long wish list of countries that I would like to visit soon. Top on that list are Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Cape Verde, China, Pakistan, India, Singapore and Switzerland. Any willing companions and hosts? 🙂

Cheers,

Kemi