Africa is home to numerous beauties and wonders centuries old and encapsulating a divine heritage and history in its landscape. Journeying through the continents cardinal points immerses you in its majestic wonder. In the “Ventures Travel Interviews,” Vénicia Guinot follows the trail of international globetrotting artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, CEOs and designers, who share their most memorable travel experiences with our readers.
Born in Wurzburg, Germany to Nigerian parents, Tokie Laotan-Brown is currently undertaking a joint Phd Program in Economics and Techniques for the Conservation of the Architectural and Environmental Heritage at the University of Nova Gorica and Universitatdi Venezia, Italy.
Tokie currently works as a property manager and as a Consultant in the housing sector as an environmental architectural technologist. With a background in Sustainable Construction and Architectural Technology, Tokie hopes to travel extensively to Africa, Central and North America, and Central and Eastern Europe to study how environmentally sensitive homes and communities are affected during pre and post occupancy periods. She is a member of the Black Designers Showcase in America (BIDS), Construction Industry of Builders (CIOB) in Ireland, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) UK and UK-Green Building Council.
In this interview, Tokie Laotan-Brown shares her passion for African tourism with our readers…
Welcome and thank you for granting us this interview. Please introduce yourself to our readers…
I am an Author of the Books, “10 Steps to Managing your Household Budget,” “Recession Buster: Household Budget Workbook” and “Vence la crisis, en 10 pasos” (the Spanish version). I am also an Environmental Architectural Technologist. I work all over the world in Architectural offices as a Consultant working on sites, analysing the environmental impacts of these sites. My company Merging Ecologies curates and documents old buildings and how they can be preserved as well as maintained in their original state. My PhD thesis focuses on African heritage sites.
Which country do you come from/call home? All in one, what is your heritage?
My parentage is Nigerian. Born in Germany and living in Ireland for sixteen (16) years. I feel I am a mixture of all but my heart belongs to Nigeria and sometimes Germany. Africa I call home.
Are you a backpacker/long term traveler/business traveler/live and work abroad?
I have been a bit of all because of the nature of my Job.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)? Please take us through this experience…
My travel fund has come in various guises, sometimes as a job related package, funding grants relating to field studies and good old waitressing, when I really want to visit places on my bucket list (I travelled round Mexico for a month this way). I have a travel savings account for my family, which we use three (3) times a year: Easter, summer and Christmas holidays. We tend to invest around seventy (70) Euros every week for 52 weeks towards these expenses.
What is the first trip you remember taking in Africa and what are your favorite memories?
My first trip will be when I first arrived in Lagos as a kid with my parents; the smells, the sights, the people, my relatives… I must have been 5 or 6 years old at the time. It was overwhelmingly intoxicating, the food was simply divine, the road trip to Benin city filled me with so much joy, I wanted to drink in everything I witnessed; road hawkers, noise, trees, so much trees, I remember, the sky was so blue and I felt the clouds were really like white cotton candy… I really felt I could touch them.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
I must confess, Egypt was more than I ever imagined it will be. The presence of so much history, the beauty of the magnificent buildings and the remarkable feat in Architecture was more than I ever imagined. It was truly worth the visit. The temples in Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, oh my! The river Nile! It was so peaceful; it was hard to imagine that Egypt was having a bad reputation on international news media.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling the African continent?
I am so grateful that I have not had anything to worry about on the continent as such. The usual, hawkers trying to forcefully sell their wares are common on the other continents as well.
Do you have any funny/interesting travel stories to share with our readers?
So I decide to leave the temple for a bit. This is in Luxor, Egypt, on my way out. I spot an art and craft scam artist who has clearly just finished forcing his craft on a foreign family outside the Luxor temple and is now dragging another couple to buy his craft for surely a very reasonable fee.
Once outside the temple, I walk around aimlessly for twenty or thirty minutes at which point I realize that walking around aimlessly in the old town of Luxor is that last thing I should be doing. I stop to look around and realize the public transport drivers were not following the traffic light signs, driving recklessly with no accidents in sight, with people going about their daily lives and not another tourist in sight. At this point, the guy who’s been quietly following me since I left the temple suddenly steps in front of me with his hand out demanding 10 Dollars for leading me to my destination.
I just laugh and ignore him, but realize that I am going to need some help finding my way back. All the streets look the same and none of them follow any direction found on a compass. A whole new system needs to be invented to sort me out of this drama. I end up in a taxi quick!
The media portrays the African continent as a no-g-zone. How do you feel about this label and how will you rate the African tourism system based on your personal experiences?
I feel enough is not being done to harness the potential of what Africa really is… Africa is much more than her animals, nature, forests and rural lifestyle. The tribal wars are not helping; corruption and all the ills portrayed seem to add to the visual of a negative region. Africa needs to show it is the birthplace of humanity and stand steadfast in asserting this image. There is so much to learn and so much Africa can teach… Ancestral memories are being lost in exchange of western values and I worry about the effects of this on the next generation and the African environment as a whole. I see this every time I visit heritage sites… We are fast losing our Architectural monuments!
Where is your favorite place in the world and what makes it so interesting for other visitors to discover?
This is really hard as I have several: Faro in Portugal, Luxor in Egypt, Seville in Spain, Lagos in Nigeria, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, Porto in Portugal… For me it is the culture, the Architecture, the lifestyle, the Ocean, the peace, the bliss… the stars I gaze at, the night life, the warmth, the burning sky, the colours such as pinks, violets, orange at sunsets when the sun sets, I feel free…I feel there is no box, no inhibitions…
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Peru, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Mali, Senegal and most of Ethiopia.
If you were not travelling, what would you be doing instead?
On Architectural sites learning about how they got built, how long they have survived their environment and the culture surrounding the structure.
Take us through your daily activities and let us know how you still find time to juggle your professional career and travelling?
I travel a great deal for work and can be in different countries in one month. I have learnt to dedicate weeks at a time for family. I find that Skype can help with homework moments, school plays, family arguments and daughter crisis moments. I have also found new stamina supported by an obscene amount of management schemes and between education, work and teenagers.
The hard truth is, the two or so weeks I spend in a month (or sometimes after 2 or 3 months when I am on-site), with my family interspersed by inescapable chores are nowhere near enough. We cram everything into those weeks, movies, catching up from Skype dramas, relaxing and most of all working out what type of holidays we will like to spend our time at. Most of all creating memories and staying away from anything work or laptop related. I have also learned that delegation is key!
If you could be transported to one day/place in Africa, what would it be and what mode of transport would you prefer to use to get there?
Since I hate flying, my one mode of transportation will be the Ship/Yacht; I simply adore being at sea. I enjoy the flexibility and would love to use it to travel round the coastal areas of Africa. Lagos city will be my first port, the city that first stole my heart.
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers and/or Government officials?
Have an open heart and try new adventures, dress simply, explore all possibilities of good food!!!!!
What has travel taught you?
To love! To love culture, the people, nature and everything indigenous and the understanding that anything can be learnt, unlearnt & re-learnt. To enjoy endless possibilities that come with new horizons.
Quick fire questions:
Favourite airline company? Actually none.
Favourite African city/country? Lagos.
Favourite beach? Lekki
Favourite food? Boiled Yam & Mackerel Stew.
Favourite language/dialect? Yoruba… I wish I could speak it fluently.