Travel isn’t just fun, but it’s a way to challenge your perspective about the world around you. Founder of Thenublk (The New Black), Gabrielle Smith, shared a little bit about her first time in Africa for Social Media Week Lagos 2013. She described how her perception of Nigeria was challenged, the connections she’s made and how travel to the continent sparked her creative energy.
Was this your first trip to Africa?
Yes it was, and being that I was traveling to Nigeria it was really interesting noting the responses I received from people I told I was going. Most, if not all, of the people I spoke to were surprised that anyone would want to visit Nigeria. It showed me how powerful the media’s portrayal of the country and African countries on the whole have caused people to think only of the negative aspects. Whilst I’m fully aware of those aspects, the fact that everyone is now looking to Africa in terms of technology and innovation means that there must be something going on there!
Were there things that surprised you about Nigeria?
I was surprised that Lagos was as expensive and maybe more expensive than London. I was surprised by the opulence displayed by people living in Lagos. The huge houses, lavish lifestyles were impressive and something that surprised the people who saw the photos I was uploading. Sometimes people from the West think they’re living plush lives but being in Lagos showed me that this wasn’t always the case.
On the less pleasant side, I was surprised at the vast difference between poorer Nigerians and those of middle/upper class status. The hotel we stayed out was full of wealthy people but less than 50 metres from the entrance of our hotel you saw the complete opposite.
Did you feel more connected to the continent once traveling there?
You hear a lot of stories of people visiting the content and feeling ‘connected to the Motherland’ and that’s something I don’t think I felt, perhaps it has to do with my Caribbean heritage and although I fully embrace my African ancestry that ‘home’ for me is the Caribbean. Plus I find it difficult to feel connected to a country if I only stay in the city, it’s like when people visit Manhattan and London and base the whole country/state based on that, it’s not really a true representation of the country.
Visiting Nigeria peaked my interest into understanding certain customs, understanding hierarchy and learning about the differences between Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba people (and having people who I spoke to tell me ‘if you were Nigerian you would be from here and your name would be this’).
I think most of all it made me understand my Nigerian friends more. I had a lot of ‘aha’ moments when I saw Nigerians on the continent say certain things and act in a particular fashion which at times was quite humorous.
And how do you think your work with Thenublk changed since visiting the continent?
It’s definitely sparked something inside me in terms of wanting to be able to curate events on the continent, something I don’t think I had such a big desire to do so before. I had and still do have such admiration for those who I was connected to via social media who were from Africa but lived in other cities and their passion for wanting to go back and hold events or start up businesses there. I’d always thought of Thenublk’s coverage of Africa and the Diaspora as quite broad but visiting the continent has made me realise that there are still countries connected to Africa that I’m yet to discover and feature – it’s very exciting!
Did you get any new ideas with Thenublk since your visit to the continent?
I’d be worried if I found nothing to inspire me! I feel like the experience that I had has widened my scope as to what’s possible for Thenublk. Travel and connecting with people from other countries is something that I feel is so much more accessible now, people of my generation seem to have a heightened sense of discovery and experiencing new cultures which I love and this is something I plan to implement into Thenublk.
The theme for Social Media Week Lagos 2014 is A Connected Africa is the Future. If you have any questions about traveling to Lagos, please contact yours truly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you in Lagos.