Travel
Photo by Audrey Lang.

Travel Diary: Audrey Lang Connects To a New Home Away from Home—Côte d'Ivoire

An OkayAfrica contributor captures her vibrant and on-the-go experience in Côte d'Ivoire's Abidjan and neighboring cities.

In OkayAfrica's latest Travel Diary, our contributor Audrey Lang shares her musings while exploring Côte d'Ivoire for the first time.

During a visit to Dakar, Senegal for the Biennale last summer, I met an advertiser and DJ named Lio. He excitedly described his impending move to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire and implored I make it my next stop on the African continent. Lio spoke of an invigorating creative scene in which he would thrive and I yearned to interact with the creatives telling its story so I could do the same. With little convincing, I obliged.

My desire to travel around the African continent is aimed at being able to refute a common media narrative that is often detrimental to its creatives and locals. Luckily, we are living in times where Africans far and wide are at the helm of a change in tide. Our stories are being told the right way—raw and unapologetically. They are as diverse as they are expansive. What is manifesting is nothing short of extraordinary.

Furthermore, because I am a second generation Cameroonian-American, travel is also aimed at connecting to a home I've never had the chance to live in, yet feels very much like it is mine. I am a product of an environment in which I was consistently reminded that despite the fact I live here, I am not from here. With time, I have learned that trips such as these are critical to forging a path in a world that so often attempts to dictate how you should identify and how this identity should make you feel. More often than not, my connection with heritage drives me.

Côte d'Ivoire is a West African country with idyllic beaches, a French-colonial legacy and a people who are friendly and warm. This country is honestly a gem that's heavily slept on.

From the moment I hop off the plane, I am moved by an ease. There is an air of not taking things too seriously. The doctors who administer my yellow fever shot jokingly offer to take me to get attiéké, alloco and garba (notable local dishes). The immigration agent who stamps my passport happily speaks on her phone about what appears to be a matter of no importance to her work.

Abidjan is a refreshing mix of post-colonial France and traditional culture. It's a sprawling metropolis with people very much on the go. I caught myself smiling at the locals' take on urban attire that reminds me of America.

The images I took engaging with the local landscape of Abidjan and some neighboring cities and towns do the best job of conveying just how lively the country is—check them out below.


Photo by Audrey Lang.

Dozo doubles as a concept store for a variety of African brands—namely Ivorian ones including Kente Gentlemen, Loza Maléombho, Olooh Concept, Missouwa, and Vintage Nation—and as a creative hub where tastemakers gather to brainstorm, unwind and plan events. The space, centered around travel and discovery, allows for a unique shopping experience as founder Aziz has made it his duty to empower local creators.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Bathed in former glory, Grand-Bassam is coastal Côte d'Ivoire's centerpiece and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It's greeting is in the form of verdant palm trees stretching along the Atlantic coast.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

The colonial-era stone buildings constructed between 1894 and 1920 are characterized by wide verandas, balconies, shuttered windows and colonnaded porticoes. Though dilapidated, walking through them was the most irresistible part of my trip.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

This town center is void of the tourists it merits because of civil wars that remain fresh in the mind of the world, but its couple thousand inhabitants make it come alive.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

It was elating to watch hoards of children make their way out of school. They came from all directions, varying in age but not in joy. Their chatter and laughter resounded as they rode bikes, played games and ran towards what looked like everywhere but home. Where some scurried by saying, "Tu es jolie, tata" (You are pretty, aunty), others blushed and said, "Merci, tata" (Thank you, aunty) in response to the compliments we paid them for their tapered hair cuts.

These four girls affirmed they were happy with the pictures we took of them.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Côte d'Ivoire, is home to an edifice that towers over the city like a mirage. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is the largest church in the world, surpassing St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Despite being able to hold 18,000 people, this oeuvre commissioned by the first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, typically holds mass for only 700 to 1,000 worshippers.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

There is no denying this meticulously constructed church consecrated in 1990 is a grandiose form of propaganda.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Philip has been giving guided tours at the Basilica for 3 years. I am amazed by his wide breadth of knowledge about the structure—every aspect of it has an intent. We walk up what feels like 20 flights of stairs to view the church from a different angle but he doesn't join us, for his knee is paining him.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

Street vendors are the epitome of hustlers. When they aren't weaving in and out of ongoing traffic, they are posted on the side of highways beckoning you to grab a piece of bread, fruit, sim cards and more.

Photo by Audrey Lang.

This beauty sold coconuts near a gas station. What I admired most was how she could do so under an incessant, scorching sun coupled with high humidity. When I asked for a portrait, though bewildered, she gave in.

*

Audrey Lang is a Boson-based writer and merchandiser. Keep up with her on Instagram.

Sports
Photo by Ned Dishman, courtesy of Pops Bonsu.

In Conversation: Meet Pops Mensah-Bonsu—the Ghanaian Former Pro Player Trailblazing the Front Desk of the NBA

We speak to the general manager of the Capital City Go-Go about his journey to professional basketball stardom, his hopes for the Basketball Africa League and more.

Nana Pops Mensah-Bonsu didn't take basketball seriously at first. For the now General Manager of the Capital City Go-Go and a former player in the NBA and European leagues, the game wasn't as exciting as other sports. "For me, I was impressionable," he says, "I was young; all my friends played soccer and ran track. That's what I really wanted to do."

Born and raised in London, England, the former pro with Ghanaian roots (whose name stems from his middle name, Papa—the equivalent to 'junior') grew up playing soccer and running track. His older brother started playing basketball, a relatively invisible sport compared to soccer, when he was about 16 in the early 90s and eventually moved to the U.S. on a scholarship. Mensah-Bonsu says that when parents witnessed his brother's experience, they took it as an opportunity for the rest of their children to do the same—allowing them to have a better opportunity to succeed.

Mensah-Bonsu's dad introduced him to basketball and took him to the other side of London where he started developing his skills. After juggling the three sports with basketball on the back burner, Mensah-Bonsu eventually realized his potential once he made the move stateside himself as a teen. Making a name for himself as a student-athlete at George Washington University, his work ethic led him to a professional career in both the NBA, playing for the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors as well as internationally—playing for clubs in Spain, France, Turkey, Russia and Italy, to name a few.

Retiring in his early 30s, Mensah-Bonsu is still a part of the game—but on the decision-making side. Currently serving as the Capital City Go-Go's general manager of the G League (the official minor league of the NBA) in Washington, D.C., he's trying to blaze a trail for more diversity and inclusion in the NBA front office. "I really want to do my best and succeed at this next level because I know how profound and impactful it can be if it's done well," he says. "I put pressure on myself to work extra hard to make sure I can get to this position where I can have that impact on these guys and show them a mirror image of themselves and show them how possible it is."

We caught up with Pops Mensah-Bonsu to learn more about his journey navigating basketball stardom to calling the shots behind the scenes, his hopes for the newly established Basketball Africa League and more in the interview below.

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Music
25K. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

How a 3-Year-Old Song Earned SA Artist 25K a Deal with Universal & a Co-Sign From AKA

We interview 25K, the South African rapper poised to be the country's next star.

AKA was so moved by up-and-coming Pretoria rapper and producer 25K's single "Culture Vulture," he gave him a slot on his monumental Orchestra on the Square concert in March.

"The whole process when Kiernan (AKA's real name) reached out," recalls 25K, who will later admit AKA is one of his favorite artists, "that was like a dream come true for me. We were doing a gig, when I got home, I got a text, and it said, 'Yo, this is Kiernan, hit me back.' So, I saved the number, I was like, 'Yo,' then he FaceTimed me. He was like, '25K, I just had to reach you, dawg. Your song is great,' So, I was out of words. Just listening to him talk to me. He was like, 'Bro, we need to cook up something.' But eventually, time will tell. So the people will get to hear."

Thabiso Khathi, the respected hip-hop head & record label executive popularly known as Hip-Hop Scholar, as well as the newly appointed Head of Urban at Universal Music Group South Africa, lets the cat out of the bag. "I don't know if the world knows that AKA officially jumped on the remix for 'Culture Vulture,' which we will be bringing out in the next few weeks," says Scholar. Today, him and the label have gathered journalists at the Universal Music Group headquarters in Rosebank to witness the young artist's signing.

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News Brief
Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Nigerian-British Actor Susan Wokoma's First Rom-Com Feature Film Is In the Works

She's set to write and star in BBC Films-backed 'Three Weeks'—a rom-com drama about abortion.

Just two months ago, we got wind of Susan Wokoma landing a series regular role in CBS' new comedy pilot, Super Simple Love Story.

The Nigerian-British actor and 2017 BAFTA Breakthrough Brit honoree continues to make power moves in entertainment, as it was recently announced that she's in the process of writing her feature debut, Three Weeks, Variety reports.

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