There is a lot to be said for the personal, spiritual and even educational growth experienced by those who travel; courtesy of being exposed to different cultures, experiences and mindsets. For most people, however, there is an aspect of luxury and security that comes with modern day travel. Whether it is knowing where nights will be spent or if there will be enough money to eat, most choose to travel with an expected level of convenience. However, there is a certain freedom to choosing ‘the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path’, and this unique reality is showcased with beauty and awe in Africa and I.
Africa and I is a true-life travel documentary capturing a four-year-long chapter in the life story of Othmane Zolati. Othmane grew up in Morocco, and as far back as he remembers, he has always had a deep-seated dream to travel. Specifically to journey from his home in Morocco, all the way through to the southernmost point of Africa. As is the case with many dreams and lofty ideas, it was not something Othmane could easily pursue. To complicate matters, his family considered his dream to be both crazy and also extremely dangerous. They told him of how Africa is a scary and unsafe place and that it would (figuratively and literally) eat him alive without a second thought. Despite the discouragement, Othmane never gave up on the idea. So the moment he completed his studies as an engineer, and with only $80 in his pocket, a borrowed camera and a backpack; Othmane set off on a journey of a lifetime.
Over the course of four years, Othmane walked, hitchhiked, bicycled and skateboarded over 30 000 km and through 24 countries, from Casablanca, Morocco all the way to Cape Town, South Africa. During this time, he did not see his family, got lost multiple times, almost died of dehydration in the desert, caught and survived Malaria three times, and just missed becoming embroiled in the middle of a war between Ethiopia and Kenya. Despite some increasingly challenging odds, he managed to achieve his dream through sheer will and unshakeable obstinacy. The journey also allowed him to witness a side of Africa very few people ever get to see, and encountered a level of kindness and welcoming from strangers whom the world often portrays as hostile.
Every piece of footage found in Africa and I was captured by Othmane, and it is one of the most raw and authentic travel documentaries available. In this sense, nothing is swept under the rug or off limits. From the struggle of travelling with almost no money, through to the exhaustion, exasperation and fear of getting lost in strange lands, and the feeling of guttural homesickness; every relentless aspect of travelling alone is on display for viewers to consume. However, the arduousness of the journey is complemented by the wondrous pleasure of the experience. As such, the documentary beautifully highlights the bonds of friendship, intricacies of human connection, and the magnitude of fortitude and growth brought on by the perseverance of sheer will.
While Othmane’s journey took four years to complete, Africa and I condenses the over 1500 day experience into 90 minutes. It sees his evolution of traversing the African landscape by means of vlogging on a phone, through to using a GoPro and eventually a professional grade camera. The documentary offers passing glimpses of what he needed to do in order to survive and continue his journey; and ends with the notion of how the experience helped mould him into the photographer, videographer and documentarian he has become.
Capturing moments and scenery most will only ever dream about is no easy feat. With that said, it would have been nice to see a little bit more of the ‘working’ experience sprinkled throughout, rather than just at the end. Consequently, there is a feeling of how a fair amount of this truly grand experience has been left on the cutting room floor in order to focus more on the road less travelled. However, it would have also been nice to see more of the developed parts of the continent to help further balance out the somewhat one-sided feeling of the documentary. While Africa and I will most likely not inspire many to pack a bag and go walk-about through Africa (avoiding Malaria, sleeping in comfort and being indoors has too much allure for most), it will most certainly impart feelings of inspiration and motivation to pursue ones own dreams. Anything worth doing will always be challenging at first, but Africa and I teaches how perseverance and sheer will almost always result in experiences to fuel a lifetime of fulfilment.
Most people experience Africa through the news or by means of the cameras of sponsored travellers who are accompanied by seasoned film crews. While this view of the continent offers a picturesque, polished and controlled narrative of Africa; it fails to capture the authenticity, gravitas and humane beauty presented in Africa and I. It is easy to have a pleasant trip with positive encounters when backed by a film crew, but throughout this documentary, it was just one man, on his own, sharing the good, bad, genuine and raw experiences of traversing the African continent. Maya Angelou once said how “travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends”. This is exactly what Africa and I achieves. Throughout the 90 minutes of footage, it never hides the ugly, dark or scary parts away, instead showing the raw reality of life and thus the humanity and kindness found along the way. It shows the diversity, cultures and African way of life that is often hidden from view; and through presenting this lesser-seen reality, it is able to capture and show the one thing that makes Africa truly special – its people.
At its core, Africa and I is a story about never giving up and being brave enough to follow one’s own heart, no matter how arduous the journey may be. It is about preventing the opinions and biases of others from holding opportunities back, and never allowing circumstances to define what is possible. It is easy to go through life making excuses, using money, time or location as crutches, but Africa and I is a testament to how beautiful life can be when excuses are pushed to the wayside and the energy re-invested into making dreams a reality. “Where there is a will, there is a way” is a saying often said, but rarely taken to heart; and Africa and I is a shining example of this adage in practice.
Watch the full full Africa and I documentary only on Showmax from 5 August 2021.
|Makes you want to go and pursue your own dreams||Does little to make you want to pack up and travel Africa|
|Shows parts of Africa most people never get to see||Could have been better balanced by showing more developed parts of Africa|
|Feels very authentic and real|
|Highly inspirational to watch Othmane’s growth|
Title reviewed via pre-screeners courtesy of Showmax.