Jabulile Ngwenya is a travel coach and advocate for sustainable and responsible travel at Travel Africa with Jabu. With a vision to reshape perceptions of travel to Africa, Jabulile's impactful work is rooted in changing the narrative. In her RISE Flagship Course Capstone Project, she focused on tribal photography, aiming to bring attention to the profound identities behind the subjects. She firmly believes that every individual carries a story and a name, urging us to see beyond the surface.
In a conversation hosted by Amy Hager, Jabulile delves into the essence of travel as an avenue of abundance. She underscores the significance of understanding the lives of the people we encounter on our journeys, stressing that they are more than just extras in our personal narratives. Her insights illuminate the transformative power of travel, as it expands horizons and challenges our perspectives.
Jabulile's perspective on the world is a testament to her belief that there's always more to explore, learn, and experience. In a moment where all we may have is a screenshot of our current reality, travel serves as a reminder of the boundless opportunities and connections awaiting us. This interview is an invitation to venture beyond our assumptions and engage with the richness of the world through meaningful interactions.
Host: Amy Hager - Social Media Manager at The RISE Travel Institute
Video and Audio Editing: Kate Mulvihill - Video and Podcast Producer at The RISE Travel Institute
Graphic Design: Shirley Wong - Freelance Art Director
Music: On My Way by Kevin MacLeod (License)
Hello and welcome. Wherever you are in the world today, thank you for joining us for The RISE Traveler, unpacking conversations of sustainable travel. We are here to talk to eco minded and socially conscious travelers, diversity and inclusion specialists, wildlife conservationists, environmental activists, and anyone using travel as a way to uplift and inspire. Together, we will go a step beyond the Instagram-ready world of travel, and take a look at how travel can be a source of growth and development for all people in all communities.
This podcast is an extension of the RISE Travel Institute, a 501c3 nonprofit committed to empowering young travelers through educational programs, research, study tours and scholarships. Visit risetravelinstitute.org to learn more. And now, here's your host, Amy Hager.
Hello, hello, wherever you are in the world today. Thank you for joining us on The RISE Traveler, unpacking conversations of sustainable travel. And today, as with every episode, we're here to really talk about how travel can be uplifting and inspiring and going a step beyond that Instagram-ready world that we kind of see and know of travel. And we really want to take a look at how travel can be a source of growth and development for all people in all communities. Here at the RISE Travel Institute we're committed to empowering young travelers through education programs, research study tours and scholarships. So if you want to learn more check us out at risetravelinstitute.org.
I'm your host, Amy Hager, welcome. And with me today, I have Jabulile Ngwenya. And I'm excited to dive in because she is an alumni of our flagship program. And we have spent about 40 minutes before coming on today, talking through so many things. And she has so many experiences. So I think we want to start our conversation for the listeners today is, tell me a little bit about your background, who you are and your work. And then we're gonna dive deep.
Great, Okay, so hi, everybody. And Hi, Amy, thank you so much for having me on the show today. So I'm Jabulile Ngwenya and I am originally from South Africa, but I'm traveling around the world at the moment. I'm traveling around Africa at the moment, my business is Travel Africa with Jabu. I started travel writing about 15 years ago when I met my mentor Patrick Hopkins, who was a travel writer. And he introduced me to travel writing. And it was something that the South African Tourism Board was doing, trying to get more black travel writers on board. And I joined the program because I was a writer for a financial services organization. And then I decided to join this program. And from there, it just, it just went. And I've been doing it for 15 years. And now I am a travel writer. But now I have gone into travel coaching. And my work right now is to get people, more people to travel to Africa, but to travel sustainably, and also to travel- and I know we're going to talk about this later, in terms of anti oppression- but to travel with consciousness in mind responsibly, to transform the communities and alter yourself at the same time as you travel. So that is my work right now.
Love it well. And so one thing that you had mentioned earlier about your coaching is there's four C's to it, right? Coaching, conversation and connection and community. And I think our conversation today is really going to be around conversation and community. I'm sure some connection will come in there. And so tell me why you decided to join the RISE Flagship Certification Program. What inspired you to do this?
Well, because I've known for many, many years that I wanted to change the narrative about African travel about people traveling to Africa. But I felt alone, I felt that there wasn't a lot of people. There weren't a lot of people trying to do that. And when I joined this program, I actually looked at the curriculum, and it really inspired me. And I said, Okay, I want to learn what they have to teach. And amazingly amazingly, they're the people that came on, you know, the advisors and the instructors. All of them were amazing in terms of what I had to learn. When I did my capstone project, like I mentioned before, it was about photography and about naming. But I could not do that until I understood exactly what it is that I wanted to say. And I got to say that when I joined the program, when I finally joined the program, and I understood and suddenly I had all these resources coming at me. I was like, okay, yes, yes, this will work, this will work, this will work. And that was the most exciting is understanding that you're not alone, that you can do it, that there are people who want to do it with you. And that, for me, was very exciting. And that's exactly why I joined the program, because I'm not alone.
I do want to say, though, that when you are in Africa, sometimes you do feel alone. Because there are organizations everywhere else in the world, in North America, in Asia or in Europe. But when it comes, and I've noticed that it's something I've talked about, to a lot of other people, that when it comes to Africa, we kind of do feel alone. Because the organizations just aren't there to help us get to where we want to get to. So yeah, that's something I know we have to honestly, that is, yeah, that's why I joined RISE, because these people will give an F about it.
Well, and I think what really, I want to talk a little bit more about your Capstone Project, you had mentioned it briefly about photography. And when, when you decided to choose this topic, you didn't decide to choose photography, I think, as anybody would imagine when they hear that word. And so what is your take on photography and travel, and how it impacts the world?
Well, you know what. I love, I think, number one, we need to talk about travel as a single story, or photography as a single story. And I know Chimamanda Adichie, talked about this, and she talks about a single story about Africa. And that was part of my inspiration. Because I looked at that, and I thought, it's true. You know, in the media, there is the single story about what Africa looks like, and how African people behave, and what African people are going through. However, when I looked at the photography that was coming out in the world, number one, and I talked about this in my Capstone Project. Number one, there is a thing called tribal photography, and tribal photography is basically about going to different tribes. And I hate that word, again, because tribes is a colonial term. So tribes, and there's tribal photography, where people go into different communities. And when I say different communities, I mean, I'm not talking just about coming into a community in the city or the town, it's literally looking out into the village, and you go out and you find something that you don't know, all most people don't know. And they go to that community. And then they say, Okay, we're going to photograph this to share with the rest of the world.
And my problem with that was that people don't understand what goes into being that person. There is an identity to the person you are photographing, there is an identity, there is a person behind that. So when I see labels, and I see that a lot. I have never, honestly in my life, I've never seen the tribal photography where people have said, Okay, this is a Jabu from Soweto, and she was born in this year, whatever it is. All I've ever seen is, like I explained to you, this woman from Omo Valley, Ethiopia. You see, Maasai man in the Serengeti, you see what single traditional healer in Zimbabwe, you don't know the names. And at the end of the day, and that's what my capstone project was about, was about naming. It's about naming people and trying to understand that naming is a big, it's not even just a big part. It is integral to the identity of a person. And lots of people don't understand that. Also and photographers don't get it. They take beautiful pictures. I'm not taking away from that. But they don't understand what it means to that person can be who they are at that time that they meet them. And I remember I was talking to when I was researching my Capstone Project, I was researching the lady in Afghanistan, with the green eyes, remember her? And everyone knows her. But no one knows her name. Yeah, no one knows who she is, no one knows exactly what she comes from. All we remember is the green eyes, lady from Afghanistan. And to me, that was a big thing. I remember looking at that. And I thought, I don't even know who she is. And she has a name, she has an identity, she has a home, she has a family. And she does have a family. She has kids, and she's married. And unfortunately, for me, I don't know right now, I can't remember her name. But so important that we remember that, you know, it's so important that we remember everything about the people that we interact with, which goes back again to conversations and community.
And so then to get to know the people that we're, we're in community with when we're traveling different places, it is really having that conversation, right. And that's super duper key in besides just asking the question, Oh, well, what's your name? And where are you from? How do you go that layer layer deep as a traveler and get to know what questions should we be asking people when we travel?
But the thing is, should you even be asking questions? Like, seriously? Should you even be asking questions if you're traveling?
If you are on a boat, and I'm going to talk about me being in Zanzibar right now, if I'm on a boat, and I'm with a man who is taking me snorkeling, should I be asking questions about who are you? What is your name? You know, at the end of the day for me, and this is how I try and do things. And this is how I try to communicate with people is oh, God, we’re snorkeling? Oh, gosh, you know what? I don't know how to do this. Can you teach me how to do this? Oh, maybe you can't teach me how to do this. Okay, what size of my flippers? What size do I need to get? Okay, what about the goggles?
What do I need to get? And I remember and I said this to you earlier? Is that someone reached out to me a few weeks ago and said, Jabu? If I have two weeks, is it enough to build a meaningful conversation with someone? And I say to them, it is not about the questions you asked, don't ask What is your name? And yes, of course, you want to know their name, of course, you want to know their background. But I promise you when you travel, people will show you more than anything you can ever imagine.
They will invite you into their homes, they will invite you into their everyday space, they will invite you to have the food that they have. And so for me, the question is, isn't just what is your name? Yeah. Okay, your name is Ali. And I get that. And it's amazing that your name is Ali. But until you know what that means, until you know why that person's name is Ali, then why ask the question? Get to know the person first, sit down with them. You know, it doesn't mean you have to have an entire conversation within that hour you have with them? No, it means you ask them the questions intermittently, every single time something is happening every single time. So I'm in the boat, and I'm eating a watermelon or a piece of watermelon. And I'm like, Oh my gosh, this is nice. Great. All right. That's part of the conversation. Or you know what, when I go snorkeling, and let's say my goggles are filled with some water, and I go back to Ali and I'm like, oh, Lord, listen, I can't see. Can you like just wash them down with fresh water? That’s the conversation. It's not just about asking, What is your name? What do you do? Who is your family? It's not just that it's not linear. It literally is a conversation that keeps happening over and over again. And you have to keep you as a traveler. Have to keep asking yourself, What is it that I want to know? Not just what I want to know about them, but what is it that I want them to know about me? Because it's sharing, it's sharing.
Yeah. And so then when you think about what you've learned, coming through the flagship program, what you learned as a digital nomad, as a journalist, as an advocate yourself… What do you think is the first step to actually creating the type of travel experiences and the type of conversations that you're advocating for? How do we even start?
That's a big question. It's such a big question, but I absolutely get you. First, know names. I know I just said to you, it's not just about names, but it's so important. Know names, start there.
Know names, know who they are. I see a lot of times in traveling, and I've done this before. Lots of times where you say, my guide, my tour operator, my this, they're not yours, they don't belong to you, they are doing a service for you. And in that way, you can say, Okay, I want to learn more about this person.
So that's one of the things I always tried to do is say, okay, so I have Muhammad, and Muhammad is here working with me for this purpose. But he's not mine. He's not my tour guide. He's not my tour operator, he's not my driver. And that's something that I want to extrapolate when it comes to the capstone project that I've been talking about, is that idea of owning someone. Because of course, that has roots in you know, in slavery, in a whole lot of other ways. So I don't want that to be important. So for me to have a conversation. Again, it comes down to the everyday.
I'm going to tell you something that was so strange, and I'm sorry, if your listeners think it's very strange. But yesterday, I was traveling from Stone Town. And I was coming back to the hotel where I'm staying in Zanzibar. And I literally needed to pee. I need to pee. And I just said to the driver, can we just stop somewhere, please? And so that I can. I know it sounds so crazy. I know. It sounds so stupid. But those are the moments that you share when you say, Okay, how about we eat together? How about Okay, right now I need to pee. Right now I need to do this, right now I need to do this. They are not yours, when you stop seeing them as yours. And you start seeing them as people who are doing a job. And also not just doing a job for you. But also doing a job for themselves. I mean, there's a driver who is always I call him all the time, every time I need to go anywhere. He calls himself Road Boy. And the reason he calls himself Road Boy is because he knows that people will remember that name. He knows that will never remember because there's so many Muhammad's and Ali's and whatever. But he's like, call me Road Boy. And he knows I will always remember that. And any time that I need a favor, Road Boy, can you help me go? Here? Can you help me go there? He's always there.
And one of the stories he told me when I had to pay for whatever trip he was taking me on, it's like, every single cent you give me is for my daughter. That's what he said to me. Every single cent is for my daughter. For her to go to school. And every time I see him, every single time I see him, I say how's your daughter doing? How is she? Where is she? Is she living with you or is she with her mom? Where is she? What is she doing? Those are the conversations you need to have. You don't need to have everything at once. It can be gradual. You know, you can build those relationships with people and it can be gradual.
Yeah. So it's not just the conversations. It's actually the true relationships that you're building with anybody.
Yeah, absolutely. It's like building with your friend. Yeah, the same thing.
Well so then I want to ask you another question. And this is going to wrap up our time together today because I know we could literally go on for hours upon hours. But as you think about all the work that you've done, as you think about as you continue to go forward, what legacy do you want to leave behind in this world?
As I told you, I have two gorgeous nieces that I love more than anything in the world. My sister's kids, three and six. And they love traveling, you know.
And I travel a lot with them. And sorry, this is making me very emotional thinking about them right now. So last night I was speaking to my sister. And this is something I didn't tell you earlier, I was speaking to my sister last night, and she said to me, Jabu, the girls, were angry with me. I said, What did you do? And she goes, Well, I told him that I was busy on a phone call, so I couldn't talk to them. And what they ended up doing is they packed a bag. And then they told them mother and said, We're going to go visit Jabu, we're going to Jabu, because you obviously have no time for us.
So right now we're going to Jabu, yeah, three and six, pack their bags. They don't know where their passports are. And so my sister looked in the backpack to see exactly what they had. It was all toys. It was just toys, and my legacy. And it's the same legacy that my father gave me. Travel can change your life, it can change who you are.
I just want to, you know, when I started this travel coaching business for me, I had gone through a lot of crap, I lost a lot of people. You know, a few years ago, one and a half years ago, I lost my best friend. 12 years ago, I lost my mentor, the one I was talking about, he committed suicide. And every single turn, it has been travel that saved me. And I love that my nieces can pack a bag, even if it's filled with toys. And they can be like we're going wherever we need to go. Travel is about abundance. It is about realizing that there is more in the world than what you think there is for you at that moment. Because at that moment, all you have is a screenshot of what you're going through.
But travel will remind you, there's more, it will always remind you there's more, you know, and that for me, that's the legacy I want to leave behind for, for my nieces and for everyone I interact with. There's more, there's always more.
I love that. That's a beautiful legacy. Thank you.
Thank you all who listened in today and who joined us here on our podcast. And that brings us to the end of our journey. And so if you've liked what you've heard, and you would like to hear more, please subscribe, like and comment. You can follow us at the RISE Travel Institute on Facebook and on Instagram or if you're on Twitter we are @bearisetraveler.
We will be back soon with another episode. Until then, keep roaming, keep learning, and continue to be a RISE Traveler. Bye bye!
This podcast is an extension of The RISE Travel Institute, a 501c3 nonprofit committed to empowering young travelers through educational programs, research, study tours, and scholarships. Visit risetravelinstitute.org to learn more.