Twenty-year-old Othmane Zolati had never left his home country of Morocco when he started his nearly four-year journey to Cape Town, South Africa, with just $80, a small backpack, and a borrowed cheap pocket camera.
Africa and I, a 90-minute documentary about his trip, is now streaming first and only on Showmax. It’s the story of how Othmane walked, hitchhiked, cycled and skateboarded over 30 000 km through 24 countries, among them, Ghana.
Early reviews are glowing, with Saturday Star calling it “an unrivalled glimpse into life on the continent”, Vamers “a thrilling trip through unseen Africa”, and Spling “exhilarating… a beautiful and stirring mashup of people, culture and places.”
While exploring the four corners of Africa, Othmane saw it all. He found a professional music recording studio in a backyard next to some chickens in Ghana; went on a skateboarding tour of Ethiopia; boated through the Venice of Africa in Benin; and experienced the trucker lifestyle. He also spent time with the Maasai, the Hamer and the Himba people, sharing a more traditional side of African life. To pay his way, among other jobs, he worked as a fisherman in Senegal; as a mechanic in Mali; as a photographer and tour guide in Zanzibar; and selling shoes in Cote d’Ivoire.
Along the journey he survived three bouts of malaria; tried to escape border police on a skateboard; got lost for five days in a desert without enough water; was stopped in the middle of a no man’s land by a group of people with guns; and ended up in Zambia with only $5 in his pocket. But for every near-death experience, there were many more moments of marveling at the beauty and diversity of Africa, not to mention the kindness and generosity of her people.
“This is not what I’ve seen in the media all my life; this is not the Africa I was warned about,” he says in Africa and I. “This is why I’m here, to see things differently, to have my own experiences, and to change my way of thinking about this continent.”
Othmane directs and executive produces Africa and I, using the 100s of hours of footage he taught himself to shoot along the way. He’s collaborated with a team of award-winning South African creatives he met at the end of his trip: co-director Chris Green (writer and producer on the 2021 South African Film and Television Award [SAFTA] winner Chasing the Sun and co-showrunner of the two-time International Emmy-nominated MasterChef South Africa); Both Worlds, the production company behind the two-time International Emmy-nominated Puppet Nation ZA; and composer Daniel Eppel and editor Kirsten de Magalhaes, both SAFTA winners.
Othmane grew up in El Jadida, a little coastal town south of Casablanca. Morocco, like South Africa, has a complicated relationship with the rest of the continent and its sense of identity. “The majority of us Moroccans, think that Morocco exists in another continent,” Othmane says. “We always put Morocco as an Arab country and not Africa. But it’s not.”
On his travels, Othmane was struck again and again by the continent’s diversity. “The diversity that we have on this continent is unbelievable,” Othmane says. “In the east of Africa, everything was different. It’s just like another continent... It’s mind blowing to be in the same continent but different cultures, different colours, different climates.”
He blogged his experience as he went, building a social media following, and did his first interview about his trip in Rwanda. “I felt I was doing something that I have to tell people about,” Othmane says. “I had to show them the real Africa I encountered and saw with my own eyes, my African eyes.”
He was as adaptable as the people he was meeting on his trip. “This is what I was seeing when I was traveling across these countries; this is how people are. They just adapt to their lives. They try to make the best out of it and reach their dreams and their goals any way possible.”
Having travelled across almost the entire continent, Othmane had his final visa application rejected four times by South Africa - from four different countries. But he never gave up, even when he was told to return to Morocco and apply from there. So when he finally reached Cape Agulhas, he says, “I was crying, because this was one of the happiest moments of my life. They told me that you can’t do it. They told me that they are going to eat you. They told me that it is impossible to achieve. But here I am. Looking at my goal. The southernmost tip of Africa.”
Africa and I is a film about seeing things with fresh eyes, throwing away preconceptions, and making the most of what you have, where you are. The soundtrack offers a musical journey too, combining contemporary and traditional music to create a stunning aural landscape. Sit back and relax as one young man, without a plan, equipment, or a film crew, shows us a different version of Africa, through African eyes.
Othmane was named Adventurer of the Year at the 2018 Moroccan Adventure Film Festival,and was recognised and awarded as one of the world’s best travellers at the Dubai Travelers Festival in 2017.
He is already planning his next trip. “I have crossed the land,” he says. “What is left now is the ocean. My next journey is going to be on a sailing boat around the world, single-handed.”
As Othmane says at the end of Africa and I, “I always think about the entire universe that ultimately exists when you walk out of the door. And if I said no to these dreams, I would have had regrets all my life.”
More pics here