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An interview with Jessica Nabongo, first African woman to visit every country in the world

An interview with Jessica Nabongo, first African woman to visit every country in the world

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Thirty-five-year-old travel blogger, Jessica Nabongo, is a phenomenal woman who brings a new meaning to the words – adventure and risk. A geography nerd as she calls herself, she took a dauntless trip around the world… 195 countries in 2 and a half years!      She documents her many adventures on her Instagram account and blog, The Catch Me If You Can.

Speaking with the Folio team, she discusses her decision to embark on her discovery of the world, everything that it has taught her, and of course, all the things she loves about Nigeria.

Why did you decide to travel the world?

I’ve always been curious about the world, and other cultures since childhood. I grew up in the U.S, my parents are from Uganda. I took my first international trip when I was 4 years old and my parents helped me to access the world. By 2017, I had already visited 60 countries, and that’s when I decided to visit every country in the world, before my 35th birthday, in 2019.

What’s the story behind the name ‘Catch me if you can?

I got the name ‘Catch me if you can’ in 2009. I used to travel a lot then, and my friends would always call me Carmen Sandiego, and it just evolved from there. People would always call me and text me saying ‘Where are you?’ and I would just respond ‘Well, you have to catch me if you can’. In 2009, I started my blog called Thecatchmeifyoucan.com, and it’s just stayed with me for the last decade.

On average, how long do you spend in each country you visit?

It varies widely. I’ve lived in 5 countries and spent a couple of months in them, I’ve also been to more than 40 countries, more than once. But with the last 50 countries I’ve visited, I spent an average of 4 days.

What’s the biggest issue that you’ve faced on this journey?

The biggest issue for me was logistics, especially in West and Central Africa, because there are not a lot of flights connecting to certain places from there. I recently took a trip from Dakar to Lagos. I left my hotel in Dakar at 11 pm, which is midnight in Lagos time, and by the time I got to my hotel in Lagos, it was after 5 pm. I could have gotten from Lagos to NewYork faster than I got from Dakar to Lagos, that’s crazy!

I’ve also had a lot of issues with immigration, because I use my Ugandan passport sometimes, and other times, I use my American passport. However, I’m completely African once you look at me, and so the officers might act suspicious towards me, even though I have my Visa and my passport.

Welcome to Nigeria, how are you enjoying it so far?

This is my second time in Nigeria, I love Nigeria, I love Lagos. It always a good time here, maybe too much fun, I love the energy here, the people are really fun. I’ve only been to Lagos, and I’d love to explore more, hopefully with time and a proper Visa.

What’s your best part of the country

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I think the best part about Nigeria is the people, I think Nigerians are very unique characters, it’s super fun and its the people that make it so. Of course, there is the culture, the food, the Suya, the Peppersoup, the Jollof… Then the nightlife, of course, is insane, it rivals that of New York and Miami, you could possibly have more fun in Lagos, than if you were in Miami or New York, but all of that boils down to the people.

 As someone who’s seen the world, what would you say Nigeria needs to be better?

That’s a good question. The biggest problem I see is Income inequality. You have some of the richest Africans here, and also some of the poorest Africans here, so income inequality is a huge thing. The infrastructure needs to be improved as well, especially from a tourism perspective. Properly managing things like electricity, internet access, water and all of the critical infrastructure to a country are needed.

Finally, what’s the most important lesson you learnt on this journey, and where did you learn it?

The most important lesson I learnt wasn’t from a specific country but from the entire journey. I learnt two things;

  1. Most people in the world are good – We’re living in a time where we have corrupt politicians, misogyny, racism and the likes, but when it comes down to people to people experiences, I’ve discovered that most people are good.
  2. We are more similar than we are different – Once we realize that we’re all just 7 billion people sharing the same space, then things can improve. So instead of looking at the fact that you’re Nigerian, and  I’m Ugandan, or I’m American and you’re British because none of those things really matter, we should all know that we have this one planet that we’re sharing. We should all think of each other as neighbours, no matter the borders.

 

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