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(Intro)

O: Welcome, come on right in, we have this amazing conversation, as we close off ‘National Book Week’. So, we’re going to have a conversation with Kojo Baffoe today, and it’s really hard. It was so hard for me to kind of script this conversation because, Kojo and I, when we link up, we have like hours and hours of conversation and we never stop, we never stop.

And I’ve kind of defined him in my life as my unofficial/official mentor. And I think he doesn’t know that yet, but like, that’s kind of how we flow and we end-up having such conversations that usually leave me with something new to kind of unlock or to work towards or to work on myself. That’s why I’m like, okay, my unofficial official mentor. An amazing, amazing, human, amazing writer, amazing father, amazing husband, partner. It’s so hard to define somebody as a husband because of the brand of husband that is out there. So when you say like, amazing husband is like uhh!! Boring, but like an amazing partner it sounds so much more exciting, I think so, right. 

So!  I don’t want to have to really go through what his full bio is.

He’s going to tell us a little bit more about who he is and how he’s managed to define himself. He’s a slashie of note, so slash this, slash this, slash this,  slash, editor slash writer. I think one of the things that stand out for me when I listened to a lot of his interviews, a lot of his conversations that he has with other people, is, he loves being a father, and that’s one golden thread in his book is that parenting fatherhood is something very close to his heart.

So let’s get into this conversation with Kojo Baffoe.

KB: Thank you. Thank you for the very nice things you said already. I was lurking there listening.

O: I was hoping you hadn’t jumped on yet, then when I went to the repeats, I’m like, oh, snap you heard me ramble-on. So, I mean, first question, there’s a lot of slash like when we think about you, we hear your name, there’s a lot of slash. Magazine editor slash, writer slash, you know entrepreneur slash, creative slash, strategist, what would you define yourself as?

KB: So the reason why I have all of those things is because I’ve never been able to pick a single thing. That’s just because of the way I grew up, because I grew up kind of doing different things, in a society and in a world that kind of goes, if you are this, that becomes the, you know, that becomes the umbrella that you live under, that becomes the hat that you wear. I’ve never been like that. I mean, my father, from let’s say from when I was 12, till I finished university and I was working with my father, we had an insurance brokerage, management consulting company, IT company, he had a magazine that later on became a newspaper at a shop selling hair products.

So I was doing all of those different things and that was the environment that I grew up in, so it’s always been more about, you know, what makes sense right now, in terms of the opportunity in terms of the things that I work on. The slashy phrase, I remember hearing a talk from Deon Chang and Dione was talking about this whole idea of a slash in, you were saying that, you know we’re entering an era, and we have generations that are growing up where they are slashies. The first time I heard that phrase was from him, and while he was doing this talk, a friend of mine was sitting next to me, kind of just nudging me.

He went, oh, that’s you, that’s what you do. Yeah, and so that’s when I embraced and adopted it.  I also call myself a professional Jack of all trades, because it sounds nice.

O: I mean, you are, you know, when I have conversations with you, we literally flow from conversations of parenting to relationships. But you have a very different approach to life. I then actually, you know, reading your book, I kind of went on a journey of actually discovering why you have such a unique approach to life, which a lot of people don’t have. So I was teasing today on social media, and I posted about, I was like, guys if you haven’t found a husband or you’re not in a relationship when you’re still single right now in 2021, perhaps your person, your partner is out in the world in another country.

I find your approach to life very well-articulated in the book, through the stories that you tell. You talk about how you have a different vantage point, because you have a particularly unique upbringing, your mother passed away before you’re able to kind of remember, or have some recollection of who she is and what she’s about, but you also have a different complexion to everyone in your family. Which, I quote, something you said to Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, that  “my mom was the explanation of why my complexion was different.’’

KB: Hmmm, I mean, for a long time growing up in Lesotho,  growing up in inverted commas, let’s call it a black country and coming from a black family, where I was literally, I’m my mother’s only child. So, you know, as I joke, I say, I’m the white sheep of the family. Being raised within that environment within that environment. But I was Ntate Bafo’s son,you know, I was…. older brother or Grace’s younger brother.

While I was aware of this kind of colored race and racial tensions and that sort of stuff, it was not real, I didn’t experience it. So because of that, it obviously does impact my lens in terms of the world. I went to university in South Africa with my youngest brother, Kwame, who is now turning 40 this year, but there’s nine years between the two of us. I would go down to Durban with him on a weekend when I’m going to go see friends, and I would introduce him as my brother and people go, “no, he’s not.” I’m like, no, no, no, this is my brother, “no he’s not” when I go, then when I go we have different mothers and they go, “oh, okay.” I wasn’t raised, you know, I wasn’t raised like that, and I didn’t spend as much time in South Africa then to, to really start to understand or get a sense of, of how much unfortunate your race is still the first thing, you know. When somebody walks into a room, depending on your race, depending on your complexion, an idea of who you are is already determined.

Yeah, because we still unfortunately live by a lot of the stereotypes. So that era, that kind of part of my life, my mother was just an explanation. Because even my relationship with my mother has been a very long journey. I do write about it, in essence, starting to really build a relationship with my mother as a 30 year old, and going through life and processes and realizing that I was actually very angry for a very long period. I was only at 30 as I was going through certain, you know, certain experiences and certain things where, you know, you start to realize, you start to accept that this person did not choose to, you know, and it was then that I started building a relationship with my mother.

Let’s say beyond the, not necessarily dilution, but beyond the, well, the dilution of my melanin, if you want to call it that, for lack of a better phrase.

O: Yeah, so you know, it’s always so intriguing because the first thing that I, when you and I engage and I mean, I’m South African born and raised, so it’s always been about race colour and you already feel like you’re in the back foot, if you’re a black person in South Africa. So every time I’ve engaged with you, it’s always from a positive lens perspective on certain things. I’m always just like, why is this guy so positive, why is this black guy got such a you know, such an eerie vibe about him, and then I read your book.

I was like, I get it now, you know,  if there were so many, if we could strip away so many things and actually get down to doing the work, perhaps maybe a lot more boundaries could be pushed. Maybe sometimes we could, there could be an aspect of us holding ourselves back a bit.

KB: I mean, look, I’m as militant as the next person and there’s aspects of me. I mean, I grew up on Malcolm X and the black Panther party and that sort of stuff. So I do have that aspect of me. I think the last time we were in your driveway having what was supposed to be a 10 minute drop-off, became a two-hour conversation. One of the things that I’ve learnt repeatedly over the years is being able to focus on what I can control.

And realizing that, you know, I used to be a bit of a control freak, but you learn that you actually can’t control the things that are external to you.  All you can control and I read a lot around the Stoics and Stoicism with your Marcus Aurelius. So like your old Roman and Greek, you know, Greek philosophers. That for me is the main thing that I’ve taken away from it, which is focus on what you can control. So I try to do that,  and I must say that it’s probably been in the last five years where I have found a better rhythm on it. So I do, and I see the injustice, and I have opinions and I have things that piss me off. I mean, to give you a very random example, I don’t know if I’m blocked by a lot of people on Twitter.

I don’t block a lot of people, but the people I block don’t even know that I exist. I block them because whenever they come on my timeline, that affects my mood and I get, you know, I get angry, I get irritated, et cetera. So it’s easier for me to just keep that out of my space. So there, there are politicians, the people that I’ve blocked, and they probably don’t know who I am, but it’s for my sanity. I can control that.

O: One of the things that, um, like I mentioned earlier on, in the intro, (Jamil says, who would block Kojo, for real?) I have one person who has blocked me for the last 10 years, and I have no idea why, because I never interacted with them. 

O: Who?

KB: He’s a business person, and not going to say who, I even sent a, I even sent a common friend a message once. I mean, this is like seven, eight years ago. And I was like, I don’t know why this guy’s blocked me. I don’t even know if he’s still, he’s still on social media.

O: Maybe just like you, every time he sees your name on the timeline, it makes him angry. Some people are just triggered by other people.

KB: Absolutely, absolutely.

O: You’re very passionate and you’re very passionate I think.  I’m not sure if the word participatory, but that’s the word that I put here. You’re a very participatory father, and one of the things that you feel strongly about is language. You write about it in the book as well, and not only do you have first-hand experience around language and the use of language and perceptions around language, but you’re particularly passionate about your children, learning languages, and learning native languages or wherever they are. Can you tap into that a little bit for us as to why?

KB: So, one of the things that I talked about was my oldest sister, both her parents are from Ghana. My brother-in-law is from the Thohoyandou area so he’s Venda. I used to complain that my oldest nephew, I mean, he was now 28, 29 years old, and a mechanical engineer which still freaks me out. They didn’t learn any of the languages. I remember I always used to kind of hop on it until I had children. Then I realized kind of how difficult, particularly in an environment that we’re in and the world that we’re living in, how difficult it is. Uh, but at the same time both of my children are doing isiZulu and it’s a struggle and it’s a journey for all of us. One of the things I keep reiterating is that, with my son, it is because I speak Sesotho.

So he gets to see first-hand sometimes how it eases, how it eases my way through the world, in interacting. I live in South Africa, so interacting with spaces, like going to home affairs and you walk into a place and you hear somebody speaking Sesotho.  When I switched to Sesotho, also because my complexion is not supposed to speak vernac which is another word that I particularly hate, it changes the dynamic, but also when you know a person’s language you understand their culture. You start to understand their culture better, their lens, because language, kind of forms a home for,  like the difference between ‘dumela and dumelang’ you know, or one of my favorite examples, “sawubona”, like I see you.

That’s important, you know, growing up in a Lesotho, if you don’t see me, it’s the highest form of disrespect, like, if you and I are standing having a conversation and somebody comes up to talk to you and they don’t acknowledge me standing there,  you don’t have to be friends, but it’s just to acknowledge, it’s I see you, like, you are a person, you’re an entity, you’re a presence. And I really believe that, that’s what language does. So, and so it’s important for me, as long as we live in South Africa, uh, the school didn’t teach us Sesotho.

My Sesotho is so-so, especially the longer that I’ve been out of Lesotho. So it was important for me, for my children to at least have that understanding. It just makes, it makes things easier, but it’s also it’s, I don’t know, it’s Ubuntu,  it’s like humanity. I mean, I stopped at the petrol station today and the guy came up and I spoke to him in Sesotho and our interaction, I mean, it’s a brief interaction, but even his energy and his demeanour became very different.

O: Absolutely one thing that is also in your book is around grief, and I think it’s such an apt. You know, this book, I think it came at the right time for a lot of South Africans experiencing this mass grief and not knowing where to place their grief. You spoke earlier about how it’s in your thirties, that you started grieving and really just forming that relationship with your mother on page 40 of your book, there’s the poem, a list of names.

O: So, I mean, I want to get into what you make of grief, but, you know, from a man’s perspective as well, you know, my first idea of experiencing a man grieving was through my husband. So he only managed to internalize and really start to grieve the grieving process later on in his life, after we got married,  And after overcoming this fear of maybe I might die young too. Every year, today is suicide prevention day and this is September is suicide prevention month.

His eldest brother passed away by suicide. And a lot of the things I never realized how men tend to compact grief, and it almost felt like the compacting of grief was kind of told in these 16 words, but I understood it, I’ve got it.  Let me just read the poem for those, that don’t have the book yet, if you don’t have the book, you need to get the book,  it’s called a list of names and it goes every night at a size and litany of names for those gone, but forever present, the list seems longer like I need I’m, I’m trying to understand what do you make of grief? And this grief almost cripples when you look at the list that seems longer?

KB: So the list and I started doing that. So I started saying good night to my mother every night before I go to sleep.  For a long time, it was just my mother, and then it was my mother-in-law, and then it was my closest friend who I talk about in the book. What’s, not weird. What’s hectic now, is that just in the last, in the last year, like I’ve added, I’ve probably, I’ve added four more names to it. It’s only been in the last, I’d say in the last six months that I’ve started to make sense of it in a, in a weird way for myself, but it actually took the passing of my father and then my best friend within like two years where I was forced because my mother passed away, and then I come from a small family.

It was like my father and his five kids. So I haven’t, I haven’t had a lot of death in my life, which is peculiar in its own way, because when my mother died, my mother and my grandmother passed away together and an uncle of mine. So literally it was this and I was in a car accident. I was in the car. So I had this moment with three people close to me, go. And then literally for 30 plus years when I had one or two friends pass away along the way, but nobody really, like, was extremely close to me and my father. And so my father, my friend were the two people that forced me to, to really confront and make sense of it. And that’s as a 45 year old and a 47 year old. So I guess in a weird way, fortunately, I had a bit more emotional tools to help me navigate it.

A couple of months back I was actually asked to speak at a corporate, on grief. I try to, you know, I try to apply what I’ve learned or what I gained from the passing of these two, these two individuals. Part of it is a kind of legacy, part of it is honouring them, and living my life in the best way possible. So with them it makes sense, like with them, I can have a handle on it, but in truth, I think we’re dealing with a collective grief that we’re only still going to start making sense of in years to come. And I am the same, you know, the names that, you know, the names that Wandi Nzimande early on in the year who I was very, very close with. There’s Lesego.

I mean, today, you know if you go on the timeline, there’s somebody else who’s passed away. I realized that he followed me, a guy called Zee. I realized he followed me and we have a lot of the same friends. So when I went on different social media, people close to me are all mourning the passing of this person, but then sadly, you know, another person like next week, it’s another person. And then next week is another person.

And I haven’t gone to the point where I figured out how, you know, how do you grieve for somebody two weeks ago and why you’re still trying to make sense of that. There’s some deals, and look it’s, there is no answer. Like, so, like I say, I mean, it’s, it feels sometimes it feels a little strange because of my father, my best friend, like I got that.  Like, I’ve got a handle on it, there’s a void like I recognize people leaving a void that will never be filled.

All you do is that you, you learn to kind of just move forward with that void there, like the void doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get brushed over, but you learn how to live because, unfortunately life is, you know, life is for the living. Like, you know, my father used to say, like, when I’m gone, I’m gone and I’m not sitting stressing.

O: On marriage. How you met your spouse while living out of your car, between Lesotho, Johannesburg. Then being evicted and then moving all your stuff into her garage, and then you’re paying half the rent because that’s all you could afford at some time, because you were spending between things. You’re like, that’s who she married. That’s the guy she married, you know, in the times that we live in, there’s so much pressure of just being this particular life styling husband.

What do you make of that? And what do you make of the things that we, you know, we, these expectations we tend to have, whether I’m the woman or the guy, in a relationship and looking for this partner, or I am with this person, but because this person, I bet they don’t come in the package that I had pre you know, preplanned, there’s this unrealistic expectation of who we want or what we’re looking for.

Do you think if a cell was placed in 2021, she would have been like that guy living out of his boots or living out of his car? That’s the one.

KB: I often repeat words. Like, we all have words that we get stuck on and then they become our words and I’ll use the word weird again, because it’s one of the words I use all the time. So the one thing actually with hindsight, with reflection, right? So I never grew up with it, I never had money. Right, but at the same time I was privileged and the environment, the environment I grew up in, I started kind of having relationships and et cetera.

Okay. Yes. My father was a prominent person in terms of the respect around him and I worked for him. So I had a car when most of my friends didn’t have a car, so I was the person with the car, but that was never what, that was never the thing that defined you.  I remember one of the jokes was, you know, when you’re coming from Lesotho, all you have is this (talk-talk) because you don’t have anything else then like, when I went to Durban, like, yeah, you don’t have anything else.

So all you can do is talk and that’s something that I’ve always had. Like, when I moved to Jo’burg, if I met you, like we met in the club and there was a connection, I’ll just try to get your phone number. Then we’ll talk like, we’ll talk for like two, three weeks and then by the time we meet, we’ve gotten all the awkwardness out of the way. You know, you have a sense of who I am, and I have a sense of who you are and it’s smooth things along. So do I think that, you know, do I think that if I transplanted a stilt to today, I don’t think so because of the type of person that she is, you know, and, and also her journey and her life and where she comes from and kind of where she is now. So we have the life that we have and where we live and the things that we’ve been able to do, we’ve done it together because in reality, if I was left on my own.

O: Do you think if you had transported yourself to, today, you would have had the confidence that you had then.

KB: I look, my thing is, this is me, yeah. That’s always been my thing, and the older I’ve become the worst I’ve become or the better I become, depending on where you’re standing. Turning 40 was, I have zero F’s to give, and it’s like, look, if you got a problem with me, then it’s your problem. Not my problem. That’s kind of my approach. So, yeah, I’ve always been, I’ve always been relatively comfortable.

I mean, I’ve had insecurities like everybody else has had, and I was a shy, I was a shy kid. I’m still more introverted than extroverted. The only thing that I know how to do relatively well is be myself. So the journey of figuring my life has been a journey of figuring out exactly what that is. So I’ve become a lot more unapologetic about it. So yeah. You know, and if I, if I was transplanted in this era, it’s like, I still didn’t have, like, I was still living out of, out of the suitcase.

O: Does that have anything to do with, I, you know, you’re the one person that’s taught me, just refining my ability to just articulate myself through writing and journaling. Do you think it has anything to do with that? Just being able to articulate yourself, being able to get into your thought process, you’re able to define like, okay, no, I’m a better person. I know how to express myself. I have the language to express what I like and what I don’t like and what I’m about and what I’m not about.

KB: I mean, I think it’s helped. It started off as like, when I used to write poetry, I used to call it my therapy. Like it started off writing was that, you know, cause I was always joking and say that teenage angst really, really, really well. Like I did the suicidal tendencies, the mood swings, all of that stuff. My father always encouraged me to write, but I think also what helped was my father in particular, because I mean, he was raising five children. He ran his own businesses and sometimes times are good and sometimes times are bad. I mean, the circumstances he was born into and he grew up in, the opportunity and the privilege that we had as his children, were through the sheer force of his personality and him deciding that, you know, what I’m going to create a better life.

So in growing up in that kind of environment and seeing that where, you know, so I had somebody recently a person who’s a friend of my father’s send me a message on Facebook. She was like, your father, like “if I had known maybe I would have tried to help, but at the same time, your father always seemed to have everything together.” And my father was one of those people where everything was about you needing to be self-sufficient and independent.

So I also write about learning how to ask for help, which was a long journey. I’m still not that good at it. So I think it was more from that. It was more from my father who was born in Ghana, lived in Europe for 12 years, you know, lectured quite a bit in his life.

He was just like, okay, this is who I am. So, you know he had no heirs.  He was very genuine and he was, and I tried, he was my example and I tried to model and live my life accordingly. So I’d say that comes more from him. Then also my journey in being, I guess, as a writer, cause you’re forced to reflect on stuff. So if you add that on top of how I was raised and the things that my father taught me, I think that’s what helped me, I guess, navigate the world and be a lot more, you know, unapologetic about how I live my life.

O: You know, what I’ve learned, or I’ve come across in this past week, especially it’s, I was asking Khaya Dlanga when I interviewed him, I spoke to him on Wednesday. Why, you know, how is it that in a world that has very few empathetic men, very few men that are able to express themselves and express their true feelings. You know, how was he able to come out of poverty, come from the space that he comes from and be so expressive and be so empathetic.

He was like, you know, where I come from, people that write, people that read, people that are, you know, you pick up a book and you read and you read all the time, you are empathetic. The more you read, the more you write, the more you express yourself on pen and paper, the more empathetic you become and, you know, reading your book. I was saying to Neo, you have to read this book. Do you think sometimes men tend to not read because they’re scared of confronting themselves in literature, in books?

Because men don’t read, like just generally, I, you know, you speak to a lot of men and they don’t read.

KB: Listen, it’s another thing that, because I mean, I was brought up in a house where the garage was converted into my father’s study when we moved into it. When he passed away, I mean, his books are still at the house in Lesotho. Before he passed away, he had his assistant set up a library system. So, you know, I don’t know if people don’t go to libraries anymore, but if you go to the library, there’s the whole Dewey index system with, you know, with a little piece of paper on the side, my father’s books are labelled like that.

So I always read and I mean, he and I used to fight about it. I used to read a lot of fiction when I was growing up. It was like, no, you need to read books that are useful.  But yes, at the same time, I’m, if you look particularly in this country, and I guess also globally, maybe from, I don’t know whether it’s from a, let’s call it a black one African perspective, women are leading the way when it comes to writing, reading. I mean, book clubs, all of these things, even publishing, if you look at the Lady who passed away, then you look at Thabiso. So there’s so many women who are kind of driving this thing and perhaps, there’s some truth in that kind of being wanted or running away without knowing that you’re actually running away. Because like Khaya said, like when you read, you’re taken into other worlds, you’re taken into other perspectives, whether you read fiction and nonfiction.

If you look at the books that, at the top 10, and if you look at some of the books that are in the top 10 and you kind of go, really. So I think it’s also, it’s also some of what I think it’s what men are also reading. It’s like, it needs to be functional. It must be telling you, these are the rules to doing stuff, as opposed to kind of really, to start to find your way of doing things, your rules of getting things and, and being able to draw out what’s relevant for you. And not depending on somebody to say, okay, here are the steps you need to follow these steps. So the way I read is I’ll read stuff, but I’ll, I may take one thing out of a 400 page book. And for me, as long as I’ve gained something out of it, then it’s useful for me.

O: Absolutely, and on the topic, as we close on the topic of home, you talk about, you know, how you found, is it possible to feel at home in a place you have never lived ever. This is when you went back to Ghana with your brother Kwekwo and Your father.

You say, plus I’m not an anomaly in Ghana. Ghanaians have travelled the world since, before independence, finding partners of different nationalities and races and producing offspring. Hey, South Africans! I think one thing that I often travel, experiencing other cultures, experiencing other people, and then you come back to South Africa. 

One thing that I quickly realized on the topic of traveling and anomaly is, we don’t experience other cultures and other people out there were so scared of leaving home to go find homes in other places where we’ve never been a neighbour lived because of fear of leaving on nests, leaving what is familiar, to go start something new, because this is the home here is not going anywhere.

KB: I think it’s time to tied history. You must remember that South Africa is very isolated and insulated during apartheid. Then, you know, black people within South Africa, within isolated and insulated even more. So it’s, I think we’re starting to see it a lot more. I mean, I’ve looked at, you know, you guys, you travel as a family. Like I haven’t travelled much with my family, but, you know, so that’s one of the things I would eventually want to give my kids the opportunity to experience those different things.

But it’s not an easy thing, but I left the Lesotho to the come to Jo’burg. I grew up in a Lesotho my whole life. I used to come to Jo’burg every two weeks as it was a lot of my business partners and associates were in Joburg. So it was easy. It wasn’t a big jump. I mean, I used to come to Joburg, to party all the time. I used to go to Durban, East London, and I’d just jump in the car and drive. So I think we need to give each other the room, but also constantly reinforce the fact that look, there is a lot more out there. I was recently watching a Twitter conversation or thread around teaching in Japan and how much it pays.

You’re seeing some people going, ah! please send me the details and other people going, yeah,  but that’s not a lot of money. Then you must go and it’s a different place with different food for some people will be harder than others. Perhaps yeah! Perhaps, you know, perhaps it’s finding ways of just like sometimes just crossing the border, you know, across the border that’s close by. Because there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of similarity in eSwatini, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia et cetera, but there’s also a difference. There’s a difference in perspective, et cetera. If it feels that hard, just start off just by doing that. 

O: Just across the border to Limpopo. 

KB: Traveling taught me I never, I never have expectations when I go to places. I try to experience a place for what it is and what it offers. I found that South Africans, and this is across the board. I mean, I sat at a resort in Mauritius, uh, one of the top club med resorts and sat with two couples, young, white South Africans had just gotten married and they were sitting there comparing Mauritius to home.  I’m like, yo, guys just, just enjoy this. You know, I’ve been to Mumbai, I’ve been to different places, where even the, you know, the imbalance between the haves and the have not as excessive as it is in South Africa. It’s like, no, but I’ll find the things like you’re learning about new cultures. You’re learning new spaces, you’re seeing new things. As long as it’s not destructive and not detrimental to my person, you know, I’m just going to experience it for what it is.

It’s like walking through cities. Like I love walking, particularly Europe, even parts of the US, like, I’ll get to my hotel, just ask them where the shops are, like the closest. And I’ll just walk, you know, put on the headphones on, and I walk, but I’ve lived. I think I’m street smart enough to know, okay, that street, I shouldn’t be walking down that street. I know what it is. But something says to me, because you can, you know, you, every city, every space has its good has its bad.

But it’s about experiencing the opportunity to just experience new spaces.

O: Absolutely. I mean, can you take us through why you named the book and ‘Listen to Your Footsteps”?

KB: So after high school, I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student. My father was part of the rotary club for years and I used it as an opportunity to be able to go and reconnect to the let’s call it my German roots and somebody else’s tab. I used to be a sprinter, and my coach when I was in Germany, when we’re running, he always used to say, ‘you must listen to your steps, ‘cause I specialized in a hundred meters. When you start the race, because you’re like that, so you’re coming from that position.

When the gun goes, you’re pushing backwards. So your steps are closer together because you’re using the full force of your legs to propel yourself forward. And as you, as you kind of straighten up a bit more, your strides get longer. So, and I still hear it in my head. As it starts. It goes (taa taaa taaaa)  so there’s this interval and then which are, I mean, I write about it. So when I was in varsity, I then had an injury to my leg. Well, I eventually had muscles removed and I had multiple ups and my one leg, and because of that, like after my first op, I used to have to wear prosthetic support because I had essentially dropped my foot just to hang like that.

Like I couldn’t, it used to flop when I walked. So I needed the support to be able to drive, to be able to, it held my foot at like a 90 degree. But since then, because I guess, because this was so ingrained in me, I have bad legs days and I hear, I hear my footsteps. So some like when I’m tired, people who know me, they can tell, like, I still can tell when I’m tired because my foot slaps down just a bit more. Cause I’m not concentrating, you know, I’m not concentrating enough. So, that was always a title. Like that story was initially I was going to do a poetry book called Listen To Your Footsteps because it was just like, uh, because it’s always, you know, it’s always in my head.

Then funny enough in writing, I kind of just realize that, you know, it’s, a form of, it’s a weird form of mindfulness because, when I’m doing that, I am in the present. Because that foot is slapping down right now, I’m in the present, and it’s something that I realize with hindsight I’ve done through my life, which is, you know, I kind of, I focus on the steps that I take, but I’ll focus on this step.

And then this step, you know, I’m not sitting thinking about the steps I’m going to take down the line. I’m constantly reflecting on it, you know. I used to live in the past a lot, I try not to do that as much, but the past does have an influence on my present and therefore my future. So it’s this, you know, it’s this weird. Yes. There’s the word weird again, but there’s this is, this is this very interesting thing around mindfulness and it did, it did come up when I was writing it, it came up, I started writing the story and as I was writing the story, like I was getting the, let’s call it the message behind it.

O: Amazing. I mean, one of the most valuable things that you’ve taught me about mindfulness and living in the moment and listening to my own footsteps has been just, you know, I’m a person, you used to live in the past. I’m a person that tends to live a lot in the future. I tend to live a lot in my own head in the future. You said to me, just wake up because of a lot of things that can clutter your mind, just wake up and just write. Just write and just journal, get everything out of your mind and declutter, and then start doing the work once you feel like you’re like, everything is in your journal. Starting my day off that way changed my life. Absolutely changed my life, and I’m able to live in my own footsteps every day and be like, okay, cool. Now that I’ve decluttered my mind, what’s the first thing to do right now? 

KB: I mean, look, one thing COVID taught me is to focus on what’s right in front of me.  I thought I understood it, but yeah. I mean, with everything that’s been going on, I mean, I didn’t work for long periods of time. You’re dealing with, we talked about grief, you’re dealing with all of these things. One of the things I always thought was that I live by one foot in front of the other philosophy. Right. Because especially when things are tough, when you keep your head up, it becomes overwhelming.

So sometimes when things are really, really heavy, I’ll let you just look down and it’s like, okay, I’m going to put the first foot. And then the next one, but what COVID has done is this, you know, it’s like, okay, month is coming and people want their money and I haven’t got it. Yeah. Literally I haven’t got it and I just realized that I was stressing so much about that. That it was taking all my energy away. Like I need that energy to be able to create solutions. So now I kind of, I’m like, okay, can I pay this?

Can I pay this person now? Yes, I can. Okay. I’m going to pay them.

O: Maybe not. I need to pick up the phone and say, I can’t pay you right now.

KB: Exactly. But it’s like, so what I do is I go, okay, I need to pay this person right now. I’m not going to think about the other people I need to pay are going to phone me on Monday. I’m going to deal with the urgent thing. They phoned me today. So I’ve got enough for them. I’m going to give them their bit.  I mean, I had had a conversation with a bank where they said, listen, you know, it’s, you haven’t paid us in a while, so can you, can you pay X a month?

I was like, yeah, no, I can pay you. I’ll just tell somebody else that, listen, you’re going to have to wait a little bit because I was like, I’ll pay you, but no, I’m taking away from somebody else. Yeah, and that’s, what’s helped me kind of get through COVID even writing the book, like the act of writing a book, you’re kind of going, it’s a book.

So I was just like, okay, now I sit down in the morning. So what I was doing with the book was a journal, and then the next hour, minimum of hours dedicated to the book. I literally just wrote whatever came to me, but again, that first draft phase, I just wrote that. It was only when I’d done it because I made a commitment. I was going to send 80,000 words. I was sitting at about 70,000 when the deadline, like when I was on my deadline and I actually emailed the publisher and I was like, listen, like I want to get the 10,000, the extra 10,000 words.

Even if you take them out, I made that commitment, not just to you, but to myself. And that’s what I did.

O: Oh, it’s an amazing book. It’s an amazing reflection. It will shift your perspective on a lot of things. I find that we get so caught up in our own moments and we don’t tap into it. When you tap into other people’s stories, you find different perspectives on how to deal with everyday life. And that was the big shift that came for me in reading your book, just understanding as well. The experience of somebody who was not born and raised in South Africa. Just some of the, little minor microaggressions or the it’s not minor, it’s minor to me, but I’m just like, it’s not mine, it’s to you perhaps, or the experience of walking into rooms and being othered. You’re like what, like Kojo was othered?

KB: Yeah, it’s weird because it still happens. And I think one of the interesting things for me is I should just, I just, with my podcast, I actually just interviewed Thula Sindi. We were talking about ‘this kind of thing’ and what I’m realizing more and more is that there are so many of us who are different, that there should be another. We’re another group, like for a long time I think each one of us felt alone. I think to a certain extent, that’s what I’m always asked. Who’s the book for, but in talking now kind of, like if you felt other in any way, and we all do one way or another, it’s knowing that we’re not alone. So in essence, like the majority as a majority we are others. Yeah. Because the people who decide what is the norm in reality tend to be the minority anyway. 

It’s just that they have the systems behind them because they have decades and centuries of creating these systems. But it’s recognizing that, you know, there’s nothing wrong. And like I say, in the book for me now. That’s the badge I’m happy with. I’m happy to wear any day, for somebody to say, okay, you’re not, you don’t fall within this. I’m like, yeah, great. I don’t want to like.

O: I enjoyed the book. I hope everybody underlined will go get themselves, listen to your footsteps. On father’s day, I was encouraging all the ladies on my timeline. Like everybody’s gift ideas, and I was like, get this book for your partner, let them read it and have conversations around it. It’s sparking a lot of conversations in my home. So like I remember starting to read the story of the car accident,  where your mom passed away. I said to Neo, please read this and then he read it.

And we started talking about grief and we started talking about loss and we started talking about making sense of it from as young children, what we thought about it and how we would tell our children, if something dreadful happens to somebody and how we process grief in our home. So it’s such an amazing conversation starter. Thank you so much for this gift Kojo, and thank you. It’s starting to open up conversations with our partners, with the men and the boys in our lives. This is an amazing tool. I don’t know if anybody’s told you, but this is an amazing tool to start those conversations within our homes, with vulnerability, and empathy.

KB: Thank you. Yeah. Empathy is an important one,  and I do write about it like, it’s just kind of learning that and it’s something that I hope my children will take, will take on. I think they are just an extent, but it’s just, you know, it’s, it’s understanding that we’re all going through stuff and we see all the means and we see all the quotes, but sometimes we don’t, we don’t internalize it as we should. Which is, you know, we’re all going through our journeys. We’re all going through our ups and downs and, you know, just respect and empathy for other human beings, will make life a lot smoother.

I mean, I always fight with Estell. Somebody cuts you off in traffic.  I mean, I get my moments where I get a little irritated, but I also just try to remember that sometimes, you know, we’re all going through stuff. Also if I get heated up about it, I’m giving that person who I don’t know, who has probably forgotten about me by the time we get 10 meters up the road, I’m giving them the power to impact on my state of mind and my emotional state.

For me, it’s like, I’m not willing to give people that power. Okay.

O: Absolutely. Thank you so much Kojo. I’m going to let you go now. I’m sure you spouse wants you to come back.

KB: Not her time back. She wants the space I’m sitting in. Um, um, I’m not part of the equation. It’s just the space because I came to sit outside.

O: Let me give her space. By the way, one of the most poignant stories,  you know, for me, and one of the most, my favourite characters in your book or my favourite character in your book is obviously your dad. I feel like he’s my dad too now.  

So I, you know, after reading about him and all I said, I pick-up the phone and I called Kojo and I was like, listen, you have to do that library, and you also have to create a digital library of all his books. So if you can find any like, as many of the books, as you can put that digital library up so that we can access some of the books that he read, he’s such a wise man, and also please create a playlist on Spotify with all of his music and do some of his music, for us. He did create the playlist, There is a Spotify playlist, what’s it called?

KB: Can’t remember now, but it’s…

O: I’m sure if anybody searches you on Spotify though, they’ll find you.

KB: Yeah. So, I mean, I do have, because I have been creating, I actually want to put them on my site. I’ve been creating a kind of regular playlist, and it’s called “an Imagined playlist.”  Yeah, that’s it.

O: So the playlist he created and like I’ve been obsessed. I’m obsessed with the playlist, I listen to it all the time, especially when I’m entertaining or having a braai or a glass of wine with somebody here.

KB: But thank you for that, because it actually did. Cause I remember you sent me the message. I was just like, yoh, you’re giving me work, but it also created a, not a shift, but it created a very interesting movement for me. 

Sometimes I’ll go back to it myself and kind of just have it playing, playing in the background. Cause it’s what, it’s five hours long. it’s just, uh, a hodgepodge of music, but it’s just kind of, it takes me back to my childhood, it takes me back to like memories of my father, which I’m also thankful for. So thank you for bullying me into it, the librarian, the books, that’s not.

O: You took us on such a journey in the book. I was  like, I need a playlist to go with this book, please. So there’s a playlist. 

As you read the book, especially the first quarter of the book, please read it with the playlist playing in the background, you will love me. Maybe a glass of something on the side, but you will love me for it. Thank you so much, Kojo, I truly appreciate this conversation. Please give Estelle back her space.

KB: I will. Thanks. Bye. Say what’s up to Neo as well.

(Outro)

O: So thank you so much for joining me for this session. As we spoke to Kojo Baffoe on “Listen To Your Footsteps,” this is the book to get, and you can find it at all bookstores. We’re working on getting it on Art of Superwoman, so look out for that. Once we have it, I will post about it. 

Don’t forget to also check out that Spotify playlist, “An Imagined playlist” by Kojo Baffoe. Absolutely beautiful. So until next time, happy National book week tomorrow on Art of Superwoman, for the next three weeks, we have an amazing feature where, Jamil will be taking us through some, a little bit of literature, a little bit of history of literature, and some suggestions of what we can read throughout this literature month that is September. 

Every Saturday on the sit-down reviews, we have Jamil F. Khan take over. So look out for that. Thank you so much for joining. Mwah, have a beautiful rest of the evening and weekend.