Brannavan Gnanalingam is a writer, traveller and will be published by Lawrence and Gibson on March 24th. He recently participated in an interview with one of our interns:
INTERN: How you doing Brannavan? Fancy a cup of coffee, or more of a tea man?
BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM: I'm more a tea person. A gourd of mate would do me nicely.
I: So there you were in Wellington and you just thought you'd go to West Africa. What was the most reactionary, uninformed flailing from a friend or family member to this decision?
BG: I had people say things like, "wear a condom", "why would you want to go there?", "is Mugabe there?" and "ohmigodicantbelieveyouregoingtoafricayouguysaresocrazy". I was in Ghana when the election violence was happening in Kenya, and despite that being the other side of a continent, I had at least ten emails from friends telling me to be careful because of Kenya.
I: You mention in the book that people treated you like any other black man in West Africa, until you revealed your accent and primitive Franco-phonic abilities. Where did people guess that you were from? Anyone cop on to the NZ accent?
BG: I've had this problem most places I've travelled, and for customs people at least, I think they are going to bust some international terrorist ring when they see me - so presumably wherever they think terrorists come from? It wasn't really much of an issue with the ordinary folk because everyone of us stood out. Some people thought I had an English accent, and some people thought my accent was from South Africa. As for my French, I think it was just a confusingly anti-French accent.
BG: Senegalese cuisine in particular was incredible. Despite the fact I got sick there, the food stood out. Fresh, healthy, full of flavour - Saint Louis' yassa poissons are something everybody should try. Unless you're vegetarian.
I: Do you think that you'll be going back to West Africa any time soon?
BG: I'd love to - I'd particularly love to keep going around West Africa - Cameroon and Gabon in particular appeal. I'd like to spend more time in Burkina too.
I: You said in a previous interview that you wrote the book in a Parisian cafe. How did your emotional relation to the book span the time it took you to write it?
BG: I wrote a first draft very quickly. I was writing as I was going along and when I got to Paris and was by myself for good chunks of time, I had the post-travel blues, and witnessing the complete disparity which resulted from colonial exploitation. So it kinda explains the tone of the book, but I tempered it down a little with the subsequent re-drafting, as I was able to forget I had travelled when I got back into my Wellington routine. I still think it captures some of my feelings I have about the trip - though I think my time was much more fun than I present it in the book.
I: Any more travel plans in the pipeline? Did you learn anything from the way you wrote Getting Under Sail that will help you with writing on this trip?
BG: I'd like to go through Central Asia sometime. Not sure why. I think I learnt that I need to try harder to engage with people on my travel - that created the best experiences in West Africa, and that certainly created the best experiences in a couple of trips I did since.