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Interview with Gaamangwe Joy Mogami, Founder of AfricainDialogue.com

Webmasters, bloggers and editors of literary websites are usually behind the scenes operators, quietly refreshing web pages, writing and keeping the Internet going with new content. AfricanWriter.com is conducting a series of occasional conversations with these cyber adventurers, literary bloggers, avid book reviewers, e-critics, website founders and funders. Gaamangwe Joy Mogami of AfricainDialogue.com is one of them.

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“Gaamangwe Joy Mogami is a Motswana poet, playwright and screenwriter. She has a BA in Psychology from the University of Botswana. She has performed her poetry at UB Writers Workshop, Maitisong Writers Workshop and Poets Passport in Botswana, as well as in High Spirits Poetry slam and Pune Poetry Slam in India. She is the founder and writer of a new interview magazine called Africa in Dialogue.” (Profile on AW)

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Sola Osofisan: Your website, Africa in Dialogue, is about a year old now, right? You’ve had a couple of other blogs prior to its launch. When did the idea for an online interview magazine first occur to you, and why interviews?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Actually, Africa in Dialogue is a little over six months. I posted my first dialogue end of September last year.

The idea of an interview magazine goes back to my first blog, The Odyssey of Afro-Artivism, which I started in 2014. I used to do something quite similar to Africa in Dialogue, except with Batswana’s storytellers. I have always enjoyed reading interviews and used to binge a lot on Belinda Otas’s blog. So in late June of 2014, I dreamt that I interviewed Mutsa Shiripinda, a Zimbabwean writer living in Botswana at the time, and when I woke up I decided to follow my subconscious suggestion and actually started this six months series where I interviewed twenty-two Batswana writers, poets and filmmakers.

Serendipitously, both my academic and professional experiences have always been related to asking people questions. I have a one year experience of practicing psychotherapy, and I worked in India as a project coordinator, where my job was to recruit bilingual internationals. Both these jobs required that I ask people tons of questions. I have probably interviewed more than a thousand people in my lifetime.

But also as an individual I deeply resonated with the Socratic Method. Questions fascinate me. I am drawn to chasing and collecting questions. I think that it’s within the questions that we learn so much about ourselves, and the world.

Africa in Dialogue is the culmination of all these things, and the choice for an interview magazine is simply because it’s really my most natural state of expression. I do interview best.

Sola Osofisan: A good percentage of the writers you have featured are local or international award recipients. Is this kind of (peer) recognition a prerequisite for a conversation with you? Or to put it simply, what do you look for in an interview subject?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Not necessarily.  What is important for me is someone who has a body of work that can be the basis of our dialogue. I look for someone who has explored a certain subject or discourse, because what I aim to do with Africa in Dialogue is to explore various discourses that affect our daily lives as Africans, as humans.

Sola Osofisan: I’m enamoured of your interviewing style. I like its looseness and the way you let the moment determine where it wants to go – two people exchanging ideas even as you remain in control. How did you cultivate your interviewing style?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Honestly I didn’t consciously cultivate my interview style but I do think that I am greatly influenced by my experience as a psychology graduate.  I was vigorously trained in the art of interviewing, and the idea of dual consciousness. Essentially, one has to be fully present with the other person and the whole experience. There is no subject, you are both subjects participating in a healing experience.

But at the same time as the psychologist/interviewer you have to also dually step out of the emotional experience and be able to critically drive the flow of the experience, because you are in the position to critically analyze and understand every line and experience shared by the subject, and how it adds to the whole of what the experience is essentially about.

Being present for Africa in Dialogue is easy for me because I am genuinely interested and invested in Africa, storytelling and human experiences. And that loose-ness comes from that natural comfort I fall into because the experience is a merge of two things that come to me naturally; asking questions and storytelling.

Sola Osofisan: As a poet interviewing other poets and writers, when you conduct a session and you ask the questions, do you get the feeling that you’re equally interrogating yourself and your position on the issues you bring up? Are we seeing you in your questions?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Most definitely.  Isn’t that everything is a mirror? The external world is a reflection of the inner world. The questions I ask are the ones that haunt me the most. I never actually know where my dialogues will go. I usually only know one or two questions that I know I must ask, but most of the dialogue is this really honest, reflective conversation where I am as much of a subject as my guest. And also, naturally I do think that the subjects or discourse I engage in, in my interviews are the ones that interest me the most. If there is no part of me in something it will not be easy to be present in that.

Sola Osofisan: As writers, we’re understandably book-obsessed. Do you plan to gather your interviews and publish as a book sometime in the future?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Oh yes, that’s definitely in the pipeline. Imagine on your bed stand a collection of thoughts, ideas, reflections and philosophies by some of Africa’s renowned storytellers, in one book? That’s the dream.

Sola Osofisan: You’re a gifted poet. Is it easier to manage/operate a literary website when you’re also a creator of literature? Or does it help?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Oh thank you! I do think it helps tremendously. Storytelling is home and I know every corner and hole of this home. I know and understand the language, the drive, the concerns and the interests of storytellers and to engage with others who are part of this world is pretty much the most natural thing ever. I recently started interviewing other people in different fields and it’s been a totally new and strange experience.  One day I hope it feels as natural as it is with literature.

Sola Osofisan: So you got the idea for AiD. How did you eventually get it off the ground?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: So sometime in 2015, I was in India in a two-hour ride and just had this crazy thought that I must expand the Batswana writer interview series to include all storytellers in Africa, right? But I couldn’t actually get it off the ground because I had a crazy schedule. I was already interviewing on average five people daily and knew I needed time, space and a clear mental state. I got all this mid last year when I came back to Botswana. I spent a good four months conceptualizing over and over again. I had tons of things to consider; should I do video? How will that happen when I want to interview people from all over Africa? Who do I start approach? After months of going round and round, and forcing my sister to listen to idea after idea, I decided to do the simplest thing. So I sat down, created a WordPress website, email account and sent my first email by August.

Sola Osofisan: Technically, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of bringing the site to life, and how did you surmount it?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Even though I have worked with WordPress for some years, creating the website was actually quite challenging. I spent a good two weeks creating it, and getting the professional email. But I think the most challenging aspect was actually getting my first guest. I think it’s pretty much hard to accept a random interview invitation from a random unknown writer with an empty website, so I literally spent one month without getting a yes from all the people I emailed.  And it was depressing but I am so lucky to have friends and my sister who kept me afloat. One day my sister told me “Gaamangwe, go BIG, don’t hesitate to reach anyone you want to talk to”. So I did this brave thing where I reached out to Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, who is like the biggest writer of the year, right? I genuinely didn’t expect an answer from him and when he responded within the hour, with a yes, I just cried.  And then somehow everything fell into place after that.

Sola Osofisan: In so many words, tell whoever is reading this exchange why they should be visiting AiD regularly.

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: If you are interested in being part of a new space of honest contemplation, review and analysis of the modern day African and the myriad issues, landscapes, ways of living we navigate on a daily basis, then you should visit AiD regularly. In AiD is an opportunity to read and learn more on some of the thoughts, beliefs and ideas held by some of the renowned African writers, speakers and teachers of our time—on current various social concerns/narratives/ills that affect modern Africa. But also if you are passionate about African stories, and the craft of telling and writing them, then you will definitely be at home on AiD.

Sola Osofisan: Your Gaamangwe Joy Mogami Twitter page @Joy_Mogami is highly poetic, philosophical and thought-provoking. On it you sound like a pumped up motivational speaker shoving nuggets of light into the dark crevices of a wayward world. I read it like a non-ending inspirational poem, deep and soaring. Has anyone ever urged you to turn it into a book? What does the tweeting experience mean and do for you?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Wow, thank you for this.  Actually, I am working on my first poetry collection. I have been writing this inspirational short-form poetry for five years now on my personal Facebook and Instagram pages; Gaamangwe Mogami, where I explore everything consciousness. I am now collecting some of the best poems for the poetry collection and hope to have it published by the end of the year.

Twitter is a space for me to purge my moment to moment thoughts on a variety of things. I am a humanist at heart and tend to gravitate to this empowering and positive thinking, so you are definitely going to find my tweets to be as you already said poetic, philosophical and thought-provoking.

Sola Osofisan: The constant questioning and exploration of the self and by extension, human existence…Has that always been you, Gaamangwe? Were you born asking questions and finding answers that only lead you to more questions – or was there a moment of awakening when your consciousness opened to these revelations?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: In retrospect, that has always been me. Growing up I am told I was that child who was always asking the why question.  I remember being eight or nine years and just thinking and questioning things like death, birth and religion. I started reading right about that time and I pretty much went manic on it. But my first ever conscious engagement with exploring human existence came after my first heartbreak. I had just turned eighteen and pretty much convinced I knew and understood love and when things didn’t turn out as I expected, I had to find out why I was experiencing what I was experiencing. So I read tons and tons of esoteric texts, philosophy and spirituality books. I read these collections of books called The Seth Materials by Jane Roberts, which explored things like the nature of personal reality, unknown reality, mass events, psyche, and consciousness and so on. The collections has more than twenty-five books and I have read five of the books in the last eight years, because by far they are the most comprehensive collection of books that explore consciousness in all its facets.

I also enrolled in a psychology program because I wanted to closely study human cognition and behavior. I think that perhaps my life is deeply connected to exploring human existence, because I sometime stay awake at night pondering on the “who or what are we?” question.

Sola Osofisan: My understanding of your concept of the Shaman Warrior seems to be that the African Woman is one with everything that exists, natural and spiritual, with the past, present and future co-mingling in a timeless state. Is it a fair assessment that you see the African Woman as a natural force gifted with healing powers and the intuitive ability to transcend realms known and unknown?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Absolutely. Women are the source of life. It is through us that souls incarnate as human beings. The physical expression of the multidimensional and interconnected of life is the umbilical cord that connects child to mother, child to earth, and child to the spiritual realm. But it’s also beyond this, in the smallest of things. In the way that we know how to intuitively give and nurture life, this extraordinary care that all women are capable of giving to all sentient beings. Every one of us has the power to transcend realms known and unknown, in fact we do it on a daily basis, in our dreams, and the strange knowingness that we carry sometimes in moments. But when this power is fully embraced by women, the whole world opens, the whole world heals.

I think that when the African woman opens herself to the astounding power of our natural heritage, we can shift and heal our continent. Healing powers does not necessarily mean this outside experience of voodoo magic but something akin to how a group of women who pray and meditate together can shift their own lives. How when women share their own pain-body stories, this empowering and natural act of sharing can actually help them to move from their pain-body experiences.

Sola Osofisan: You’re constantly learning…to love yourself, to heed your own wisdom…and affirming your womanhood and strength. What does this non-stop process do for you, mean to you? And what happens when you finally know all there is to know? Is that even possible?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: I genuinely do not think it’s possible to know all there is to know. My philosophy is that All That Is, is in an ever state of constant evolution. I think the universe makes itself as we go along. It gives birth to itself over and over again.  As the universe, so is the human. I am aware that I am not the Gaamangwe I was an hour ago, and in a minute I will be in a new, total state of self. And for me to love myself is to simply pour over and over again kindness and understanding to who I am in this ever-fluid moment of now. We are constant balls of being and so we will always need to be in a constant ball of learning ourselves anew and loving who we have become and who we are becoming. I will never be outside the state of learning, relearning and unlearning as long as I am here but I can learn to be in a state of loving myself in whichever state I currently reside in. This to me is liberation and pure kindness to myself. And to heed my wisdom, is to constantly remind myself of this because I am human and sometimes I forget.

Sola Osofisan: Why is it important – as you seem to espouse – for us to constantly re-affirm our faith in ourselves, our strength and capabilities?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Because humans forget. Sometimes life experiences overwhelm us so much we fall into the ego’s narrative. We are not enough, we are not strong and we are not able. And working from this narrative never creates the greatest experiences. I believe that all humans are enough and strong and able. We cannot afford to think less of ourselves because this world is built on beliefs and runs truly on that and attitudes and perceptions and thoughts. So we need to always remind ourselves of the thoughts that are beneficial in the creation of positive experiences. We need to hold positive and affirmative beliefs, because the most powerful human being is the one who believes in themselves.

Sola Osofisan: You’re a psychologist. Isn’t the kind of intense self-exploration that we’re talking about here sometimes born of depression and the struggle to overcome it?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: I don’t know if one should call it depression. For me, my intense self-exploration is born from my lack of knowing. I struggle with the fact that I do not know the entirety of my being, and all of the experiences that have happened and will happen to me. That I will never entirely understand and know all aspects of all that is Gaamangwe and that is by far the most mystical, interesting and mystery of all time.

But I am also enchanted by the totality of my humanness. Particular this irrational and serious part of me that deeply cares and breaks over and over the experiences that I experience. What is this thing that is going through this life experience? Who is this person who is ever-changing, but always entirely Gaamangwe? There is so much to know, and so much to cry and laugh and love.  Because actually all of this life is actually laughable right? It really is a grand orchestra but at the end of it all the props and the actors will get off the stage. That doesn’t depress me. On most days it really fascinates me.

Sola Osofisan: I share your love for the TV series, Fringe, and fringe science in general. Can you imagine an African Fringe? I do all the time. You’re a scientist who sees beyond science. You’re also a screenwriter. Has it struck you that you’re probably one of the most creatively and mentally prepared persons who can give us a show or movies like that approached from the African perspective?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Wow, this is by far the most powerful compliment I have ever gotten. This is one of my aspirations in life. I love film and its power to explore human experiences. And I gravitate towards Television because of its continuity, which is actually strange because in creative writing I tend to write short poetry.

Fringe has truly impacted my life because as far as I have been me I have always gravitated towards the paranormal, and encountering Fringe was like this home-coming experience. Growing up I was that kid who was always begging people to tell me strange stories of half-men, half-animals, strange caves, witch stories and the likes. I am drawn to African mythology and legends, although whether they are real or not is up to debate.  So yes, my dream is creating something like Fringe. There must be truth in all of our stories, right? There must be truth in the strange, right?

Sola Osofisan: You recently asked Liyou Libsekal how traveling has influenced her. Turning that around, I wonder how starting AiD and the interactions it has spurred have impacted you as a person and what the future holds for the website?

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: I really cannot put into words how much I have been shifted by my experience on AiD. First of all, there is something that happens to you when you speak to people who exist in the same vibration as you. I now believe in things that seemed to be impossible before, because I talk to really incredible and accomplished writers of our generation.  I have learnt so much in terms of the craft of writing, editing and most importantly self-belief. What seems to be standard across all of my guests is this self-belief that their stories are important and have the power to shift the world. I now more than ever believe this about my writing and AiD.

I hope one day AiD is the number one stop for various dialogues with various Africans in various fields/schools of thought.

Sola Osofisan: Thanks a lot Gaamangwe. (I love that name. What does it mean?)

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami: Thank you so much for this Sola. In Setswana, names usually come from sentimental sentences. So when I was born I was my grandmother’s first grandchild, so in excitement she said “Ga a ma ngwe masego”, which loosely translates as “there are more than one blessings”, so you can loosely think of it as “abundance”.

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