I’m back! I’ve been gone far too long, but I am really thankful that you decided to stick around and wait for the moment that I would pop back up with an adventure or two to share with you. My absence has not been for lack of trying or interest. It would probably sit better with me if it were. Rather, I have been away because I haven’t had much to write about in terms of travelling. Of course there is always a lot to talk about in the travel industry, but as you know I like to tell my own stories of travel and what I learned from those experiences. Thankfully, today I have a few to tell you about.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been met with two great opportunities for fun, adventure, and trying something a little new. Neither of these opportunities warranted a plane ride, a hotel stay, or even a full tank of gas, but they did open my eyes to the adventure that was available and that awaited me in my very own city. Interestingly, each gave me a first hand peek into what it would be like to one day visit an African country.
“I’ll admit it, I’ve never had the urge to visit Africa.” This is one of the titles that I wrote down months ago in my idea book. The post was going to be my opportunity to finally publicly confess that, as a black woman, I would choose to go to Europe a hundred times over before stepping foot onto the continent. There was so much beauty to be found in Europe, but Africa just seemed to be full of sadness: war stricken people, AIDS infected women, hungry babies with bloated bellies, and lots of tear-stained faces. So, the near pangs to flee to, or at least visit, the land that I experienced from countless others, were lost on me. I couldn’t understand it, but didn’t dare speak it. Ironically, it took a personal experience of cultural appropriation followed by a more authentic experience to spark a few flames of interest.
Last weekend, I went on a group trip to Busch Gardens, which is a local theme park located in Tampa, Florida. Like most theme parks, Busch Gardens had its very own theme that weaved its way through visitors’ entire experience. Its theme was African safari. In addition to the death-defying roller coasters, the park included a wide range of live animals – many of which can only be found in African countries. My favorites included the shockingly huge hyenas, the Nile crocodile, and the African lions. There were also men on stilts dressed in “African costumes” prancing around the park happily taking photos with visitors and tourists. I was one of them. Cultural appropriation aside, looking out over the Serengeti Plain, an area where visitors, on a safari-like attraction, could get an up close look and sometimes feel of the animals, from the second floor of the restaurant, I felt of tinge of “wow, this is what it would feel like” as I ate my lunch that afternoon. From afar, I watched as giraffes pranced around the Serengeti, and I was amazed at how beautiful it was to look out over the lush green plain and see such exotic animals in their “own” habitat. At that moment, instead of being in Florida looking at a man-made attraction, I wished that I was somewhere in Kenya getting my voyeur on. First time for everything, right? My second whiff of longing for Africa came while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes: eating.
This past Saturday I dined at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, a local gem situated smack dab in the most touristy area of Orlando. This was such a big deal for me as I had been pining to go for months. The opportunity just hadn’t presented itself yet. Review after review remarked on the great food and, most importantly, the authenticity of the food. Unlike Busch Gardens, Nile is as authentic as it gets. Owned and operated by an Ethiopian family, the restaurant’s food and its decorations were all a byproduct of their personal experiences as people of Ethiopia. It was a breath of fresh air to not be bombarded with the usual African-inspired details like masks and splashes of African-colored clothing. Instead, the walls were lined with pictures and artifacts that were a reflection of the place they called home. The room was filled with colorful baskets, which I would later learn are called mesobs and are part of the traditional Ethiopian dining experience. We drank our Ethiopian honey wine from bereles and used our hands to scoop up the delicious food with the aid of rolled up pieces of injera. We left with the smells of the coffee ceremony welcoming us back for a second visit. We weren’t playing Ethiopian. I felt like we were at a friend’s house who had a desire to show us parts of her life. We were having an honest, authentic experience.
I’m not sure if I missed it before or if the sounds of Europe were much too loud, but I can hear it now. Africa is calling.