Around Town, Local Fun

Africa IS in Our Backyard!

We did find Africa in our own backyard!

Our journey began at Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.  I expected that my kids had eaten Ethiopian food before but I was completely wrong.  Zoey had spent a lot of time in the Enat Deli as a baby.  We were regulars back when it had only 4 small tables and baby Zoey was often whisked into the kitchen by the fabulous Ethiopian owner so Bill and I could enjoy a peaceful meal.  But, when we moved away from the Enat Deli, we hadn’t found any place as good and, without realizing it, we had stopped eating Ethiopian food at all.  Our rainy day luncheon was turning out to be more of an adventure than I had expected.

We were traveling from the moment we walked in the door.  There were several men enjoying the bar side of the restaurant, chattering in another language.  I ordered Ethiopian tea which turned out to be a Lipton tea bag made to steep in herbal water (the waitress said it was cinnamon, my nose said it was clove).  The girls read the menu and found something that looked good to them so I said ‘Sure, order it.”  When they tried, the waitress was quiet for a minute and then tactfully, quietly asked “Have you had this before?  You know it is, ah, raw meat and, ah, very spicy.”

We decided to share the family platter instead.  Of course it was going to be way too big for us but we really wanted to try a lot of different dishes.  The wait was long and by the time the food arrived, we were starved!  And the girls ate.  They followed my lead, scooping up this and that with the injera.  The white cheese disappeared instantly, the chicken dish was gone very quickly, and even the green vegetable didn’t last to the end of the meal.  The red spicy beef, however, was a leftover for Bill, even I couldn’t make much headway on either of those piles.

It was still raining after lunch but we were full, feeling rather adventurous, and ready for a little international shopping.  The African Mama import store that we had found on Google simply wasn’t there.  We cruised up and down three times and finally abandoned hope, somewhat disappointed.  But, as luck would have it, we passed by a store called “Maasai”, screeched on the brakes, and scored a much-coveted parallel parking spot right on Broadway.  The girls were thrilled by this half empty storefront full of beads, statues, bags, and masks.  Logan fell in love with a bag made in India but sold to the African storekeeper by a girl from Nepal (so very American).  Zoey found a mobile made of cornhusks – a horizontal hoop from which nine women floated peacefully, laboring and dancing.  I couldn’t help buying a necklace of recycled paper beads from Kenya.  The pricing was definitely third world – ask and the price shall be reduced, ask again and the price shall be further reduced, keep asking and you will only take the fun out of it.  Next stop, the bead store, where we each created our own necklace of African beads.

We had also considered visiting the African village at the Woodland Park Zoo but the girls had been there many times and the rain was showing no sign of letting up.  So, we headed home and cozied up to watch ‘The God’s Must be Crazy” – a suggestion from the excellent, Bringing the World Home.  With our African-centric attitude, we found more at the Pacific Science Center later in the week.  Naked mole rats are from arid regions of East Africa and this adorable Emperor Scorpion (magnified to at least 1000x it’s actual size) is from tropical West Africa.  We’re planning a trip to the Seattle Art Museum to see the “Art of Africa” collection on the 4th floor, boasting items from Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, and Zaire.  We also want to visit ‘Queen of Sheba’ a little restaurant that announces “Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony” on a big sign out front.

Inspired to learn more about Africa, we have already visited the Idris Mosque in North Seattle.  Islam is, of course, much bigger than North Africa.  And, Africa boasts many religions.  But, we wanted to include a mosque in our backyard adventure.  Zoey is studying Islam at school.  I know next to nothing about Islam and I have always wanted to learn.  I left a message to ask for a tour and mentioned that we were only 4 people.  The guide called back quickly and started in by explaining,  “You are not ‘only’ four people.  Four people are very important.”  On arrival, the girls and I had to use the back door.  For a few moments, we were in another land – unsure what to do, where to go, how to communicate, or what would happen next.  But, when we finally found the courage to enter and call out ‘hello”, we were greeted by a small group of kind women in headscarves, happy to show us around the women’s area, and welcome us to their mosque.  We then joined Bill in the main room (the men’s area) for our planned tour.  Our wonderful volunteer guide sat with us for over an hour, explaining, interpreting, and answering.  We observed the sunset prayer and were again transported, for a few minutes, to another land.  The chanting and ceremony induced the familiar traveler’s realization of just how large the world is and what a small piece of it we really know or understand at all, even things that are in our own backyard.

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  1. I am amazed! Where do you find such energy for opening up to the world? I also have the feeling I know nothing about Africa, except for the bargain (but it applies to non-occidental world rather than to Africa only) and some food. I live two hundred meters from one of the most prestigious mosques in Brussels, located right at the entrance of the park where I have my kids play, but it never occurred to me that I could ask for a visit!

    I had a fun “African” experience last week. Contrast was high between this small odd restaurant that you can hardly see, and the big buildings of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union that surround it. I went in quite early, with a friend of mine who had already experienced it. He showed no surprise when we were invited into the kitchen to choose directly from the potful. I wondered how such a restaurant could survive health inspections but the food was tasty, as if made by your (African) grandmother. By the time we had finished, the restaurant was packed (I mean, packed as an Indian bus can be!) and there was heavy condensation on the windows because no ventilation is foreseen… Quite a pleasant experience, I felt far away from home for a while, although just a few seconds from work…

  2. Ashley, What a great experience for your whole family! We want to go to AFRICA!! Maybe we will all be there at the same time! Otherwise maybe we can meet you in Seattle!! We were there recently and loved it!