Shaking off the remaining traces of a Latin life to the tune of a little lingering jet-lag we emerge into a new day, an African day. For one of us it’s an exciting new step in this travelling odyssey, for one of us it’s a return home to a youth and coming of age full of familiarity and fond vigour. For both of us it promises a world of wilderness, beauty and colour. The red sands and redder sunsets are temporarily on hold, for now we’re in Cape Town, the cosy little hub of metropolitan living in the Rainbow Nation. Into hunter gatherer mode it’s off to scratch around in the dirt to find some nourishment, which means strolling the palm tree lined streets to the very trendy Haas cafe, we’re so Africa right now.
We’re given another dip back into the vivacious customer service that is Africa, or maybe it’s just not Latin America. The latin casualness of making you take up their time so reluctantly is now replaced by an all too clear understanding of the economic driver that is the client and service provider relationship. the second we enter the door we’re greeted by wide eyes, a huge smile and an overwhelming sense of ‘I’m so glad you’re here and I really want you to have a great time’ type of vibe. Sitting at mismatched vintage chairs with wear and tear that comes nowhere near looking shabby that genuine want for us to feel welcome is right there. Coffee ordered and menus on the table we pinch ourselves, we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.
Maybe we’ve just gotten in the Latin groove but the coffee arrives really quickly, it’s just there. We haven’t had the space of time to just sit there and wait, in a way we don’t know what to do with ourselves. I guess we drink coffee, who’d have thought. I imagine we’ll get used to this. Feeling like royalty we enjoy the super trendy environment and, boom; food’s here. A traditional eggs and mushrooms sits beside a plate of granola, yoghurt and fresh cut fruit artfully enough arranged to match the decor. We’re in heaven, as much for the welcome and the good food as for simply having some variety. The gastronomy expedition is taking off.
First impressions of Cape Town to a new visitor: it’s a modern cool city with style as the obvious first glance. A little less easy to pinpoint is a sense that Cape Town is fairly outward looking, no sitting in the bubble here. A trip into a local market sees a huge range of influences, crafts and vultures from other African cultures paired alongside a cafe, restaurant and bar scene that takes these African elements and introduces them to a global forum. We even see a Che Guevara T-shirt, can we never escape those things? The city is alive and very suave and as soon as we get used to speaking English again we’ll be right into this.
We are in a revolving door atmosphere between the jet-lag tiredness of our bodies and the external buzz of being in a new place, the war rages with barely a hint of which side is winning come dinner time. Addis in Cape is the locale, Ethiopian is the cuisine, we are the lucky contestants. Sitting on strange low seats feels like we’re on a kindergarten immersion experience in a world of bright colour dashed with an artful lack of polish; little school for big kids. A beautiful woman approaches with a large ornate teapot with a matching base of sorts, odd. Apparently this is a traditional process, she lays a towel on our lap and proceeds to run warm water from the pot to wash our hands. It’s a small touch and very humbly done, it lacks a showmanship that might make it cheesy, it’s quite beautiful really.
We choose our food and sit at our wicker table that forms a huge bowl in front of us to soak up a vibrance and colour to match any early childhood education nirvana; jet-lag is losing the fight here. Entree is a strange crisp bread so fine it’s like a potato chip lathered in chilli oil with a couple of dips; heaven, next please. Main arrives as a huge broad tray lined with a light batter pancake that stretches it’s entire breadth and arrayed with a range of bowls all containing small little pieces of spicy heaven. Our waitress explains each dish and pours them out on the pancake to salivating eyes. There’s no cutlery, the method here is to take up some more pancake and tear pieces to grab up some food, these big children get to eat with our hands too, what could be better.
We sit oddly with our knees perched comically high on account of the tiny chairs. Big smiles and grubby fingers make a demolition site of our elegant platter like a play-lunch free for all. This would be completely juvenile if the food wasn’t seriously delicious, theatre and culinary grace played out in a cultural framework. Box ticked.
A mini coffee ceremony is served on a tray with burning frankincense with two brightly painted cups and carved wooden pot, we realise now that we need to go to Ethiopia at some stage. Growing up in Australian my childhood happened at the time of the Ethiopian famine. My earliest childhood memories of Africa are child sponsor advertisements portraying a world of suffering beyond imagination, I can still remember a picture of a child on the verge of death with a vulture in shot just waiting for mealtime. That was then, this is now. Those forlorn images are long past yet for a moment I’m in these small chairs exuding giddy excitement, my inner child no longer seeing an Ethiopia, or an Africa of poverty and woe. Fittingly, childhood images of famine are banished in a childlike departure into a world of amazing food that’s too abundant to finish.
It’s our first full day in this continent of famed colour and life, a life that’s always been forced to fight by the meddling fingers of history. Large game animals, global phenomenons and cultures from the cradle of mankind await the coming weeks, but for now we view from within the bubble. Trial and turmoil still racks this continent like those years of the Ethiopian famine; that we most likely won’t see it doesn’t make it any less real. A sliver of insight from within has crushed an indoctrinated dogma that lies somewhere far beyond the bubble. It’s day one and school is in session.