Friday, November 7, 2014

Africa in the Middle of Wisconsin

I turned off the D’banj song and exited my car.  “Baby girl….” D’banj’s lyrics kept going in my head, “I love the way you make your body twerk…”  I stepped into the lobby and was greeted by a 6ft tall cast iron elephant, palm trees and thatched roofed kiosks.  This place is called Kalahari, but the Africaness of its environment hadn’t really clicked as a possibility.  “Oh dear.  What have I gotten myself into?”

The key card clicked in the door, but I hesitated before turning the handle, unsure what I’d find inside.  Every place I roamed in the resort, every first encounter with a new area, a new wall, a new menu, was filled with hesitation.  The Kalahari is simultaneously disappointedly what you’d expect of an African-themed hotel in the middle of Wisconsin and surprisingly delightful.

My room looked like any other hotel room, save for the two framed West African masks hanging near the balcony door.  The hallway outside had also been almost non-descript, save for the wood poles strung overhead like a strange dropped ceiling.  I decided to venture out and take a look around.

Africa mural A long skywalk connected the building where my room was to the main building with conference center, lobby and waterpark.  A detailed mural stretched the full length.  It, like the rest of the hotel, was a combination of “that’s awesome” and “what the?!”  The mural began with a map of Africa.  Missing South Sudan, but otherwise pretty decent.  And a little did you know blurb.  For example, did you know that Africa is almost completely surrounded by water?  Maybe because, oh I don’t know, it’s a CONTINENT?!

A sort series of blurbs, almost tweet-like in their brevity give a small glimpse into a handful of tribes.  Beyond the Intro to Africa section, a trail of Adinkra symbols from the Ashanti culture interspersed with ads for area restaurants and attractions leads you across the skywalk.  “Compassion & Protection are represented in this symbol of a person who teaches another person with patience.”  “CARNIVAL CAFE 24 LANES OF BOWLING, LIFE SIZE BASKETBALL, FOOTBALL AND HOCKEY!” “Humility . Readiness to learn and to WP_20141023_073develop wisdom are signaled with this Adinkra symbol.”  “TOMMY BARTLETT” “Consideration & Tenderness are represented in this Adinkra symbol of a stylized comb.” 

One particular ad caught my eye, for the Ivory Coast restaurant, located somewhere within the hotel.  I wanted to find that restaurant.  A small, likely foolish, part of me thought it possible that the Ivory Coast restaurant might have African food.

As I explored, I found the entire resort complex was filled with art, both African-inspired and authentic African pieces.  Yoruba masks, Kente cloth, bead works, wood carvings, wax prints; you name it, they had something.  Each hallway was a new adventure.

In the evening, after the State Bar of Wisconsin programming was over (you didn’t think I just upped and went to the Kalahari cuz I missed Africa, did you?), I had a chance to explore the water park.  I felt a little odd walking through these art-decked hallways with my citenge wrapped around my swimsuit.  I always pack a citenge when I travel, but if I had known the hotel would be such a mix of Africa and African stereotypes, I wouldn’t have packed the one with the Zambian village scene on it.  I half expected someone to stop me and ask which hotel gift store I got it at.citenge

The water slides were a lot of fun, despite leaving my muscles aching from the thrashing about. And I did eventually find that Ivory Coast restaurant.  There wasn’t a single African thing on the menu, not even some fried plantains.  At least the fun on the water slides and my delight at a real squat rack and bench in the fitness room almost made up for the disappointment on the food front.

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