My earliest memory of travel is when, at six years of age and just four feet high, I walked over to Mobutu Sese Seko at a cocktail reception and offered him a piece of chicken.
Even without the above photograph, the memory is vivid. Like most six-year olds, I had wandered away from my parents. Of course, I didn’t know or realize who he was at the time. I had noticed how he towered over almost everyone in the room. Intrigued and fearless, I stepped up to him.
I don’t recall what happened to the piece of chicken in my right hand, but I do remember this giant of a man in a pinstripe suit leaning over me, smiling. I had caught him by surprise. Yet I was the one who forgot about my parents, not noticing that my mother turned up in front of me, watching alongside a small crowd surrounding the Maréchal and I.
We were in Zaire – now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. My dad had taken my mom and I along on one of his business trips. That night was the opening reception for an annual bank meeting; a gathering of dignitaries and heads of state.
Growing up, my dad had a prestigious career in international development, as an economist – from working for Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and accompanying him on overseas delegations, to later joining an international organization. Work took my father to every corner of Africa, as well as beyond, from Asia to Europe and the Americas. My mother experienced much of it with him and loved the adventures (and the shopping). I still browse through their old photo albums and smile at them posing on the Champs Elysées or standing across from Victoria Falls.
There’s no doubt that I have my dad to thank for my wanderlust. And for this first childhood travel memory, too – of me, attracting this infamous African President with a piece of chicken.
This week’s prompt on “Family Travel Memories” from the BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge inspired my post.