My earliest childhood travel memory: A President and a piece of chicken (#indie2012)

My earliest childhood 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 photograph below, 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.  Check it out for more traveler stories and inspiration.

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller. Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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  1. Jay 2 May, 2012 at 9:41 PM #

    What a cool picture and story!

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 2 May, 2012 at 9:51 PM #

    Thanks, Jay! I scanned the photo and it’s back in the old album but maybe I should frame it, as a reminder of my first travels.

  3. Shermika 2 May, 2012 at 10:11 PM #

    What a wonderful memory and beautiful post. Our parents are often our first teachers. And yes, your wanderlust was a given with your family history. It must be amazing to sift through those photos. Great picture and vivid memories that will last for life.

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 2 May, 2012 at 11:02 PM #

    Thanks Shermika! Travel is one of the best gifts. I cherish those albums! I go through them at least a couple of times a year. In fact I just got an idea for a future post! 🙂

  5. Diana 3 May, 2012 at 12:28 AM #

    Awesome! You’re girl after m own heart, offering a dignitary some chicken. Gotta love it!

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma 4 May, 2012 at 9:07 AM #

    Diana – too funnny, I guess that’s some creativity right there!

  7. Robyn 9 November, 2013 at 7:22 PM #

    What a wonderful story! Saw your title in a sea of the TBEX monthly posts and thought, “A President and a piece of chicken? This has to be good.” It was great!

  8. Lebawit Lily Girma 9 November, 2013 at 10:41 PM #

    Thanks, Robyn! Am glad you liked it :). I appreciate you stopping by and sharing. I still need to catch up on all the TBEX posts!

  9. Elleni 8 December, 2016 at 9:37 PM #

    Beautiful pictures. Is your mother name Tsegenet?

  10. Lebawit Lily Girma 9 December, 2016 at 11:32 AM #

    Thanks! No it isn’t 🙂

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