Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Where's My Hometown? Parts Unknown

By Kaie "Kaya" Omodele @theabeng

Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain proper served me up some real mind-racking, soul-searching food two Saturday nights ago when they re-ran a show featuring Ethiopia and Ethiopian-Swedish-American chef Marcus Samuelsson. You know how Bourdain does so love to delve down into the history of one of them "Parts-Unknown" countries, exploring its socio- economic complexities, so as to better understand the context of all the pot and pan stirring, finger licking and liquor drinking? (Which in truth is what keeps me hunting down this show because, for me it's not all about food, it's all about the story) Well, this episode a couple weeks ago followed Mr. Samuelsson during one of his returns to Ethiopia as he visited relatives and his wife's hometown. When Mr. Bourdain asked him where he considered home, the blank look that rolled across Mr. Samuelsson's face drew me in like a rum head staring down a bottle of 25-year-old Gold Label.

Mr. Samuelsson tussled with this stumper then teetered a reply like probably Harlem (where he now lives, owns and operates a gourmet restaurant); Sweden- enhhhh, enhhh; Ethiopia- not so much. Maybe he sounded a little bit more decisive than that, but that's all I gathered, disconnection. Which I recognized immediately because I get that same feeling sometimes when I stop and think about where in the world I consider my "hometown." Such is one song of an immigrant.

See, like Mr. Samuelsson who emigrated from Ethiopia to Sweden as a young child, and later on to the United States, I've trotted 'round a few countries, cities and towns, myself. I went to school in six different cities* before I was eighteen years old, seven cities if I count my Pre-K at my tow great-aunts' school in New Amsterdam. My longest stint in any of them was four years at Watooka Day Primary in Linden. My oldest friendships today began on that school compound and my first chups** was under the mango tree. (Big up Nikki and Rosie, Butchie an M-Lo; somehow, someway our friendship has lasted through decades, social mediaed over seas and Skyped clear 'cross continents) We got war-break memories with the boyz and ring-game memories with the girls, so Linden definitely tugs at my heartstring.
But then, I have coming-of-age, rites-of-passage memories floating 'round Brooklyn, where I  kissed the girls then made a one or two cry. Starlite Ballroom, Love People ONE, Village Hut, Caribbean City and Caribbean Dome. The County of Kings is where I began to smell myself, for real.

Whatever his reason for calling Harlem home, I find it hard to connect with one, single hometown. What matters most to me are my connections with people that have touched my life. I cherish moments. My mind drifts to a city and automatically recalls an experience shared with someone in a specific moment. In all my triumphs and failures, in every embrace or fight, through torrents of tears or gut-wrenching laughter, I've lived. "Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home."

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** Kiss

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