I remember when my father was deployed to Africa on a contract as a captain of a Russian commercial fleet. They were stationed in Sierra Leone in the 80’s and got pulled out of there when Blood Diamond Wars broke out.
Living in Siberia, he brought us things we have never seen before. Like a Coconut… Yah, I know. The whole family gathered around the kitchen table. We didn’t know how to open it. My grandpa nocked on the shell and said: I think its wood. So he took a saw out of his “home repair kit” and went at it. Then some liquid spilled out of it. I wasn’t crazy about the taste but many years later in the Carribbean I found out how hydrating coconut milk is for you. That was before the whole Coconut water craze going on in New York these days. Long story short – we cracked it open. Each one of us got a piece. My grandma as the matriarch of the family tried it first. We were all waiting in respectful anticipation. She looked at us and said: Tastes just like a carrot! I still laugh at this memory.
Next thing I saw from Africa were paintings my father bought from local artists and a collection of jewelry hand carved out of ivory. He explained that it is made out of tusks of elephants. I didn’t really comprehend the concept at the time.
And then there was a GARA. It is a dress native to that region and it is recognizable but a particular wash the local tribes use to paint the fabric. It has beautiful hand stitched ornaments around the collar. My GARA got lost in time and way too many moves from one place to another but when I was in Egypt, I saw dresses very similar to my exotic Garas. I picked up a couple. Since they are kind of baggy and loose and with my size 0 frame, I’m used to stitching, altering etc, so I fixed those dresses to fit me just right, hugging my waist and flowing down to the floor ever so gracefully. And funny story – I was on my way to see a friend of mine, who is originally from Lybia.Strolling down the streets of New York, I was gathering complements left and right on my exotic African dress. My friend also took immediate notice of my attire. I love this dress! – he said. I was like – yeah, it’s Gara. He said – No, this is not Gara. This is from North Africa, Like Marocco. I couldn’t believe he knew the difference! And he was right on spot. My dress was a solid color, from Egypt, it didn’t have the GARA wash.