It was a normal day at the Moroccan Palace and the jungle was teaming with life and chatter. The otters were diving and playing in their pools, while the cheetahs stretched their glorious, spotted limbs in preparation for the day’s first chase. The air was think with the sounds of wildlife and roller-coaster test runs, and the smell of funnel cake perfume. You see, while I was in college pursuing the business degree I have yet to use, I performed in an African-themed show, Katonga, at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the local theme park. Like I mentioned earlier, it was a normal day. The cast and I prepared for our first of five shows following our morning meeting. Adorned in elaborate costume decadence and yellow face paint, we took our positions draped along the unearthed roots of the ancient and sacred jungle giants- that’s fancy for faux-tree set pieces. We end our first show panting with laughter and caloric exhaustion. Beaming with sweat, we exit the stage to meet and greet with the audience, and this is when my normal day in the make-believe jungle took a detour.
After a stream of photos and congratulations, a lady speed-walking through the third row fastens her focus on me. Batting the beads of sweat out of my eyes with my lashes, I prepare my post-show smile and usual, thank-you-for-coming-to-the-show remarks. Before I could execute my script, she stops in front of me, looks up and says, “You are amazing! Where are you from?” Flattered, I smile and say thank you, but before I could retort with my Florida hometown she says, “Africa?” I awkwardly respond with, “Well, I’m sure somewhere in my…” But again I’m cut off as she explains, “You look just like the real thing, just like channel 10!” My face must have melted off of my body and into a pool next to the sweat puddles at my feet. Needless to say, she got the executive side-eye, the kind that comes with an official letterhead of bewilderment and me walking away. It became one of those moments in which one starts pacing in circles singing hymnals to try and FaceTime Jesus before an “unprofessional” rebuttal ensues. In the dressing room following the initial shock, I laughed out loud and thought, WOW, I’ve got to see what’s on channel 10! Maybe it was a bootleg recording of our show perfectly explaining her reference… It was golf.
I always regretted not asking her who her cable provider was, amongst saying a few other things.
Big Up Katonga! Big Up Africa! Big Up Jamaica! Big Up awkward stories in fake jungles!