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Walt Disney World Bring the Spirit of Africa to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Through Cultural Representatives

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is completely inspired by an African wildlife reserve down to every detail. To help bring the authenticity of the experience to the resort, Disney has Cultural Representatives who are from various countries in Africa. They travel from their home country to participate in a one year program where they get to share their cultural insights with guests at the resort. They also play a role in the Sense of Africa and Wanyama Safari experiences where they share their own personal stories with guests. Disney Parks Blog has shared recent interviews with four of their Food & Beverage Cultural Representatives as they shared a little more about themselves. Check out the interviews below!

 

Greeter Yvonne Bahlangene from Harare, Zimbabwe: Works at Boma – Flavors of Africa 

Why did you want to become a Cultural Representative at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?

To share my African experience with others. I love sharing my culture, wildlife experiences, food, and the lifestyle of living in the villages as well as the vibrant city of Harare. 

What was your work experience in Africa?

I worked at a photographic safari camp where we catered to visitors from all over the world. My main job was to share stories about our people, culture, food, and tradition. It is very similar to what I do here at Disney, which I am grateful to continue doing for our guests.  

What surprised you the most when you first came to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?

I was surprised by how the lodge was built with such an amazing African feel. Everywhere you look in the resort there is a story to be told. The architecture, artwork, colors, décor, and restaurant themes all made me reminisce of being home!

When talking to guests, is there a question you get asked repeatedly?

The number one question I am asked is, “Where did you learn English?” We grew up learning English in school and it is also the language of business back home.

Which Disney character would your family and friends say you are most like and why?

Simba from ‘The Lion King!’ This is an easy one for me. It may sound cliché I picked a character from a story set in Africa, however, as a cub Simba was playful, naughty, and curious about what was on the other side which I can definitely relate to. When I was growing up in the village I did not want to be left out. I was the shortest, youngest, and loudest in the family. I must admit I found myself in a lot of trouble just like Simba.

Favorite animal on the savanna and why?

My favorite animal would be the zebra. The zebra is our Family Totem. Back home most families have an animal is passed down from generation to generation which they guard and protect.

Greeter Hloniphani Dube from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Jiko – The Cooking Place 

Why did you want to become a Cultural Representative at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?

I always had a desire to be in an environment where I could learn about different cultures and be in the presence of those who will take an interest in listening, learning, and would appreciate knowing about my own culture.

What was your work experience in Africa?

I worked for a rental car company as a rental sales agent, chauffeur, and tour guide.

Favorite memory at Jiko -The Cooking Place?

My favorite memory is when I took a guest and her daughter to a table and shared stories of African animals and my homeland. I found out it was the guest’s 80th birthday so we got her a birthday button and a card signed by all the Cast Members. After their dining experience, Valarie, the daughter, came to me and told me how much she appreciated what I had done for her mother. A month later the family came back for a holiday dinner at Boma – Flavors of Africa. The family took the time to come find me at Jiko to express their appreciation for something I had done a month prior. This really touched me and made me realize how doing something so simple can make someone’s day magical.

Favorite dish at Jiko-The Cooking Place

Botswana Short Rib because of its familiar taste and wonderful aroma.

Favorite animal in the savanna and why?

The impala because of their parenting nature. They have the ability to prolong giving birth if there is a predator close by.

Greeter Marvelous Bonasi from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe: Sanaa 

Why did you want to become a Cultural Representative at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?

I love interacting with people and thought it would be a great way to share my culture with others and the perfect opportunity to learn the cultures of others. I recognized the fact people from all over the world make Walt Disney World a destination.   

What was your work experience in Africa?

I was a coordinator and co-founder for a youth academy. I helped coach young people with soccer and helped as a mentor. This was all voluntary work. 

What surprised you the most when you first came to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?

The animals! I had heard about a restaurant with animals right outside the windows but I thought guests would have to go out of their way to actually see them – especially African animals! When I arrived at Sanaa I was shocked to see the animals just a stone’s throw from the restaurant. 

When talking to guests, is there a question you get asked repeatedly?

“Is your name really Marvelous?” And IT IS! My dad thought I was going to be a girl because our family already had three boys. My dad was still hoping for a boy and when I arrived – my dad said, “This is Marvelous!”

Which Disney character would your family and friends say you are most like and why?

I am like Timon – because I am hilarious – if I say so myself! People say I have an infectious laugh and wonderful sense of humor. And, like Timon, I am funny and small!

Culinary Cultural Representative Phumlani David Thabethe from Durban, South Africa: The Mara 

Why did you want to become a Cultural Representative at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?

I wanted to represent my culture and traditions in the kitchen and gain culinary experience in an internationally-recognized company.

What was your work experience in Africa?

I was working as a pastry chef at a game reserve lodge.

What surprised you the most when you first came to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge? 

I was surprised about the food served in the restaurants. The food is authentically African – including the names of the dishes!

Favorite dish at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and why? 

My favorite dish is a Butter Chicken Curry from Sanaa. It is my favorite because the dish is made with the same spices we use back home which makes it smell and taste like what we serve in Africa.

When talking to guests, is there a question you get asked repeatedly? 

“Is this the food we eat in Africa?” The answer is “yes!”

Which Disney character would your family and friends say you are most like and why?

Winnie the Pooh because I am a sweet and humble individual and I have a sweet tooth!

Thank you to all of these great Cultural Representatives for sharing their story with all of us!

Photo and Source Credit: Disney Parks Blog

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About Christy Caby

I am a diehard Disney fanatic! I fell in love with all things Disney from an early age and that only increased once I first visited Walt Disney World! It led me to complete a yearlong Disney College Program working at merchandise locations within Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney-MGM Studios at that time) and I worked for Disney Parks & Resorts Technology in Project/Program Management. Now I get to write about Disney and help others plan their magical vacations! Disney holds a special place in the hearts of my entire family as my husband proposed there, we honeymooned there, took trips while pregnant with each of my boys and have visited with them many, many times from 8 weeks old through now. One of my favorite memories from each trip is always the look on my kids’ faces the first time they see the castle. I’d love to help you plan your magical vacation! Request a free quote at http://magicalvacationplanner.com/staff/christy-caby/ or look for me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/christy.caby. Have a magical day!