Making friends and being ‘cool’ in social situations has never really been my specialism. Instead I have often surrounded myself with a small group of people, hidden alone in a corner or kept myself on social media.
Over the years I have built up a really good group of online friends. Some of them are the most supportive, kind and caring people you could ever wish to know and there is always somebody out there willing to listen and send pictures of cute animals when nothing else will suffice.
There is a group of people on twitter that I meet from time to time and whilst I have always found it a bit difficult to submerge myself in chats with people I don’t really know that well or to understand the topics they are discussing it used to be a lot easier. Once I had met somebody one time I would generally not feel those nerves rising back up.
But a couple of weeks ago a friend of my partner and I was having a get together to celebrate receiving their PHD and being in London for a few days. And I could barely get out of the door. Everything became a big issue from figuring out what to wear, how I felt in myself and actually getting past the front door. I nearly bailed several times and my partner had to beg me so much and reassure me that he would look after me.
The restaurant scared me too. I had never tried Eritrean food or anything similar to it and was unsure if it would contain things I was allergic to, if it would be spicy or if I would even like it. There was a bigger issue for me though and that was knowing the food would involve using my hands and eating food that other people had touched as well. I can barely handle eating in front of others let alone getting stuck in with them (however much I trust them etc).
Since I was about 14 I would eat lunch at school and college in a hallway alone often. When I ate with other people it always made me stess and feel a little sick inside. If I go into a restaurant I often end up trying to sit in a corner where few people can see me and I can glare at anyone that glances my way. The sound of chewing concerns me and can put me completely off my meal (yes that can include my own chewing noises too) and I have a very specific way of approaching my meals (if I had a fork of pasta the next would be pasta and broccoli before just a fork of broccoli followed by broccoli and carrots etc) and changing that routine can stress me out.
So I was incredibly nervous to go to the restaurant and that was before acknowledging that I can barely go to the local shop to grab something or to walk to the postbox. But in the end I managed to brave it and knew that I would either enjoy it or be able to relax when I got home.
The decor was simple but had a clear hint of an Eritrean theme with various artwork dotted around. Staff were friendly and helped to seat us in a large enough space for all the guests (though they seemed to lack the usual caring attitude found inany restaurants). The menu helped to provide some clarity on what the dishes were but some details were looked over such as explaining what their speciality tea actually involved.
Because of numbers we all just got a big sharing plate for each of the tables connected together which provided a variety of vegetarian, meat and fish dishes. This generally seemed to work out well but I think a few people were avoiding the meat and fish and it would have been good to have been offered a fully vegetarian one I think.
The stuff that it got served up on was really interesting and a mix between bread and a really aired pancake that was left to go cold. Whilst I found this to be okay I would have liked something with a bit of warmth or one that, yes soaked the flavour of the items on top up, but did not result in getting an oily mess all over your hand as it seaped through.
All of the dishes were delightful but I am still struggling to get my head around putting one hard boiled egg or a bit of meat on a bone in a dish that is meant as a sharing plate when you do not get any cutlery. Whilst taking a bite and passing it on is okay with your closest family and friends most people are never going to agree to that (I even freak out if my partner of over six years suggests that sometimes).
I would go to somewhere similar again, and even possibly back to Adulis, but I would want to go with people that I was very comfortable around. During the meal my hands were shaking throughout because it was stressing me out so much and I felt a little uncomfortable with it. Of course this is just the way Eritrean food is served and I have nothing wrong with that as a concept and can see how it can make it a really close experience for those involved but with my personal fears I did find it a little too difficult.
It was a wonderful night though and I am very glad I went, got to celebrate the success of my friend and try something new. I survived so all those thoughts inside my head were little lies trying to drag me down and in a similar situation or event I should remember this night and the success I achieved.