Wonderful In Wichita: A Few Highlights from a Kansan City

 

Aida's in Wichita, KS
Aida’s in Wichita, KS

Almost one year after the first time my husband and I drove to Wichita, Kansas, we were back again. What brought us is business, same as last year, specifically my husband’s duties for the Halal preparation—and by preparation I do mean slaughter—of cattle. The Halal process involves precise steps as meat is prepared for human consumption, especially for those humans who follow Islamic tradition. Halal means permissible in the Arabic language, similar to the Jewish term kosher (meaning fit; foods fit for consumption by a Jewish person), and refers to foods, objects, or activities permissible to use or engage in by Islamic standards.

In the halal method of preparing animal goods, a prayer, Bismillahi Allahu Akbar (In the name of God, God is the Greatest), is recited before the slaughter of each animal to express gratitude for sustenance and to offer a blessing upon the animal. The animal must be alive and healthy, the throat must be cut through with the single swipe of a blade, and the blood must be drained from the carcass. It is a strictly ritualistic process, and one I give my husband credit for taking on the responsibility of considering the sense of sadness he feels for the cows–and which I would imagine every farmer or slaughterer feels to some extent. Even though I admit to being omnivorous, and I grew up in the Midwest near a slaughterhouse and in the vicinity of farms raising everything from swine to bovine to fowl to meet their fates (unbeknownst to their innocent little souls) as providers of sustenance to the human race, animal slaughter isn’t something I would have the capacity for. All a cow would have to do is slip me a sideways glance and I’d happily return it to an open field, tearing up as it ran, or ambled as cows so often do, free.

Though I found myself once again starting my morning at 5AM in a hotel room in Kansas by saying my own prayer for the sweet-eyed cows I could imagine being marched one by one into the factory, I was at least fortunate enough to spend the work days away from this aspect of the journey. On the brighter side, this year we found time to take a couple of afternoons to explore Wichita in more detail. We were happy we did.

Wichita, the 49th largest city in the United States, is scenic, clean, calm, and provides comfortable spots to spend evenings and afternoons. If we could have seen more, I don’t think we would have been disappointed; as it is, the university grounds, botanical gardens and the Old Town district we visited were more than enough to go back home with a satisfied feeling of having gotten to know a new space in the world a little more, and appreciating its beauty. While people often think of the bigger, coastal hotspot U.S. cities when considering vacation adventures, the Midwestern region has an appeal of its own; the charming ambience of slower-paced living mixed with the same modern culture and glamour traditionally associated with New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, or Chicago. Wichita might not be a place you have considered for your list of must-sees, but give it a chance and it might end up on your would-love-to-see-it-again list.

Welcome!

Botanica, 701 Amidon St., Wichita’s botanical gardens. There are paths to take you through a peaceful realm of various flowers species; fountains; ponds of koi and miniature, melodic waterfalls; sitting areas perfect for a picnic (outside food allowed); the music of an occasional flutist drifting with the butterflies; squirrels, birds, and insects going about their business; a butterfly house; a working train model; and a children’s garden offering plenty of color and (climbable) sculptures.They also offer reservations for candlelight dinners on the main patio. A Fall Festival and Halloween activities are coming up.

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Shakespearean quotes on metal sculpture, lit with sunlight.
Shakespearean quotes on metal sculpture, lit with sunlight.

In the children’s garden:

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Climb up a fort, cross a suspension bridge, climb down until you find yourself inside of the smile.
Climb up a fort, cross a suspension bridge, climb down until you find yourself inside of the smile.

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A mama spider crossing the path. How could we tell she was a mother? By the babies she was backpacking along for the stroll.

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After the gardens, a trip over to Seneca Street, recommended by an employee in the Botanica gift shop after we inquired about finding lunch. There we found Wichita Fish Company, 1601 W Douglas, “Wichita’s best kept secret” according to its website. Casual, friendly, with fun sea décor inside, and a patio to make the most of a sunlit October afternoon.

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The Lotus Leaf Café, 251 North Washington Ave. We didn’t actually purchase anything, we stopped in during a search through the Old Town District to satisfy my craving for iced coffee, but an employee informed us that Lotus Leaf isn’t a coffee café and pointed us in the direction of nearby coffee shops. The interior of Lotus Leaf Café was lively–bright colors that infuse you with energy–and the menu looked worth a visit for next time.

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Aida’s Silver Jewelry 920 E 1st St N was the shop we found around a corner. It’s a sweet combination of a jewelry and accessories shop, with a café upstairs. We had an opportunity to talk with Aida, who started her business about twenty-five years ago after moving from Mexico City. Aida makes an awesome iced latte and superb raspberry tea, and she and family are super friendly. You’ll feel at home.

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The Ulrich Museum of Art 1845 Fairmount St., on the campus of Wichita State University. Admission is free, making it great for a family outing, and the campus is a  pleasant mix of bucolic and urban with its away-from-the-city-feel nature scenery and art sculptures dotted along the landscape. Like Botanica, it’s worth an afternoon of your days.

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A game of king, or queen, of the millipede awaits. Amazing sculptures.
A game of king, or queen, of the millipede awaits. Amazing sculptures.

 

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Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the Midwest

7th floor

Technically, I don’t know if Wichita qualifies as the edge of the Midwest, I was just feeling the vibe of one of the best collections of poetry I’ve found recently–A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World–and which I brought along for the drive to Kansas. I’d never found myself in Wichita until now, and I’ve only been here a little over twelve hours and have not yet ventured into the city (I have toured the hotel, including the lobby), but I am, as with all travel, excited to see the structure of this city. The world has so many little corners, bends, nooks, crannies–it’s a world meant for exploring. As of late I’ve been hooked on the blogs for Hitch Hiker’s Handbook, a place of amazing photographs and a look into many different areas of the world.I’ve been hooked for a long time on maps, travel guides, and travel biographies. For other hopeful travelers looking for good books with some inspiration, it seems many know the poignant book Eat, Pray, Love, and a few I would add to the list are Tales of a Female Nomad, Jaywalking With the Irish, Blue Highways, Journey Into America, and the Steinback classic Travels With Charley in Search of America. A good website: http://www.mikesroadtrip.com/.

It feels good to see a new place, to walk a strange street, to watch the news of a different city and meet people and in both cases see the sameness of us no matter where we are from, to appreciate how beautifully created our world is, to make coffee in your hotel room and watch the sunrise through a new window, to stand in a hotel lobby and feel like no matter where you go in the world you will always find a place waiting for you and inviting you, warmly, to stay awhile.

When was the last time you traveled? Even if just getting in a car and driving one, two or three hours away. If you haven’t travled for a little while, or you have, anywhere you go, your mind will thank you for it. Your soul will thrive from it.

I’m not far from home, five hours, but the drive down a highway surrounded with scenery mostly avoiding urbanization–cows, horses, thick collections of trees, smooth hills filled with refreshing green not yet withered against the October chills–makes me feel like I’ve been hidden into some faraway city surrounded by days of travel. Not a bad way to greet the morning. What brings me to Wichita is my husband’s cow-killing duty–he works in his family-owned business of Halal meats. For those unfamiliar, halal in Islamic vocabulary means lawful or permissable; meats that are halal have met a religious dietary standard of preparation that makes them good and permissable for consumption. Although I am not participating in this part of the journey–I admit to not being a vegetarian but seeing a live cow just before its slaughter makes me feel bad for the animal, so I’m happily holed up at the La Quinta while husband visits the factory–what I have learned about halal preparation has been interesting. A part of the process is to say a blessing for the animals who are killed for consumption, a double meaning of offering thanks for the food we have access to and to offer peace to the animal. It’s not so different from Native American prayers and ceremonies for offering thanksgiving for a hunt and expressing respect for the hunted animals. Happily, the Halal process is done as humanely as possible, as one would hope in all such cases, whether the animal is being prepared by religious standards or not.

As an animal lover who does not consider herself much different from all other species in kingdom Animalia, I respect the job that has to be done but I’ve also said my own prayer of thanks and blessings for today’s cows (since setting them free is not an option) and all other food-source animals while sitting in the comfortable space of the hotel.

Soon, it will be time to view the city a little more. The hotel is where many city hotels are–situated in an area where you can find your nation universals, or at least commons, like Starbucks, Denny’s, JC Penney, Sears, Target, etc. From the business perspective, I know it makes sense for companies to expand widely through the geographic areas of cities and states, building local customer bases and keeping business when those locals travel to new areas and look for their trustworthy places to shop, eat, or otherwise visit in. From a psychological perspective, I think it also makes us feel comfortable to see familiar buildings in an absence of familiar faces and geography, helping us get settled in and oriented. Neither perspective is a bad idea, especially as not everyone wants to travel away from a familiar road.

I look forward to all roads, so I’ll do a little research for good roads to follow, and if we get a chance to deviate to an experimental road then we will follow the natural progression. Cities, villages, streets, hills, countries are meant to be explored.

Wichita is the largest city in Kansas, and the 49th largest U.S. city (internet makes getting the stats on a new region quickly so much more blessedly easier). It is mid-October, with crisp air and trees starting to change and the sky occasionally blurring with passing flocks of dark birds finding their warmer winter locations. We have a car, a small amount of funds, warm coats, and a love for new places–we have the essentials for getting to know a city we’ve never met before.