Area Residents Enjoy Passport DC

Barrington M. Salmon | , WI Staff Writer | 5/16/2012, 10:59 a.m.

Belizean Ambassador Nestor Mendez, his wife Elvira and son Anwar stood in front of the embassy greeting awed guests who came to experience a sample of Belizean hospitality.

The visitors who trooped onto the embassy grounds on Saturday, May 5 were among the thousands who participated in the fifth Passport DC. The event is a month-long celebration that whisks local residents and visitors on a global journey without ever leaving the city. This year, 43 embassies participated.

Guests could buy a commemorative passport for $5 and have staffers at the embassies they visited stamp their books.

While the expectation was to be immersed in food, music, dance, and countries' cultures, heritage and history, few expected to shake hands with an actual ambassador.

"Hello. Welcome to the Embassy of Belize. I'm Nestor Mendez. Thank you for joining us," he said.

"Did you say you were the ambassador?" one man asked. "Can I take a picture with you?"

"It would be an honor," Mendez said with a broad smile before posing for one of many snapshots.

"It's great," Mendez said afterward. "I think people enjoy the personal touch."

Mendez, who has been Belize's ambassador to the U.S. for four years, said Passport DC is an excellent vehicle to familiarize people with his country and all it has to offer.

"It's the first time that we've participated. It's important for Belize. We have so much to offer in tourism," he said. "We're a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country with a rich heritage. This is fantastic. People see what Belize is all about. We are for people who want something off the beaten path. What we offer is tourism par excellence. When you come to Belize, this is the treatment you receive."

At that moment, an elderly woman walked up and substantiated Mendez's comment.

"It's so nice of you to greet us personally," she said. "We've been to Belize and loved it very much."

Visitors didn't have to enter the embassies to hear music of all types that included Reggae, Calypso and blends of Belizean, Korean and Chadian rhythms.

Up the road at the Embassy of the Republique de Cte d'Ivoire, an extraordinarily long line snaked in serpentine fashion down Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest.

It was worth the wait. Once inside, guests were treated to Ivorian hospitality at its finest. Embassy staff served from a menu that included fried fish, chicken, aloco [fried plantains], attieke [couscous], a ginger drink, sorrel and passion fruit.

"I don't know what other embassies are doing but this is amazing," said Brenda Melvin, a 51-year-old native Washingtonian who volunteered at the embassy. "So far, 586 people have gone through. This line is absolutely crazy. Are they giving away money? The embassy staff is really wonderful though."

Just behind Melvin, six drummers in a semi-circle in the driveway drummed with measured intensity. Male and female dancer adorned in colorful dresses and robes danced along to the rhythmic serenade offered to guests patiently waiting in line. Sometimes the visitors gathered around musicians and dancers taking pictures or shooting video. And from time-to-time, staffers came out with trays and served cool drinks.