Thousands Sample Passport DC 2014

Thousands Sample Passport DC 2014

Alseny Ben Bagoura | 5/14/2014, 3 p.m.
For the past two weekends, perhaps as many as 30,000 people have trooped to more than 50 embassies along the ...
Dancers from Carpathia DC performed in front of the Romania Embassy and offered dance classes during the annual Passport DC Embassy Tour on Sat., May 10 in Northwest. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

For the past two weekends, perhaps as many as 30,000 people have trooped to more than 50 embassies along the celebrated “Embassy Row” in Northwest to immerse themselves in the art, history, culture and cuisine of places many may never actually visit.

On Saturday, embassies from the European Union opened their doors to visitors at an event titled, “Shortcut to Europe: EU Embassies’ Open House.”

Laura Cobb, Christina Riley and two other friends stood in front of the Islamic Center as rain fell steadily.

“We’ve been to the Latvian, Danish, Irish and Luxembourg embassies,” said Cobb, 33, a Baltimore resident who’s a student at Johns Hopkins University. “I got some cheese at the Irish embassy and we got some food here. The problem was that some places had long lines. This is my first time here. My friends said they were coming and it sounded cool.”

Riley, a federal government employee who lives in Arlington, characterized what she saw at the embassies she visited as interesting.

“It was a cool experience. I ate chickpeas, salad and chicken kabob,” said Riley, who recently moved to the area.

Large groups of people braved the rain and strolled up and down Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Many carried bags emblazoned with the logos of the European Union, Ireland and Britain and a number wore a badge of the British Defense Staff in the United States.

Andrew Womer, a 17-year-old senior at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Maryland visited the Islamic Center with friends and took part in activities from the early afternoon including entering and walking around the grand, awe-inspiring mosque and taking free Arabic lessons.

“We came to the embassy last year and made it to the mosque. We made it back this time so we can get some lunch and eat a lot of good food,” said Womer, who wore a white thobe. “I like events like this because we get to experience the diversity of Islamic culture and see people [display] stuff from their countries. People think that women in Islam don't have a voice but these women have a voice and they are generous in showing how they live their lives.”

The Muslim Women’s Association sponsored a bazaar under a large tent in the mosque’s inner courtyard. Vendors sold prayer mats, dates, water bottles, prayer beads, jewelry boxes, knives, teapots and, jeweled headpieces for women and candles. Visitors munched on fataya, biriyani, falafel, koshary and basboura. The tables were operated by women and children from Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzogovia, Bangladesh and Palestine.

Sara Birkenthal, 23, a research assistant at an international human rights law firm, visited the Islamic Center with her mother and brother and toured the mosque for an hour. As she reflected on her experience, Birkenthal, clad in a jeans jacket and orange dress, nibbled on baklava, a layered pastry filled with chopped nuts and syrup.

She said that she’s wanted to visit since moving to the District from New Jersey in September.

“Coming to this event has opened my eyes to the lively Muslim and Arab communities in Washington and made me want to return to the Middle East. This time around, I want to go to Palestine, the UAE [United Arab Emirates], and Egypt,” said Birkenthal, who studied Middle Eastern culture as a student at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California and who spent time in Morocco, Jordan and Israel. “The food was delicious.”