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

The previous Saturday, visitors experienced the best of Africa’s food, art, dance and music, as well as Capoeira demonstrations, Tango lessons, traditional dancers of Botswana, henna applications, Ceylon tea tastings, Thai massages and Dominican rum tastings.

Large crowds stood in lines eagerly waiting to get inside the African embassies and sample their fare. The embassies showcased exhibits with country flags, maps, artwork, photos, traditional dress, videos, music, delicious sweets, flyers and promotional material.

The newly renovated Embassy of South Africa proved to be one of the most popular embassies on the tour and the statue of the beloved leader Nelson Mandela drew a great deal of attention. More than 10 African countries participated in the festival, including Guinea, Botswana, Ghana, Gabon, Congo, Ethiopia and Zambia. Arab countries represented included Iraq, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

For the first time, the League of Arab States and the African Union took part in Passport DC. Arab League Ambassador Mohammed Al Sharif, who represents 22 countries, and African Union Ambassador Amina Salim Ali – who represents 54 countries – brought their family to also enjoy the festivities.

Emcee and stage manager Wuiping Yap, founder of the Asian Heritage Foundation, kept the crowds cheering throughout the day by offering diverse performers, and performances including an African fashion show and an Egyptian musical group.

Ambassador Ali, said Passport DC offers a platform needed to promote the continent’s cultural diversity in the nation’s capital, a top priority of her mission here.

Nyala Walker, a World History teacher at H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast, visited the Islamic Center with a friend and took part in henna paintings. She sat patiently as the artist applied brown henna on her hand and waited for it to dry.

“I think the henna paintings are beautiful. I’ve seen women get it numerous times and I wanted a tangible cultural experience,” said Walker, 30. “This is my third time coming to the Islamic Center. I want to take this information back to my students and show them different cultures of the world. Many of my students aren't exposed to those cultures. Right now I'm teaching my students about European conquests and I will touch on world religion later on.”

“Religion has a role in international politics and determines the values of people around the world as opposed to the secular culture of America,” the Suitland, Maryland resident said.

The event’s purpose, several people said, is to cultivate tolerance and greater understanding.

Raghad Bushnaq, 45, a Sterling, Virginia resident and a former elementary and middle school teacher in that community spent the day with two friends selling traditional Syrian dishes including grape leaves stuffed with rice, meat and spices and kibbeh, a dish made from wheat, spices, and ground beef.

“The media often shows Islam in a bad light so it's good to show the right information about our culture. We've seen many people of different races and cultures and that's really wonderful,” said Bushnaq, who was clad in traditional attire, including a hijab. “This is my first year selling food at the temple. We usually do it in Fairfax and McLean. We've been here since the morning. We live together in this world and we need to learn about each other’s cultures so we can respect one another. I want to come back next year if given the chance.”