By Caroline Zybala – 2014
Our first stop for our entire Highway 64 project was the International Festival, held in Raleigh. When we looked at the event online, we decided that we definitely had to attend and see what it entailed. With our busy schedules, we could only all attend on the Sunday of the event, but we were sure there would still be exciting things happening on the last day of the festival.
After parking in a parking deck, we trekked towards the convention center, followed by families who were there to experience the event like us, and those who were clearly part of the festival in some manner–dress in traditional clothing from various countries. Seeing these individuals made us excited to enter the festival and check out all the different countries represented.
When our ticket purchases scanned, we peaked over the railing to see the entire festival spread out below us. We were amazed at the number of booths and people milling around. There were several stages scattered around the center, with various groups lined up to perform their traditional dances, songs, and cultural traditions.
We descended the escalator, and consulted our maps to attempt to navigate the large sprawl of the event. We decided that if we were going to eat something, it should be at the beginning since we had plans to visit a restaurant when we were finished at the festival. We headed to the far end of the setup, and began to slowly make our way down the aisles of booths, assaulted by the sights and smells of many foreign looking foods. There were some food that we could recognize, like bubble tea and pierogies, but for the majority, we had to look at the pictures provided next to the names in order to understand what was being offered. A few of the countries offered samples, which we approached with caution, as we often didn’t know what it was.
With a few items purchased, we briefly sat down to watch a cooking demonstration of pad thai. From what we observed, it was actually quite simple, and we talked amongst ourselves about how delicious it smelled. We had also assumed we as the audience were going to receive some samples of the food, but unfortunately, luck was not on our side.
With plans to watch an African dance, we had some time to kill before we had to take our seats at the main stage. Weaving through the various booths, our group was intrigued by all of the items the various had for purchase. Miranda was particularly drawn to the booths with jewelry, especially one with a cool necklaces from South Africa. Each of the different booths had specific items that clearly represented their individual cultures. From traditional scarves, paintings, and statues, the countries were proudly showcasing their products to festival visitors like us.
It was time for the African dance show to start, we took our seats in front of the main stage and settled in for a unique experience. Throughout the whole performance, one of the dancers played the drums, which helped keep the energy of the dancers high and the audience engaged. The leader of the dance, an elderly man, explained the traditional aspects of their dance, and led the audience in an interactive portion of the performance. Being an engaging and personable individual, the man truly made the audience get off their feet and become part of the performance. Towards the end of the dance, they invited different individuals onto the stage, wanting them to represent different cultures who were coming together for one purpose. The woman who was sitting behind us went on stage, and we smiled as her friends and family cheered her on and made funny comments. One of the young boys who went on stage stole the show, by jumping in front of everyone and dancing like he had been born to do. He drew quite a few laughs from the audience members as we continued to play his small instrument even after everyone else had stopped dancing.
After this show, we continued to wander the stands, looking to experience more cultures while we were at the event. Jenna and Miranda took the opportunity to try on traditional saris, while Kelley and I stayed outside the circle of chairs that had been constructed around the women offering the clothing. After snapping a few pictures, we began to look for the booth that was writing people’s names in different language, for free, of course. We had seen people carrying strips of bright paper with what assumed were their names, and we wanted to investigate for ourselves. After looking through all the booths, we finally found the short lines of people waiting to have their names written in Chinese or Arabic, in their respective booths. The four of us decided to capitalize on this free item, seeing that we didn’t want to spend too much money on our trip as a whole.