International festival

We went to iFest at the local university today.
There were booths and flags from dozens of countries, with pictures, and information, and many of the booths had small treats. I got some red bean pastry from the China booth, and some plantain chips from the Puerto Rican booth.

I spent a half a semester in Puerto Rico in my last year of high school and the tastes and smells of that island take me back there, to the joy of new places, friends, and experiences. I wasn’t exactly independent – I was helping at a school all day every weekday and loving with a Puerto Rican family, but to a 17 year old from a very conservative family, with protective parents and several younger siblings, it was an exhilarating feeling of freedom and joy of life. I felt both useful and free, and the people I met were kind and encouraging. I went to Puerto Rico to help people but almost everyone I met saw a shy, pale gringita and wanted to fill her full of tropical fruits and laughter. Those were some of the happiest weeks of my life.
I hope to visit the island again some day but I’m a little afraid it won’t quite match my memories. A little piece if Puerto Rico in a plantain chip will have to do, for now.

The campus green was already full and people were visiting all the booths, filling up paper ‘passports’ with stamps, but the festival didn’t officially begin until the Parade of flags, many of the flags held by costumed flag-bearers, and some accompanied by children in more ethnic costumes. They marched in front of the festival while announcers gave facts about each country (did you know that 50% of americans prefer pepperoni pizza?). Then the festival officially started. A class of violin students played music on the stage, and people started queuing up in the food lines. Tickets cost one dollar, and each food item costs one ticket.

We got ten tickets and tried eight different things (got two hot dogs and two bowls of Irish lamb stew, because it was rich and filling and I had read so many books in which people ate Irish Lamb Stew).
The hot dogs were hardly adventurous, but those were for the boys, who didn’t want to try anything unfamiliar.
Luke and I shared everything else we got, there were tamales, kimchi stew, the lamb stew , brats and kraut, some sort of salvadorian chicken sandwich, pupusas, and one other dish from El Salvador which I cannot remember the name. There were a few more things we didn’t try. Everything was delicioso.
While we ate, the Irish step dancers were up on stage.
The dancing was Irish, but the dancers were all sorts of ethnicities.
Girls and boys of different backgrounds were dancing on the stage with dozens of flags from dozens if countries gently fluttering behind the stage, and around the campus green, people with ancestors from all over the world, many of them in special clothing, were milling around and tasting food from other countries.
I had one eye on a kid and another eye taking in everything – the colors and smells, and the gentle breeze making the banners hung over the booths flutter, and little kids watching the dancers, and happy people everywhere.
My toddler, Kieron, thought he was also a step dancer. Watching one dance is enough to make a two year old an expert. only not really, as Irish step dancers don’t run around quite so much; I took my eyes off him for a few seconds because the dance was getting interesting, and then he had disappeared into the crowd. Before had time to panic, I heard a few Korean girls saying ‘awww’, and I just knew. I found him being adored and photographed: one girl showed her friends her camera phone “look, i got it”. He turned around and grinned a big ketchup mouth grin at me, and ran off to find other people to entertain.
Then it was time to go. Aiden – three years old – wanted to stay longer but we had other things to get to, and it was beginning to rain. We said that we would go back next year.
I came home with a full stomach, happy tastebuds, and a warm heart.
The world is such a colorful place.


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