Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Reflections on the International Faribault Festival

Although the International Faribault Festival took place more than a week ago, memories of it are still fresh in my mind. I have been thinking about it, and have dwelt, in particular, on two or three aspects that I wish to share here.

Though taking place in a small town in south eastern Minnesota, the Festival bore the label "International," which signifies something on a world scale. Yet, the label was not far-fetched.

The Festival did attract people from different countries who live in Faribault and surrounding areas. There were not millions of them, but they represented many countries. I met with individuals from Ireland, Nigeria, Peru, Somalia, Sudan, and, of course, the U.S.A. If every participant were to tell us the people they met, we would surely discover that many other countries were represented. There were, for example, many people originally  from Central or Latin American countries. That was obvious from the language they were speaking--Spanish--and from their appearance. Among the entertainers was an Aztec dance group.

That, for me, is the clearest proof of the "International" nature of the Festival. However, I like to think of other dimensions of that label. I think of the fact that all of us who attended the Festival have family members and friends, some of whom live in different parts of the world. It is fair to assume that we involved them in the Festival through messages, photos, phone conversations, and other ways. We shared, and continue to share, stories with the rest of the world.

The Festival was featured in Facebook messages sent out, especially, by Peter Van Sluis, chair of the Festival organizing committee. It was mentioned in the Faribault Daily News, which is available online and accessible to people around the world. I wrote blog posts, in English and in Swahili, which are read around the world.

Several years ago, during the Faribault International Market Day--the precursor of the International Faribault Festival--I told my friend Milo Larson, who was chairman of the Faribault Diversity Coalition and main organizer of the Market Day, that I saw the Faribault International Market Day not as a small town event, but as a truly global one, because the people who attended it were sure to tell other people--far and near-- about it, and the story might spread around the world. What appears to be a local, small town event, works like a pebble that you throw into a pond, or a lake, sending ever-widening ripples far and wide.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The International Faribault Festival, August 23

The International Faribault Festival took place on August 23, as planned, and I was there. As soon as I arrived at the festival venue, the city of Faribault's Central Park, I was moved by the display of flags on the main stage. Festival participants from various nations were on hand to say a few words about their national flags and their countries.

Afterwards, these people walked down from the stage, in single file, bearing their flags. They placed these flags in the middle of the open space, where they stood for the duration of the festival.

As they fluttered in the wind, displaying their many colors, these flags were a veritable feast for the eyes.

There were many booths and tables, where vendors sold food, soft drinks, jewelry, perfumes, clothes and other items.

There were music and dance groups from different cultures offering entertainment.

As always happens on these occasions, I saw people I know, but I also met  and had conversations with people I did not know before, such as the ones in the photo on the left. The lady on the right is originally from Ireland, the gentleman in a white shirt is from Somalia, and the lady on the left is from the U.S.A. You can imagine the diversity of experiences and perspectives we brought into our conversation. We took this photo after all three had bought the books they wanted.
I have noted, over the years, that a table or a booth  at events such as the International Faribault Festival is a kind of magnet which attracts people, creating opportunities for conversations. People gather at my table and have discussions with me or among themselves. Since the focus of my work is education and issues concerning the impact and implications of cultural differences, most of the conversations around my table deal with these issues. In the photo on the left, we see the two ladies that featured in the photo above, with a gentleman from Nigeria.

One of the touching moments during these encounters is the signing of books. It is, for me, both an honour and a humbling experience when a customer asks to have her or his book signed.

Equally touching is the moment when a customer poses for a photo with me, proudly displaying the book or books she or he has just bought. Like any writer, I am happy and gratified that my ideas reach an ever growing audience.

I wish to conclude with a word of gratitude to the organizers of the International Faribault Festival, as well as the volunteers, for all the work they did to make this valuable and memorable event possible.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Memories of Afrifest, Minnesota, 2014

Afrifest 2014 took place on August 2, in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, as planned, and I was there. As has been the case in the past, this was an occasion to interact with different people. There was a steady stream of people coming and going. They talked with vendors, saw products on display, and learned about various services.

One of these people was Jeffrey Lunde, the mayor of Brooklyn Park. I was happy to chat with him for a few minutes. I told him I was quite sure I had heard him speak, some years back, at an African event.

Mayor Lunde has a particular interest in Liberia, a country he has visited. It is interesting that he is mayor of a city which hosts the largest number of Liberians in the U.S.A.

As a vendor, I displayed my books and got to interact with different people who came to my table. They asked questions, shared their perspectives, and picked up copies of free publications. Some bought books.

I enjoyed the questions people asked. One question that stands out in my mind was whether
African Americans are Americans. I have been asked this question again and again by African Americans, when they looked at the title of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. My answer has always been that African Americans are Americans, and this is the position I take in my book. I plan to deal with this issue in a future blog post.

As is the case year after year, I met old acquaintances as well as new people. I shared my knowledge, experience, and vision with them and at the same time learned a great deal from them. This alone makes my participation in Afrifest worth all the time and effort.

In the late afternoon, around 5 p.m., the stream of visitors grew noticeably, attracted by an impending soccer match between East Africans and West Africans. I did not stay to watch the match. Still recovering from a long illness, I felt tired and embarked on the journey back to Northfield.