International Festival

By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Professor of Sociology

Photos by Mwizenge S. Tembo

I feel excited in anticipation every last Saturday of September during the brand new fresh fall semester at BC. I have no tests to grade yet since it’s too early in the semester. The suffocating hot humid summer days are over. The crisp cool fall weather is here. I wake up early on Saturday morning to pack my photo display posters, cardboard signs, string, scissors, and colorful table cloths. I drive about ten minutes on Route 42 north toward Harrisonburg. After the Food Lion, I turn left into Hillandale Park. Once I enter the park, there is an explosion of activity.

There are dozens of colorful international flags along the road. There are hundreds of people including students from JMU, EMU, and BC volunteers engaged in a hive of activity including zipping around in golf carts making sure all the festival displays including tents and signs are in place. I already hear the loud music from the main stage which is still about a mile ahead. This was the 14th Annual Harrisonburg International Festival on September 24. I prepared my display booth for the Nkhanga Village library project.

The thrill of the International Festival is the sheer ambience of bright colors of dress, flags, dancers, and crafts. There are thousands of people of different colors, shapes, kids, and people are walking casually smiling and milling around everywhere. I suddenly meet so many friends and people I know and I get to chat with them without feeling rushed. I have the whole afternoon. There are foods from Ethiopia, Mexico, Thailand, Central America, and African-American ethnic cuisines and many others. I take my time to check out the dozen food booths to strategize what I was going to eat both for lunch first and then dinner later in the afternoon.

While I am doing all of this, every hour there are live music and dance performances from various nations including Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and Jamaican Stable Roots Reggae, and Aztec Dancers from Mexico on the main stage. People sit around on the grass with their kids, family, friends, and young lovers. People just hang out.

Every festival has a signature event; the most exciting event that everyone looks forward to. The Harrisonburg International Festival has the Kurdish Dance that is the festival closer. The Kurdish men and women from the local community wearing spectacular bright colored clothing lock hands and dance in a moving semi-circle with the simple rhythmic movement of their shoulders and feet. The music is loud and the audience is free to join.

The International Festival is the closest thing to enjoying dozens of foreign cultures without having to leave Bridgewater to travel to Washington D.C., New York, or Los Angeles, South America, Africa, or Caribbean Islands. If I were you, I would put this on my calendar for next September 2012.

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