Festival of Nations

Anyone who knows me well at all could tell you that I have a great fascination for all things non-American. I'm sorry, fellow Americans, but I think that we really missed out on a lot of cool things. Part of the problem is that we're such a young nation. We don't have the ancient, deeply ingrained cultural traditions that most countries seem to. The Indians...oh, excuse me, I must be correct and call them Native Americans...did, but we seemed to have pretty effectually squelched them down. Anyroad, I'm not writing this to complain about living in America. I'm wanting to chronicle my adventures at the Festival of Nations in St. Louis.

The festival ran all day long on both the 28th (Saturday) and the 29th (Sunday). I went with Joe and Charissa the first day, and my folks and I went after church on Sunday. Attending a festival with the Coyles is very different from going with my parents. Joe and Charissa take shortcuts, walking on the grass whenever possible. Going barefoot is totally normal, as is picking up stray hats and water bottles lost by other festival-goers. Hand sanitizer isn't even on the radar screen. My folks stick to the beaten path, try (unsuccessfully) to convince me that I will step on broken glass if I go barefoot, and believe that sanitation is important. I thoroughly enjoyed myself on both days, though my feet are in pretty bad shape after the weekend. I made the mistake of wearing shoes most of the first day. My toes are not used to being cramped in shoes for that long, but I didn't want to remove the shoes and lug them around. The second day I left my footwear in the car, but forgot how much blacktop tears up the bottoms of your feet. Ah well! We live and learn, if our feet don't fall off first.

I have discovered that I love both Ethiopian and Nigerian food. At least, the stuff that was served at the festival. There were many, many food stands with food from lots of different countries. We divided up, each person buying whatever edibles appealed to them, and then we came together for an ethnic food sampling by way of lunch. And oh! The bazaar! Matryoshka dolls from Russia, scarves from India, beads from Africa. Bosnian baskets, Peruvian sweaters and Iranian lacquered boxes, all in one long row of exotic colors and heart-stoppingly high price tags. Thanks goodness for the outrageous prices! If I hadn't been limited, we would have had to add on to the house in order to accommodate all of my wonderful finds. As it was, I came home with only a wrap skirt and a toe ring.

But it was the dancing that was most wonderful. It was amazing to get these little peeks into different cultures through their music, dances, and beautiful costumes. I stood in the full sun for several hours in a mostly fruitless effort to capture with a camera the elusive national spirit that showed through the dancing. Each  country's dances had their own particular rhythm and feel, and a very unique story to tell. I went into a sort of photographic frenzy. Then my camera overheated. At this point, I began to feel terribly small and insignificant. I was most of the time sandwiched between several other photographers who possessed the very latest in photographic equipment. Their cameras showed no signs of overheating. 'Just you wait!' I mentally told them, 'give me another five years and I'll be here, having just come back from shooting National Geographic pictures in Africa or someplace.' Of course, I didn't really believe that, but it made me feel a little less insignificant.

So now I have returned to the U.S.A., eyes full of exotic splendors, the taste of ethnic food on my tongue, and toes still tapping to the beat of African drums.