International Festival

A few Saturdays ago, my husband and I were hanging out in our pajamas and looking through a local radio station’s list of local weekend events. “Oktoberfest with…” I giggled “wiener dog races.” Scrolling with my thumb, I looked over the list. “International Food and Music Festival!” I poked my husband “And it’s free!” After finishing up my blog post (“Sweet Baked Chicken” in case you were wondering) we threw on some clothes and headed out.

“Where are we?” I asked about half an hour later.

“Eastern Wake county” It felt like the middle of nowhere compared to our urban home. I began to feel trepidatious. Would a tiny town in the middle of nowhere have a good international festival, or would Wendell, NC disappoint us by presenting only a handful of stalls?

As we reached the main stretch of town, we knew we were in the right place. Cars lined the street and several hundred (if not a few thousand) people were gathered in the town square. After driving around for a few minutes we found street parking less than a 5 minute walk from the festival.

Live music was being played on the left and a temporary rock wall, inflatable bouncy castle, and various other carnival games were spread out to the right, with about a dozen food stalls in the middle. Each stall represented a different country. Honduras, El Salvador, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Ireland, Poland, the Philippines, and Louisiana were all represented. We walked from stall to stall, practically drooling, and tried to decide where to eat.

“Let’s just get it all.” My husband suggested. Instead of paying with cash, tickets were purchased at the entrance and food cost anywhere from 1 to 8 tickets. Pulling out a $20 bill, my husband bought 20 tickets and we headed back to the food stalls.

“Where do you want to go first?”

“Hmm…” I thought for a moment, overwhelmed by my options. “The Philippines” I decided. So we headed to the Filipino booth for some barbeque chicken.

“Three tickets please” The attendant said, and we dropped 3 tickets into a bright red box. She handed us a shish kabob with mouth-wateringly delicious looking chicken skewered on it. We moved into the shade, because despite being mid-September it was probably creeping up towards 90F and the sun was beating down on us. The chicken was heavenly. We devoured it in record time, and moved on to the next stall.

Our next stop was Poland for vegetarian pierogi, followed by plantains from Honduras, and veggie tamales from Guatemala. The sun was still beating down, so we went over to the boy scout’s tent for a bottle of water. A polite young man gave us an icy cold bottle of water for 2 tickets. We took turns gulping it down before returning to the food. After getting chicken and rice from the Dominican Republic, we decided it was time for dessert, so we picked up some Irish cream fudge from Ireland.

Standing in the shade near the Irish booth, devouring our fudge, I wondered aloud “Why isn’t there an Indian booth? There’s a huge South Asian population in this area.” Then it hit me: “Theses are all Catholic countries”

“What? No.” My husband countered.

“Yeah, yeah they are! Latin America, Poland, Ireland….”

“What about the Philippines?”

“I think they’re Christian too!” (They are, I looked it up.) “And I guess Louisiana too…” I looked at the map of the festival the smiling middle-aged woman at the entrance had given us. It said “Saint Eugene Catholic Church presents their 15th Annual International Food & Music Festival.”

“Perhaps the booths are run by church members” my husband suggested.

“Maybe so….”

 

Having spent the last of our tickets, we headed back to the car. We drove away from little Wendell, NC with full bellies, and discussions about how far Catholicism has spread, and different the cultures it has touched are. Even only including Catholic countries, this international festival incorporated so much diversity in culture and food. It was an interesting lens through which to see the international community in our area.

Did you enjoy this post?  What are your experiences with international festivals in your area?  What are your thoughts on the spread of Catholicism?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Photo creds:

Downtown Wendell: http://www.fabriciuslaw.com/photos/downtown-wendell-nc

Food festival photo: http://www.thefoodfestival.com

How I fell In Love with Traveling

My family doesn’t have a lot of money. When I was a kid our family vacations were a long weekend away to the beach or mountains, not more than 4 or 5 hours from home. At 12 years old I had visited 4 states (including the one I lived in) and had never been on a plane. I had no idea that that year I would been given a life-changing opportunity.

I grew up in a small town in central North Carolina. My parents grew up in central North Carolina, and so did their parents. This is how things are in small town, USA: people don’t really leave. When I was 10, I moved from the small town I grew up in (that my dad grew up in, and his parents, and their parents…) to the middle of nowhere about 20 minutes away. We didn’t even leave the county. Neither of my parents had been abroad (now my dad has visited Mexico once on a day trip, before passports were required for US citizens) and my grandfather was stationed in Guam with the Army Air Corps in WWII, but that about sums up international travel in my family. Basically, we are small-town folks.

One day, when I was in 7th grade, I got a letter in the mail. I had been offered an opportunity to be a student ambassador with the People to People program, founded by President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1956. The program I was invited to participate in took 12-14 year-olds to England, Ireland, and Wales for 20 days over the summer. My parents were ecstatic. After a brief (and terrifying; I have suffered from social anxiety for a long time) interview process I was accepted into the program.

Over the course of about 9 months, I attended monthly meetings with the other kids participating in the program, and our parents, of course. We learned about cultural differences, what we would get to experience in the program, etc. We were also encouraged to fundraise–while the program was government-run it was not free. I did my best, but begging for money has never been something I’m good at, so my parents ended up taking on most of the cost (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

In June after 7th grade, I packed my bags and my parents drove me to the airport. Security was pretty tight as this was only a few years after 9/11, so we said goodbye outside of security. And I was on my way to another continent with 4 adults and about 20 other kids, none of whom I really knew.

After an overnight flight that I was way too excited to sleep on, we landed around 7-8am GMT and hit the ground running. The whole first day was spent sightseeing, with no time to rest. Despite not drinking coffee, I was wide awake all day. Everything was so similar to life at home in North Carolina, but so different. At times I’d forget I was on another continent, then I’d see another castle (we just don’t have those in the US) or a building twice as old as my homeland. Obviously everyone in England speaks English, so that wasn’t a barrier, but there are diffences nonetheless.

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While I did get more sleep than the first day, the rest of the trip was just as fast-paced and exciting as the first. We spent the first few days in England, the next few in Wales, a week in Ireland, then reversed: back to Wales, and to England again. It was a whirlwind. I think I called my parents once (this was before smart phones!). I had found the thing I loved more than anything else. And about 11 years later I still haven’t found anything that tops traveling in my book.

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The UK wowed me with castles and culture, Ireland blew me away with endless green scenery (and more castles), but my favorite part of my trip were the last few days, which were spent in London. I had never been to a city even close to that size, and the fast pace, the culture, the diversity of a big city thrilled me. We saw the tower of London, Big Ben, rode the London Eye, took in a show, but the best part was just absorbing everything. Even in July the rain made it chilly enough everyone stopped for hot drinks midday (okay, mine was hot chocolate, I still don’t like coffee or tea). I loved just watching everyday people going about their everyday lives, whose lives were different than mine.

I still love it. After that trip, I decided I was going to move to Ireland one day. And while my dreams have gotten less specific, I still plan to live abroad. Maybe it will be Ireland, maybe it will be Stokholm, or Lucknow, or Rio de Janeiro. Maybe it will be all of those places and more. I’ll let you know when I get there.

What made you fall in love with traveling? Tell me about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this.