Africa – Full of Promise

On the 9thof August, I attended Go Eat Give’s Destination West Africa at the Clarkson Community Centre. It was quite a mind blowing experience even for me, having roots in East Africa. I realized just how culturally diverse the African continent is and the special attributes of different regions that set us apart in a special way. Unfortunately, I haven’t travelled vastly in the continent of Africa, but this event definitely piqued my interest to explore West Africa in the future.

The guests arrived in large numbers and dressed for the occasion. The ensembles were quite impressive and most people went out of their way to showcase African fashion with glamour and poise. I interacted with a lot of people who had visited different African countries and some of them even spoke my mother tongue, Swahili.

Conun Drums, an Atlanta based all women’s group opened the event with a spectacular percussion performance of West African rhythms. They engaged with the crowd and had everybody singing and dancing along. The group of four women and two little girls was clad in colourful African attire, embellished with vibrant print and patterns. Needless to say, they have mastered the art of playing drums.

conondrums

Owokoniran Taiwo, a renowned Nigerian musician based in Atlanta, who has been performing for over 30 years entertained the guests with some African tunes. His band is very popular among the Nigerian community and has been known to perform in different events, festivals and weddings. He sang and played the keyboard beautifully. He was accompanied by a skilful drummer. I was surprised to hear him play a popular Swahili song titled Malaika, which means Angel, with such great ease. He sang it like a native. The other Nigerian tunes he sang were very soothing and made me quite homesick. I thought to myself how my father would have enjoyed Owokoniran’s genre of music.

The keynote speakers made great speeches with strong conviction. I was especially moved by the Honorary Consulate of Mali Vince Farley’s and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US Geoffrey I. Teneilabe’s speeches. They emphasized on the social and economic potential in Africa at the moment and how sustainable trade and tourism will contribute to the growth of the continent. They applauded Go Eat Give’s efforts at promoting cultural awareness and community service with their programs and Teneilabe called for more trips to West Africa in the near future. In the recent past, all that was heard from West Africa was the Ebola Crisis and this negatively affected the region. Teneilabe was keen on reminding the guests that the crisis has been dealt with in the region and Ebola is no longer a threat, which I am sure was a great relief to many.

vince farley

Their speeches resonated with me because they told a positive story of Africa. I have had the opportunity to travel around the world, and I have seen how the danger of a single story can have adverse effects in a society. Most people I have interacted with during my travels have usually had an unfavourable perspective of Africa, thanks to the media. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to always tell of the other positive stories that exist in my beloved continent whenever I get the chance. Also, most people group the continent into one entity, which is entirely false. We have thousands of diverse tribes, languages and cultures. I was happy to see Mr Vince Farley hang a map of Africa during his speech and pointed to different countries where he has visited and worked. It was very educational. He has served as the deputy ambassador in the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, South Korea, and Yugoslavia.

ambassador of nigeria Geoffrey I. Teneilabe

After the keynote speech the guests lined up to serve the delicious mouth-watering dishes prepared by Chef Okon James from Nations Café restaurants. I was eagerly anticipating the food because it was my first time to sample West African cuisine, and I must say I was quite impressed. My favourite dishes were fried plantain and Jollof rice, a popular fried rice dish in West African countries especially Nigeria and Ghana. Every dish was rich in flavour. I also tried Banku, a popular Ghanaian dish consisting of fermented corn and cassava dough mixed into a paste. Its acidic taste went well with the fried tilapia topped with bell peppers.

Other dishes included Chichinaga (meat Kebab), Vegetable Samosas, Puff Puff (an African snack similar to a doughnut), Ugba (fermented African oilbean seeds), Mafe (tender beef in peanut sauce), Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast, Fried Tilapia, Moi Moi (steamed bean pudding), and Red Red (black eyed peas cooked in palm oil). The dishes vary significantly from what we eat in East Africa. However, I was more than happy to indulge.

After dinner, we enjoyed a Manga African Dance performance by Ramatu Afegbua and her team of agile dancers. They moved the crowd with their ethnic sounds and body movements. Manga is actually a registered non-profit organization founded in 1990 by Ramatu with a mission to teach and preserve indigenous African cultural arts through dance, drums, songs and more. This was my most favourite performance of the day. They executed the true African spirit through dance and music.

manga dance

To close off the event, Sucheta Rawal made some closing remarks, thanking everybody for their role and participation to make the event a success. I extremely enjoyed myself and was honoured to be a part of such a great cause. I believe a lot of people left Destination West Africa having gained so much more knowledge, understanding and appreciation for West Africa, and more importantly, Go Eat Give’s mission.

~ By Christine Okwaro, event planning and fundraising intern at Go Eat Give. Christine grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and has lived in China and Switzerland. Her personal blog is www.thetravellers.de

Going Beyond Bangkok at Destination Thailand

Go Eat Give’s October event, Destination Thailand, allowed me to experience Thailand in a multi –dimensional way that I hadn’t been exposed to. Before Destination Thailand, my knowledge about the Southeast Asian country was slim, as the closest cultural thing I knew about Thailand was the pad thai that I would order during cramming for midterms and finals during college.

Before the event commenced at the Thai restaurant, Zen on Ten, I met guests who were excited about the event as they were preparing their first trips to Thailand. They then got the chance to meet with other guests, members of the Thai Association of Georgia, who shared their travel recommendations of the best places to visit in their homeland.

The owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing laid out a buffet which included some of the best Thai cuisine with vegetarian som-tum ( a spicy green papaya salad), fried wonton, crispy vegetable rolls, panang curry with beef, massaman curry with chicken, vegetarian pad thai, thai fried rice, and steamed rice. The food was the prefect combination of sweet and spicy, typical of Thai cuisine. Once all the guests had their food, the show began.

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Owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing (red shirt), helps unveil the Thai buffet for the evening
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Guests help themselves to the Thai buffet

Auraree Montroy and Vivian Sihachack, dance instructors from the Thai Association of Georgia, performed a traditional Thai dance, Thepbantheong (Angels Delight). The dance is performed as a welcoming gesture and expresses blessing for honored guests, which were our entire guest of the evening. The dancers were adorned in traditional Thai clothes of bright silk patterns and gold jewelry, which moved elegantly as they dance barefoot with their delicate hand movements.

After the dance performance, the master of ceremonies, King Tantivejkul, Chairman of the Thai Association of Georgia, gave the audience a lesson in Thai. We learned a few Thai words including the most important Thai word, sawasdee, which is used a greeting or farewell. Saying sawasdee, is accompanied by the wai, similar to the Indian namaste, and which is done with a slight bow and the hands pressed together like in prayer, and a smile. Our Thai guests performed this gesture many times through the night, which is symbolic of respect. King also told us that pad thai was influenced by Chinese culture and didn’t become popular in Thailand until World War II. I was surprised that the most popular cuisine in Thailand was less than 70 years old!

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Divya and I salute the wai with the dancers from the Thai Association of Georgia
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Head-to-toe view of our dancers in traditional Thai clothing: bright silks adorned with gold jewelry

After Mr. Tantivejkul lesson, our keynote speaker, Dr. Sutham Cobkit, professor of Criminal Justice at Kennesaw State University, took the audience to Thailand with his speech, “BKK is Far Beyond the Capital of Thailand”, which was as informative as it was funny. Dr. Cobkit, highlighted that BKK to him, meant far more than the airport code of Bangkok. For him, BKK symbolizes Thai culture with the acronym, Buddhism.Kingdom.King. Dr. Cobkit spoke of the importance of Buddhism in Thai culture, which has influenced the positive and respectful attitude among the Thai. Dr. Cobkit continued that although Westerners may see bowing to someone as a submissive act, it is quite the opposite and represents love and respect. Dr. Cobkit shared his own experience being a monk in Thailand, with photos of him bald during his month long career as a monk. I didn’t know much about monks, so I found this part of his speech interesting as he shared how monks beg for food, as they are not allowed to cook.

For Kingdom, Cobkit spoke about Thai history. Thailand used to be the Siam Kingdom and was the only country in Southeast Asia that hadn’t been colonized. The Thai people are very proud of their history and how they resisted colonization. The pride of their kingdom also extends to the second K, for King. The king of Thailand, Rama IX is the longest ruling king in the world. I learned from Dr. Cobkit’s speech that the Thai people revere him as he is unlike any other king. During his reign, he as worked alongside farmers extensively throughout the country on public development works and through the pictures of him in the presentation, it was hard for me to distinguish him as the king from the other Thai people. It was remarkable to see a king act so humble.

Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech
Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech

At Destination Thailand, I learned about the rich culture in Thailand and what makes the Thai people proud of their heritage. It was a beautiful to witness many Thai people coming together at Destination Thailand to teach others about their culture and offer a glimpse of their homeland.

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Sucheta and Kelly with members of the Thai Association of Georgia