Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All Night Long

I wouldn’t have known about Africa Day at the Ethiopian Embassy if the Sudanese clerk at my Lebanese dentist hadn’t asked if I was going. She said tickets were available from Mr. Yaqoub at the Cameroon Embassy, so the next day I strolled over. Compared to the American Embassy guarded by tanks, concrete barriers, and layers of armed guards, it was amazing to enter a facility with no protection at all. I walked past the unmanned guardhouse, up the stairs into Mr. Yaqoub’s office, and got my ticket. The formal invitation stated that the African Heads of Mission in Riyadh invited me to the May 25 celebration of Africa Day from 8:30 to 10:30 PM, but the dental clerk told me they danced till dawn.

There were multitudes in attendance from every country in Africa. Little girls wore brightly colored dresses, teenagers were cool in their jeans and baseball caps, and adults proudly showed off their national costumes. My favorite were the Tuareg of north-western Africa with bright blue robes and elaborate turbans. One side of the embassy was lined with stalls where each country sold local crafts from boa skins to homemade jewelry, and the other side boasted the food court. We had to wait for the emirs and ambassadors to give their obligatory speeches before everybody could dive for the food. I thought I might be able to wander around from table to table sampling a little of each country’s specialty, but it didn’t work that way. As soon as I approached the Burkina Faso table the hostess piled my plate with vegetables, meatballs, and a finely ground brown grain. I did have enough room left for some Moroccan couscous and apricot dessert.

At midnight they started tuning the electric guitars, beginning with some traditional dances. In one Sudanese act the performers wore large bull horns. I left about one, when the stage was filled with dancing teenage boys. Perhaps the girls joined later.

To my surprise, I was almost the only white person there. It felt like the time I went to see Jesse Jackson in Augusta , Georgia . When I mentioned this to my Arabic instructor the following day, he merely signed and replied, “Al Afriqiya mansiyan” ( Africa has been forgotten).

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