Obviously, camel rides are a big draw. But the big reason for Arab Fest is to introduce area residents to the culture, traditions, music, dance, and food found in the 22 countries that make up the Arab world.
The fifth annual free festival will get under way Saturday, June 1, at noon and be open until 10 p.m. at Headwaters Park West. Hours on Sunday, June 2, are noon to 6 p.m.
Make Every Day Hump Day
But first, take a tour around the park on Cash the dromedary — that’s a one-hump camel. Rides on the “ship of the desert” are $5. Along with the memory of the ride, visitors will be able to cross riding a camel off their bucket list. Festival attendees should take advantage of the opportunity while it exists because a camel won’t be seen in the Summit City — not even at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo — until June 2020 when Arab Fest returns.
Visitors to the event will be surprised to learn that Cash’s roots can be traced back to North America rather than the Middle East. Those riders who wish to stay in touch with the tall, furry beast can contact him at Hoosier Camel Encounter in Huntington where he resides with five other camels, a llama, a buffalo, and a couple ring-tail lemurs.
Traditional foods and sweets for the two-day event will be served in the Rothschild Pavilion in the park which will be surrounded by flags of each Arab country. You’ll be able to enjoy hot falafel, beef kafta, chicken kabab, and pita sandwiches served with rice, hummus, and salad, and finish it off with baklava. Back for the second year will be a special food tent preparing zaatar chips.
Dance, comedy, and vendors
The pavilion will also be the center for music and dancing entertainment throughout the festival. The Mawtini Debkeh Troupe, a Michigan-based folk dancing troupe, will be performing traditional dances both days in colorful Arab costumes. Guests will be invited to participate in the dances, which are similar to line dancing.
Divan Al-Han Band from Chicago will provide live Middle Eastern classical and folk music Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Homestead High School graduate and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis student Mohamad Abbasi will present his special brand of stand-up comedy Saturday at 3 and 6 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. This year marks his third appearance at the festival.
Recorded Arab music will be played throughout the two days by Detroit disk jockey Al-Jaboli.
The popular souq (large market tent) will feature a variety of vendors selling international kinck-knacks, home decorating items, scented candles, artwork, jewelry, scarves, cards, paintings, soups, spices, breads, dates, baklava, olive oil, exotic coffees, and teas and honey. Visitors will again be able to get an artistic Henna hand painting and have their futures revealed in the coffee-grounds readings. The proceeds from the readings go to support an orphanage in Homs, Syria.
Not-for-profit organizations Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, Fort Wayne for Refugees, and International Fort Wayne will have booths in the souq to distribute information on the plight of refugees around the world.
Purdue Fort Wayne students studying the Arabic language will also be in the souq to write out free souvenir name cards for visitors.
At sundown Saturday (around 9 p.m.) the call to prayer will be made for members of the Muslim faith to observe the breaking of the fast of the holy month of Ramadan.
Savor Arab Culture
Assem Nasr, a member of the festival planning committee, says “it’s wonderful to see the welcoming atmosphere that Arab Fest enjoys as the event grows and its patronage increases. The festival is a great place to engage with the rich, diverse Arab cultures and savor their traditions, art, music, and food.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “a lot of our heritage is overlooked because of misconceptions that create monochromatic depictions relating to religion, war, and politics. Our hope is that the festival will counter those stereotypes and focus on the quintessential elements of the array of communities in the Arab world. Our language, art, entertainment, fun traditions, celebrations, pride in hospitality, and global influence through history will be on display these two days.”
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