Saturday June 10, 2023

Asian Festival: extraordinary feeling of native taste abroad

Published : 10 Jul 2019, 21:07

Updated : 12 Jul 2019, 11:14

  By Shudipta Sultana
Photo Jahangir Ahmed.

The Asian festival was held in Sofia, Bulgaria in mid June for the third consecutive year.

A total of 16 Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Palestine, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, State of Kuwait, Thailand and Vietnam) had the opportunity to showcase their culture and lifestyle to the visitors.

This year we had the opportunity to participate in the event along with our own stall in cooperation with the Bangladesh embassy, which allowed us to introduce our culture to other nations attending the festival.

Photo Jahangir Ahmed.I was extremely sceptical about our participation in the festival at the initial stage as everybody in Bulgaria does not belong the open mentality to accept different cultures. I thought people would not be interested to our stall. I thought people will consider us as just another Indian booth, or a south Asian country like Pakistan without bothering to read the label which clearly says BANGLADESH.

I was also confused about whether we would be successful. We showcased Bangladeshi food in our stall for sell, which also made me worried, if the visitors would like it.

Overall, I was extremely pessimistic. I tried not to expect much in order to not be disappointed. I kept telling myself that as long as we have fun, it doesn’t really matter how others see us, it doesn’t matter if we are rejected.

But the real scenario was different and I can’t explain how happy I felt when I knew that all the food of our stall had been sold out within first couple of hours. We got very positive feedback.

There were so many people that were genuinely interested in our culture; in the stall there were a couple of books – a photo album revealing the breath-taking natural sights of Bangladesh, a small pocket-sized book retelling our history, an encyclopaedia type of book that contained general information about our small country, and passers-by would stay at our stall to read a small part of the books, to look at the photos or just ask us questions. Many of them wanted to buy the books. What’s more, after our performance there were people who especially came to us to express their joy of watching it. The media was also interested in us – some of us even got interviewed.

Out of all of us I believe the youngest of our community were the most enthusiastic. When you grow up like we do – in a country that is so different from our homeland, it is inevitably that you feel a bit disconnected from your own roots. But we have our parents to thank for always reminding us where we come from, for always making us feel included in a culture that sometimes feels distant. So, it was incredibly heart-warming to see the younger generation walking around the park where the festival was held, handing out leaflets, answering questions about Bangladesh, making other people feel included in our small circle.

And all of it made me feel very happy. In Bulgaria there is a very small community of Bengali people – it’s just us. I don’t think it’s hard to understand my anxiety about this festival. The food, the music, the dancing, the clothes – all of it, yes, is part of Bangladesh, but it also part of my childhood, my life now. No matter how many years we live in Bulgaria, whether we were born here, or have a Bulgarian citizenship – we are still Bengali. There will be always a deeper understanding between us in this small community, because no matter what we are still foreigners. We have created this small bubble, where we can preserve our culture in a country that is so far away from our homeland.

So, I was worried about sharing such an important part of my life with so many strangers. It’s not just about letting people taste different kinds of food or about showing off our clothes, it’s about showing our authentic selves to others. In times like these where racism and xenophobia are on the rise, it’s nice to have festivals such as this one. They serve as a reminder that despite all the hate that is surrounding us, there is also a lot of love and curiosity for the different cultures. It is possible to live despite our differences; what’s more is that when we learn to embrace what makes other people different, that is the moment where we can enjoy fully what life has to offer.