Sounds of poetry and African music, scents of ethnic foods, and sights of vibrant colors filled the city of Lancaster on September 30th. The 9th annual African Festival was held in Binns Park and lasted from 2 in the afternoon until 6 that evening.The festival had two fashion shows, live dance performances, poetry, rap, gospel and ended with a flag march of African countries across the stage.
Rafiki Africa, a Christian nonprofit organization, helped organize the festival. Despite having a record turnout this year, according to Rafiki, many people there complained the festival felt empty compared to previous events at Binns Park. Some festival goers blamed it on the cold weather. Throughout the day, temperatures scaled between an actual high of 60 degrees and a low of 50 degrees; making the 30th the second coldest day of the month, according to Accuweather.com
Ron Mukuria, a local college student who volunteered to operate a photobooth at the event, saw people come and go as the festival progressed. His work station, along with other booths, were in a constant state of readjusting due to gusts of frigid wind that blew away costumes, clothes, business cards, and table cloths. “The weather was bad, man. And, it was really cold,” he said.
Mukuria volunteered at the festival along with his two younger brothers who sold homemade clothing from Kenya. His favorite part of the event was meeting different African natives; his own family having migrated from Kenya. “Mingling was the best part,” Mukuria said. “It opens up [people’s’] minds. Also, I liked that I got to try different foods… It was so worth [attending].”
One food vendor, called Awash Ethiopian Cuisine, offered hot stews, rice, simbusa, and other meals of chicken, beef, and lentils. Their best selling items included chicken, beef, and their homemade hot sauce; all of which are inspired by traditional Ethiopian dishes.
When asked about the festival, an Awash employee, shared that while they enjoyed the event, and hope to get a new wave of customers from it; they had expected a higher turnout.
Lancaster resident, Crystal Zook, tries to attend cultural events whenever she has the time. Saturday’s festival was the third she had been to in September. “I’ve always enjoyed learning about other cultures,” she said. “Going to these is a way to learn about people in my community and to value them and their cultures, and, what their culture brings to the overall culture of Lancaster and the U.S.”
Compared to the other festivals she had attended earlier in the month, the Latin American festival and Peace Fest, Zook said the amount of people at the African Festival was considerably lower. The cold weather was to blame in part, she commented, but there also may have been other activities on Saturday that grabbed people’s attention.
The bad weather on September 30th must’ve come as an annoying bit of irony for Rafiki, who previously held these festivals in May but changed the date to September to avoid unpredictable weather.
Sallie Mccann, the Administration and Communications Associate for Rafiki Africa, said that this year’s turnout was the best they’ve had. Although, Mccann agrees that the weather could’ve played a part in the seemingly low turn out some people complained about. Nevertheless, she said, “we were very pleased with how many people showed up.”
Rafiki plans to hold another African Festival next year. Mccann hopes they can schedule it earlier in the month to experience a much warmer festival. Mccann said, “Rafiki’s trying to continue on the trajectory of making [African Festival] bigger, with more people involved, and representing more African nations.”