Exotic delicacies. Unique performances. Conversation in unfamiliar tongues. At one point, these fantastic experiences only came from global excursions or travels to foreign lands. For Mobilians, though, the thrill of cultural immersion around the globe no longer depends on expensive airline tickets and complicated itineraries.
On Saturday, Nov. 22, the Mobile International Festival will bring the enrichment of global cultures to the Mobile Civic Center for all to enjoy.
A tradition more than three decades old, the Mobile International Festival began as a means to help schoolchildren experience and understand various cultures. The festival hopes to encourage racial tolerance and an appreciation of the vast diversity across Mobile.
“Mobile being a port city, being such an international city, we have far more than 70 countries represented, just living in the Mobile area. [The children] get to meet people from other countries, they see the native dress, they (hear) the languages, and it teaches them diversity and social acceptance of someone who looks different from them,” Bobbie Bayne, executive director of the Mobile International Festival, said.
This year’s theme, “Let the Games Begin,” promotes deeper interactions between Festival members and visitors. Particularly, the idea behind the theme – sharing different games and ways families play in foreign countries – plans to engage participants in a more comfortable manner.
Not only does this year’s theme lend itself easily to meaningful interactions, but it also nicely complements a core value of the festival. In 2012, Festival members added the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) component to the event.
This year, the theme incorporates STEM by using the idea of geocaching to present a puzzle for students to complete by visiting all the booths throughout the festival. Rather than using GPS systems like with traditional geocaching scavenger hunts, participants must interact with festival members to find their answers to the puzzle.
One of the most anticipated features of the festival, the facet most festivalgoers remember for years afterward, may be the global foods distributed from many of the exhibits. Authentic cuisine from countries such as Indonesia, Japan, France and Tunisia promise to impress visitors throughout the week.
Bayne’s determination to present truly indigenous foods for the public highlight her dedication to a truly authentic cultural immersion experience.
“All the food must be ethnic and indigenous to that country. For example, I don’t allow French fries of any type or any description to be served. A child can go to any fast food place in town and get French fries. They must serve food that is indigenous to their country. It teaches people that there’s more out there than the Taco Bell,” Bayne explained.
For added fun, visitors receive passports when they enter the event and are encouraged to collect as many stamps from as many countries as possible. Bayne says the children aren’t the only ones excitedly collecting stamps – adults often find the activity entertaining, as well.
Bayne has worked with the Mobile International Festival for 29 years. As someone involved with the festival nearly since its inception, Bayne has watched the event grow and evolve for years and has been an integral part of that change.
“When we first started, most of the booths were travel posters with tourist information, things like that. For about 20 years now, we’ve had a different theme every year. Our members go along with that theme to make it different every year. You’ll see some of the same things, but with the theme, it gives that newness of life to it,” Bayne said.
Thursday, Nov. 20 and Friday, Nov. 21, will be open only to student groups, while the exhibits will be open to the general public Saturday, Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Price of entry is free for children under six years old, $5 for children and teenagers age 7 through 15, $9 for seniors over 65 and $11 for adults.
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