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World comes together at UNCC International Festival

Amid the traditional dances and people milling about the many flag-draped booths, a UNC Charlotte junior bit into a piece of mana’eesh for the first time.

Michael Daigle nodded in satisfaction as he chewed the Armenian thyme bread. “That’s good,” he said.

Daigle was one of thousands at UNCC’s 38th annual International Festival Saturday, where people of all ages converged to learn about and celebrate many of the world’s cultures.

About 20,000 people attended last year’s festival, and organizers said they expected a similar turnout Saturday.

UNCC staff began the festival in 1975 to promote a new department, the Center for International Studies. At the time in Charlotte, there were few, if any, sizable international groups.

Marian Beane, the festival’s founder and co-chairwoman, said she’s pleased that the event has grown over the decades as Charlotte has also grown and become more diverse.

She said 65 countries were represented at the festival this year.

“It’s almost overload,” Beane said. “It does bring the world together, so to speak, here at Charlotte.”

Attendees bought lucky bamboo plants from Uganda, smelled frankincense harvested from trees in the Sultanate of Oman and browsed dozens of ornate Russian nesting dolls.

People came to eat, too.

The Lebanese tent had a full spread, and people lined up for a cup of Italian ice. The Scandinavians had a cafe and the Greeks sold their traditional fare as well.

Ricky Tolbert, 55, of Charlotte brought two of his middle-school age grandchildren to the festival and said he’s made the festival a family event for the past five years.

“I want my grandkids to understand there’s more to the world than just America,” he said.

At the Moroccan booth, Hamza Butler, a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill, wrote out children’s names in Arabic while Fouzia Manssy sat on a low, rectangular Moroccan sofa.

“We take our couches very seriously,” Butler joked, explaining that most Moroccan homes have the same style recliners.

UNCC freshman Aulia Fauzi worked a booth with her family. She was decked out in Indonesian bridal attire – a full length red and gold dress with a tall gold headdress.

Fauzi said she enjoyed sharing her culture with others.

“It’s helped me learn more about myself,” she said. “It’s important – people should know where they come from.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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