By Jelter Meers
On June 21st, the Future Worlds Center, together with the UNHCR Country Office in Cyprus and the ‘Cyprus Aware’ campaign, held the fourth annual World Refugee Day Street Festival at Faneromeni Square in Old Nicosia.
Besides poetry and book readings, arts and crafts stands, live music, children’s activities and dancing, attendants could enjoy different cuisines from around the world.
“The Festival honors the contributions of refugees to the host society, raises awareness on refugee issues, and strengthens solidarity between the Cypriot and refugee communities in Cyprus,” read the announcement.
At the festival, refugee communities presented traditional foods, which is an important part of their cultural identity.
“Making food is something we are raised with,” said Ayman Fauna, whose stand displayed various Lebanese specialties like spinach and meat pie with Tabbouleh. “It is passed on through our family. When there is an event, the family will make a lot of food, share it with others and come together. It is a part of our identity.”
Around 6:00, DJ Claudio started playing afrobeat, jazz and funk from Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali and Ethiopia. Romaan Omar started moving to the beats of Fela Kuti in front of her friend’s stand with traditional Somali food.
It had taken Fatima Abu Baker about two hours to prepare the Somali dishes.
“Somali food is complicated,” said Baker laughing. “We use rice, meat, macaronia, chicken, anjela, samousa, salad, chapatti, and much more!”
“We feel proud and happy,” said Omar. “Many people from different countries will be here so we are proud to present our food. This means our country. This means Somalia.”
Abdullah, a friend of Baker and Omar, is a young man who came to Cyprus from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. He is excited about the food tonight.
“I miss Somali food,” Abdullah said. “I also like Cypriot food like souvlaki,” he said with a smile. “But in Somalia, we add more ingredients, that’s the big difference.”
When asked if he helped his friends prepare the food, Abdullah said he only helped them carry.
“I just came to bring the food with them,” he said. “I didn’t cook anything, I wouldn’t know how to!”
Baker had prepared dishes with rice, a spicy sauce, chicken, and different pastries stuffed with cheese and olives.
Both the rice and chicken had various herbs, spices and special sauces. Baker was confident about the food she had made: “It’s perfect, just taste it!”
Firas Abbas’ stand featured food from Palestine and Syria. “We have Kadaifi, traditional Syrian sweets from Damascus, salad, and falafel,” he said.
The falafel wraps were so popular, they were sold out before the end of the festival.
Firas knows how to treat his customers and will add extra sauce on the wraps after every bite. When Ayman Fauna’s little girl came to ask for one of the Syrian delicacies, he refused her money.
“Many people have come to try our food,” he said. “A lot of them say they love it.”
“He is the king of falafel,” his wife Maysoon said.
The Ethiopian flatbread injera dishes made by Tenegne Terefe Mezigebu were also very popular. They featured lentils, vegetables, and minced meat in a spicy sauce.
“Everybody really likes the food and many people already know about it,” Mezigebu said. “This food is a big part of our culture. You cannot find it anywhere else in the world because the plants only grow in Ethiopia. At our homes, we eat from one big plate with one pancake. We add the sauce and share everything with family and friends.”
Nicosian Ioanna Katsounari, who used to work for the Future Worlds Center, ordered a plate to take home. “I have eaten Tenegne’s food many times,” she said. “It’s so nice and we are good friends.”
Someone else happy to reunite with friends was Savane Aminata. She is a refugee from the Ivory Coast and came to Cyprus in 2013. She was enjoying the fried plantain made by Alliance Totoro from Congo.
“It’s really nice to see everybody again,” Aminata said. “We come here every year.”
She thinks food is an important part of her identity and looked forward to seeing the crowd dance later that night.
“Food is very important,” she said. “I always cook food from home, even if it is expensive. Last year we danced a lot, maybe later tonight we will dance again.”
At her stand Alliance Totoro also featured arts and crafts besides fried plantain, fish and fufu cakes.
“At home, we eat lots of vegetables and we eat lot of cow,” Totoro said laughing. “My grandpa would say, “We will eat the whole cow, eat everything from it!” That’s the way we respect it. But for the festival I will make things that everybody can eat and they can take with them easily.”
Around 8:00 Laeticia, who came to Cyprus from Cameroon, started singing in French. A crowd gathered and clapped in the rhythm. After Laeticia finished singing, the crowd stayed and started dancing.
“This is a Somali song!” Yelled Romaan Omar and she showed everybody how people dance in Somalia. NGO workers, locals, refugees and migrants all danced together in a big circle.
On the steps of Faneromeni square, many onlookers were flirting with the idea of joining the group. As it got darker, more of them did.
Later in the night, the music switched to modern Middle Eastern hits. The crowd was shown how to dance Dabke, an Arab folk dance where people hold hands and dance in a circle.
It was until late into the night that everybody kept dancing and mingling.
“Every year it is a lot of work,” said Fatema Islam of the Future Worlds Center. “But when you see everybody smiling and coming together you know it was worth it.”