Pahela Baishakh: Happy Bengali New Year!

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On Thursday, April 12, 2018, contributing writer, Moraima Bambaren, joins young professionals at the Embassy of Bangladesh for a ThingstodoDC Culture event that celebrates Pahela Baishakh, the traditional New Year day of the Bengali people. 

I was lucky enough to attend Pahela Baishakh, the traditional New Year Festival of Bangladesh, held at Embassy of Bangladesh (3510 International Dr NW, Washington, DC 20008). As part of my New Year’s resolution to take full advantage of all the cultural events DC has to offer, I knew the Embassy of Bangladesh would be a great start!

I learned so much about the culture and  even learned how to say Happy New Year or Shubho Nabobarsho!

This year’s Pahela Baishakh will be celebrated on April 14 in Bangladesh and on April 15th in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. The festival is traditionally celebrated with processions, fairs and family time. In fact, Mangal Shovajatra, a mass procession that begins at dawn on the first day of the Bengali New Year, was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2016. In lieu of a procession, the embassy gifted attendees with several performances that celebrated the rich tradition of Bengali music and dance. Beautifully dressed women and girls took over the main stage after the ambassador’s greeting to the guests, giving way to other artists who sang and performed for the delighted crowd.

balloons
Photos Courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

This year, Pahela Baishakh was celebrated on April 14th in Bangladesh, and on April 15th in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. The festival is traditionally celebrated with processions, fairs and family time. In fact, Mangal Shovajatra, a mass procession that begins at dawn on the first day of the Bengali New Year, was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2016. In lieu of a procession, the embassy gifted us with several performances that celebrated the rich tradition of Bengali music and dance.

bangladesh outfit
Photos Courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

For those of us who are unfamiliar with Bangladesh, here is a course on history 101: Located in South Asia and bordering with India and Myanmar, Bangladesh formed part of British India up until the partition in 1947. It then became a province of Pakistan and eventually became an independent nation in 1971. Their culture is immensely rich due to its long history in the region and enthusiasts can find influences of Islam, Hindusim, Buddhism and Christianity in their music, dance, art and craft, language and festivals.

dance
Photos Courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

Women, men and children were dressed in magnificent, colorful garments: men wearing smart dhoti kurta, women and girls in bright saris; I apparently missed the memo and wore a simple blue jumpsuit from J. Crew. After the ambassador’s greetings to the guests, several artists took over the main stage and performed traditional dances and songs for the delighted crowd.

garments
Photos Courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

As you can see above everything was just colorful. The clothing, children’s arts and crafts and  decoration was vibrant. After the dancing and music ended, it was time to eat. The culinary fare of Bangladesh has similarities to North-East Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. On Pahela Baishakh,  Bengali natives enjoyed festive foods that include panta bhat (watered rice), and Hilsha dishes – Hilsha is the national fish of Bangladesh and is incredibly popular in South Asia.

I have to confess  I don’t normally like spicy food and the few times I have been to restaurants  that served South Asian or Middle Eastern food, I ended up eating the naan, which in my opinion is one of the best breads out there. But because of the few libations I had at the open bar, I knew I had to eat something and the food smelled delicious! And I’m so glad I did! I ate  slightly spicy rice, baked eggplants and fish. Other guests savored the food as you can see below. Plates were packed with food!

In addition, I was also lucky  to meet  Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin, who emphasized in his speech towards the packed crowd, how the rapid growth of Bangladesh in the international political and economic sector.

ambassador
Pictures Courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

It was definitely a happy celebration and now that spring is (almost) here, I look forward to exploring the world by attending and writing about more embassy events in the comfort of my new home city: Washington D.C.

Love to wanderlust? Ever want to step onto foreign soil for a night? Join ThingstodoDC Cultural Society to get a remarkable privilege of visiting various Embassies throughout the District.

About Things To Do DC

Things To Do® is the premiere organization for young professionals to socialize and network.  With a membership of over 175,000, we produce a wide variety of original, interactive social, educational and cultural events that enrich your social and cultural experiences.

Dancing the Night Away at the Peruvian Embassy in DC

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On Wednesday,  April 25, contributing writer, Moraima Bambaren, joins young professionals at the Embassy of Peru for a ThingstodoDC Culture event that delivers the thrill of Machu Pichu and the majesty of Lima.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”, and it is through pictures that those who are  dis-empowered and marginalized are given a voice said Andres Longui, a Peruvian artist. He  has been a long-time advocate of sharing camera operative knowledge and use for years. Longui has provided cameras and technical instruction to children and adults in rural communities in Peru so they could document and share with the world their experiences.

The result, a collection titled “Ojos Propios” (Translated: Through their Eyes) can be seen at the Peruvian Embassy in DC.

peru1
Pictures Courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

Thingstodo.DC and the Peruvian Embassy hosted a cultural Evening at the Embassy of Peru and as a fellow Peruvian, I was eager to set foot on Peruvian soil. Attendees enjoyed a night of diplomacy, art, music, dance ensembles, and of course, Peruvian cuisine.

In 2017, Peru was named the “World’s Leading Culinary Destination” for the sixth year in a row by the World Travel Awards. Therefore, I cannot be labelled as biased when I say that Peruvian food is the best in the world.

The Embassy of Peru, located by Dupont Circle, situated in the Embassy Row Homes, regularly hosts cultural events. I do have to admit that Peruvians do know how to throw a party.

Doors opened at 7:00 pm and once again, I breezed through DC traffic by using Lyft line and arrived on time. Guests were warmly welcomed by the Cultural Events Secretary of Peru, who also asked us to tour the embassy and visit the Ojos Propios. exhibition.

William Gentile, a professor at American University and a visual journalist, said Ordinary citizens of the world now hold extraordinary power thanks to photography. Peruvians aged between 9 to 59 years old were given tools to record their everyday life. The results were breathtaking. Last year, Peru suffered some of the worst flooding in recent decades due to the sudden warming of the Pacific Ocean. I previously volunteered and worked for a disaster relief program that mitigated this situation and helped communities affected by the flood.

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Pictures courtesy of Nandor Nagy 

Pictures that captured this tragic event showed Peruvian citizens endurance during rough times and the strength behind a family bond.

Meanwhile, dinner was being served. The menu included: beef empanadas; Lomo Saltado (a stir-fry of  beef sirloin, tomatoes, onions, served with french fries and rice), Aji de Gallina (shredded chicken in spicy sauce); and Dulce De Leche Churros closed the meal as a sweet conclusion. A wide selection of Peruvian wine also accompanied dinner. Guests also had the great opportunity to try Pisco Sour, the country’s national cocktail.

After the glorious feast, event organizers gathered  guests in the main lobby. The Cultural Events Secretary gave a brief speech on the country’s cultural diversity. Diversity influenced Peru’s cuisine, music, and the arts (especially with dance).

And that is when the party really began. Performers dressed in colorful costumes erupted the dance floor with dances from the Andes and the coast of Peru.

Attendees were loving it and clapped along as the dancers engaged into a rendition of the Huaylash, which in Quechua (a spoken language from Peru) means “Youth,”. Huaylash is a dance about and a males pursuit for the females’ attention.  The male dancer demonstrated his youthful energy and strength while,  obviously, the beautiful woman was not very impressed by her suitor.

After the wonderful performances, guests snapped photos with the dancers. If you asked nicely, you could even pose with one of their fantastic hats.

The party ended way too soon! If I am ever in the mood for good food and music, I know I can always go back to the Embassy of Peru.

Gracias Peru for a great night!

Love to wanderlust? Ever want to step onto foreign soil for a night? Join ThingstodoDC Cultural Society to get a remarkable privilege of visiting various Embassies throughout the District.

A Night in The Caribbean!

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On Friday, February 23, contributing writer, Aubrey Shaffner, joins young professionals at the Embassy of Bahamas for a ThingstodoDC Culture event that delivers the Spirit of Nassau and Paradise Island with a diplomatic touch!

This past weekend I decided to take a step away from the hustle and bustle of reality and head to the Bahamas! Well, actually it was the Embassy Consular Annex of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, but close enough! Between the live music, the food, and the atmosphere, it really felt like I had stepped out of DC and into the Caribbean for the evening.

Held on Friday night, the Embassy hosted a networking event for young professionals in the DC region. The evening started with an insightful speech from the new Consul General of the Bahamas, Mr. Theo Neilly, who not only was so welcoming, but also expressed opportunities for all in attendance to succeed in their business, investment, and networking growth.

His speech was followed by a short video to help get to know the Bahamas a little bit more. It was a great way for everyone there to understand the common wealth and anticipate in finding professional opportunities within the Bahamas. I was lucky enough for a chance to speak one-on-one with Consul General Neilly after his speech. He was wonderful and so approachable. I really appreciated how down to Earth he was. We not only talked about the event but about his time so far in DC, where he described his love of all the “characters “ he found around the city. We also discussed about him coming up to my home city of Baltimore, which I do hope he will soon come to visit!

 

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Afterwards everyone was free to mingle! Set to the mood of live steel drums, provided by Peter Humphrey from Oasis/Island Sounds, groups began to form around the room as individuals got to know each other. I made many connections and learned about everyone’s different positions. The first gentleman I spoke to helped refugees apply for Asylum in the United States. Especially considering the current tension on the subject these days, it was wonderful learning from someone first hand the steps of the process in which refugees go through. I also met another gentleman who was a medical resident, focusing on Oncology, and two wonderful women who work at Johns Hopkins University focusing on Bioengineering. It was a great mix of individuals and professions.

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Consul General of the Bahamas, Mr. Theo Neilly, and Aubrey Shaffner. Photo courtesy of Hannah Smith.

Quickly after the Consuls speech the buffet opened. Caribbean food is an absolute hit with everyone! All around me quickly moved in to grab a plate of the authentic meal. A selection of spicy cucumber and tomato salad, conch fritters, rice with beans, plantains, and my favorite, curried chicken.

Towards the end of the night, I briefly spoke to the chef in charge of our meal and was  fascinated to learn about how he made some of the dishes. I could have stood there and talked to him all night had we had the time. I even tried to get some recipes but unfortunately he didn’t have them with him. Even dessert was amazing! There were two options: a classic chocolate and cherry cake, as well as a festive coconut and banana bread pudding. I chose the latter and it happened to be the best selection of the entire night! Served warm, the bread pudding was perfectly soft but still provided texture with the crunchy flakes of coconut baked right in. A creamy vanilla rum sauce on top gave it the tropical flair! All together it melted in my mouth and I immediately went for seconds!

To pair with the great meal was a glass of tropical rum punch, that really had everyone in a great mood! Classic options such as red and white wine, and a light beer were also provided. Needless to say the Embassy did an amazing job of hosting; making us feel like we truly were all friends hanging out on an island with no cares in the world. As the event was winding down Mr. Humphrey even gave me a quick lesson on how to play the steel drums! He explained to me how it was similar to learning piano, that both had the same musical scales.

I, along with everyone I connected with, enjoyed the night! Few attendees even shared details about their Embassy event trips through Things to do DC. These events provide a great opportunity to “travel” and truly experience almost anywhere in the world right at home. I do encourage anyone in, or around, the DC area to attend a similar event in the future. My only complaint was that time went by too quickly!

Be sure to head to Islands for the Next ThingstoDoDC Cultural Event at the Embassy of Bahamas: Caribbean Celebration on May 4!