Not everyone has the vacation time to enjoy 3+ week vacations on the other side of the world. I like to travel and explore. But I’m a business major, so when I plan a trip, I like to get the most bang for my buck. And that’s exactly what I did earlier this month when I played tourist in seven countries in one day: South Africa, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Ghana, Pakistan, Brunei, and Egypt– in that order.
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are skeptical. I’m not lying. But there is a catch. I visited the embassies (technically not U.S.soil) of all of these exciting places as part of Passport DC’s World Embassy Day. Every year the embassies in Washington DC open their doors for a Saturday in May to hold an open house showcasing their nation’s culture through art, performances, food, and drink. Even the buildings are beautiful. In addition to World Embassy Day, Passport DC also sponsors EU Embassy Day the Saturday closest to EU day, exclusive to the European embassies.
I was introduced to EU Embassy Day back in college when I decided to tag-along with my roommate who was attending with her older brother and his friends. We started with a tour of the Belgium embassy which featured samples of chocolates, cookies, fruit nectars, and beers. We finished in Romania, which had a full lunch buffet complete with wine. My mind was blown; it was the best event ever. And it was FREE (although some embassies sell food and goods).
EU Embassy Day was so amazing that I told everyone about it. This had mixed results. Once, I started telling a stranger about it at a party. Before I left, he asked if he could email me to get more information about the event. We ended up meeting again to go to Embassy Day together a few weeks later. I now call him Kirios. True story. Happy anniversary, agapi mou <3
Unfortunately, in addition to complete strangers, I also told a bunch of coworkers and friends about how great EU embassy is. Word spread and the lines to get into the embassies got longer. Kirios and I noticed it last year; we were hungrier and waited longer to get into our favorite embassies. This year it was so bad we only visited Portugal and Greece. I’m not giving up on EU Embassy Day just yet, but I definitely screwed up letting the cat out of the bag on that one!
Now where was I… oh yes, World Embassy Day. Last year my parents visited in May and asked that Kirios and I take them around the city to partake in normal weekend activities for us. Because we’re super cool and always do fun things. (Is it possible that used to be true?!?) They actually chose a great weekend to visit and we were able to take them to World Embassy Day, among other events like the city’s largest Greek festival. We visited Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Croatia, Argentina, Rwanda, and so on. There was dancing and food and we ran into lots of friends – including childhood friends from Pittsburgh who had relocated to the area, which was exciting for my parents too. Kirios even wrapped a snake around himself and ate a Rwandan delicacy with worms. Possibly. Whether he actually ate it or not remains a secret. The parental units and I of course declined since worms are not kosher. World Embassy Day has more embassies open, which means shorter lines.
So this year I was looking forward to my almost free trip around the world. The day of the event, Kirios had an unexpected obligation and was unable to go. So I called up a few friends who I had already blabbed to about how amazing Embassy Day is, and by 1pm we assembled a motley crew to sightsee together. A childhood friend, and post-college friend, and new friends they brought along. We took turns caffeinating at Starbucks (i.e. every time someone got off the metro and met up with us, he or she wanted to stop and pick something up) and we embarked on an epic journey. Or at least an exciting walk around a few blocks.
The South African Embassy is currently undergoing renovations, but they temporarily took over the lobby level of a fancy schmancy office building. They transformed it with music and costumes, vendors, and a full lunch buffet with white corn grits, a wonderful salmon dish, super spicy vegetables, and at least four desserts to try. They did run out of utensils, but someone managed to find a spoon for me. They also gave out samples of liquor which tasted like Baileys, so after sipping it, we all dumped the rest of our cups into the Starbucks drinks we were still carrying around.
Next we visited Ethiopia, so I immediately texted my one Ethiopian friend. Then we sampled Ethiopian coffee, which we expected to be very strong. But it was actually quite smooth and delicious. I don’t drink coffee anymore since it upsets my stomach and the whole Crohns’ thing can be a bummer, but when I did, I always drank it with milk. I only took a sip of this coffee, but I had it straight, and I would drink it black. Also at the Ethiopian embassy, we enjoyed traditional music playing and most of us splurged and spent $2 for a cup of Tej, honey wine. It tasted like iced tea with a lot of honey it. An Ethiopian woman came over to us multiple times warning us to sip it slowly so it wouldn’t go to our heads. I followed her advice. At least one member of our group didn’t, and admitted to feeling fairly tipsy by the time we entered Indonesia.
Indonesia had a pretty building and lots of colors. I was feeling full and the food was for sale so I skipped it. We ran into another friend who bought a purse there. She looked inside and it said “Made in Thailand.” Fail.
Ghana gave us a chocolate candy when we walked in. Plus one. They also had a couple people playing drums, dancing, and chanting. The main performer had a wonderful smile that made me want to be his friend. Or at least allow him to entertain me. By then it was also raining a little bit, so we were happy to sit and enjoy for a while.
Next we went to Pakistan, and that was a PARTY. A Pakistani dance troupe from Georgetown Universitywas performing under a big tent. They had bright costumes. Their dances combined Pakistani songs with top 40 ones, so everyone could get into it. And they had some interesting props they used in their dances too.
We went to Brunei at the suggestion of the friend we ran into at Indonesia. She told us there was lots of chocolate there. When we arrived, we were disappointed to see it was the Three Musketeers, Twix, and Milky Way sampler. We were more interested in Brunese chocolate. Microsoft Word tells me that Brunese isn’t a real word, but I think you understand. Their building is absolutely gorgeous, and even has a waterfall wall out back. Before we left, they did bring out Brunei foods – shrimp chips, which I didn’t eat because they’re not kosher, and a sesame covered dessert ball thing. The dessert was warm and airy. There was a filling inside which we thought was fig. Later in Egyptwe learned that the filling was actually red bean paste. Who knew!
Our finally stop was in Egypt. (Although we stared curiously at the outside of the UAE embassy which wasn’t participating in the open houses. We imagined opulence at its finest.) In Egypt, we promptly started taking pictures with the mummy artwork. We watched a short movie that was probably created by their national tourism department. Then we checked out the goods they were selling in their marketplace. I tried on a fez, but decided my head is a bit too small to successfully pull it off. Aladdin looked better. Some of the folks in our group bought picture frames with interesting designs. Then we discovered their patio, around which they hung a bunch of colorful cloths creating a bright tent. There were pillows and things which looked like bean bag chairs but featured hieroglyphic style designs. If we were actually in Egypt, there would probably be a bunch of middle age men smoking hookah in the tent. It was sunny and breezy and pleasant, so a bunch of us sat down and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying this Egyptian tent. Embassy Day ended at 4pm, and we slowly shuffled out of the tent, reentering U.S. soil. The vacation was over, we were home.
Now please, forget everything you just read about how awesome the DC Embassy Open House days are and stay home come next May. Long lines are no fun!