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July 10, 2014

Behind the Scenes at the Festival Hotel: Farewells

The Maasai dance at the closing day hotel party. Photo by Isabella Gatti

The Maasai dance at the closing day hotel party. Photo by Isabella Gatti

The 2014 Folklife Festival has now officially come to an end for the participant staff.  The last large group of participants from Kenya and China has filed through the revolving door for the last time, piled into a van, and headed to the airport.

As they are sent off, I feel a mix of both relief and bittersweet sadness. It has been such a pleasure to get to know these people over the past two weeks, and yet staff is more than ready for some well-earned rest. Before I offer some final thoughts I’ll give a recap of the last week of the Festival.

The Kenyan participants get a night tour of D.C.'s monuments, including the MLK memorial. Photo by Isabella Gatti

The Kenyan participants get a night tour of D.C.’s monuments, including the MLK memorial. Photo by Isabella Gatti

On the two days off before the second week of the Festival, the participants went to shopping malls, embassy parties, and the monuments. A favorite was the White House, where they asked multiple times if they would see Obama.

Back at the hotel, activity began to calm down, except for the evening socials each night with jam sessions between Chinese and Kenyan musicians. Participants also got to experience the Fourth of July fireworks from multiple locations near the hotel. The Festival ended with a bang at the hotel, where the closing day party had music and dancing late into the night.

As I look back there were so many things that I learned. As my fellow intern Sydney says, “We handled chaos.” I was challenged by some of the situations that I was involved in, from rounding up Kenyans in the airport and shopping malls, to communicating in broken Chinese, to working late nights at the hotel. Yet all of these unique and chaotic challenges will forever make up my Festival experience.

One thing that really struck me was the effort our staff made to be culturally sensitive. It’s relatively easy for us to change a name badge, change a hotel room, even change a flight, but it is something completely different to have staff who change the way they think in order to practice true hospitality. Small services like serving bagged meals before sunrise and after sunset for those Kenyans fasting for Ramadan, setting aside prayer rooms, providing chopsticks and white rice at every meal for the Chinese—just these little things made a difference in the participants’ stay. I believe that these efforts were some of the most generous.

Kenyan musician Bado goes in for a farewell group hug while shouting his parting words, “I love you all!” Photo by Isabella Gatti

Kenyan musician Bado goes in for a farewell group hug while shouting his parting words, “I love you all!” Photo by Isabella Gatti

On that note, if you’re part of staff and reading this, high fives all around! We made it! In the words of Bado, “I love you all!”

Isabella Gatti is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University who is learning to speak Chinese. Being half Chinese, an artist, and a music aficionado, she appreciated how the Festival connected her with the Kenya and China groups through these mediums. 

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