COMMUNITY • STORY AND PHOTOS BY STEPHEN WALDRON
Thousands of Ethiopians made their way through the streets as vendors sold jewelry and spices.
The smell of Ethiopian food filled the air as lamb and chicken kabobs were cooked over hot coals.
But this wasn’t in Ethiopia; this was downtown Silver Spring.
The annual street festival took over Veterans Plaza for the third year Sunday, offering visitors the chance to experience Ethiopian culture firsthand.
Ellsworth Drive was lined with booths selling traditional clothing and art. Most of these products were made in Ethiopia, or by recent immigrants to the Silver Spring area.
Ethopians play vital role
Tebabu Assefa was the main coordinator for the festival. He hopes that it will encourage people to support local Ethiopian businesses.
“Ethiopians play a very vital role in our economy,” said Assefa, “and that fact is not recognized.”
One of the most popular events was a coffee brewing ceremony performed by local business Blessed Coffee.
The ritual involves roasting the beans over hot coals. Almaz Mussie performed the ceremony and explained that there is a lot more to it than simply brewing coffee.
“It’s a tradition back home,” Mussie said. “Everybody in the neighborhood calls each other and they have this wonderful time to talk about the community and family.”
Festivalgoers squeezed into the tiny booth to catch a glimpse of the ceremony, which was performed several times throughout the day.
Families brought their children, who played and danced along to the sound of traditional and contemporary Ethiopian music.
Feedel Band, was one of the festival’s biggest acts. The American group played an eclectic mix of jazz and traditional Ethiopian music.
This year also marked the first annual 5K run, which stretched around the perimeter of the festival. It was sponsored by an organization called the Ethiopian Athletics Federation in North America, which promotes exercise and sports in the Ethiopian community.
Ethiopians also had the opportunity to connect with organizations that catered specifically to their needs. Businesses offering everything from tax services to translation were there to work with the community.
A big turnout
Event coordinators estimate that at the peak of the nine-hour celebration, there were over 16,000 people in the plaza.
Volunteers were stationed in booths all over Veterans Plaza to offer information about the festivities. Local high school student Betel Dejene is no stranger to the festival, and was happy to be a part of the action.
“I’ve been participating in the festival throughout the years,” said Dejene, “but this is my first time actually helping to organize the show, so it’s nice.”
Assefa believes that the large Ethiopian population in Silver Spring can be traced back to immigrants settling in Washington D.C
“Initially, Washington D.C. was the home base for the Ethiopian community away from Ethiopia.” said Assefa. “In the last seven or eight years, we have seen a positive trend in Ethiopians moving to Silver Spring.”
He has big plans for the festival in the future. Assefa believes that with the help of local businesses and organizations, Silver Spring can become a hub of activity for the Ethiopian community.
“In five to ten years, we want to make Silver Spring the capital of the Ethiopian diaspora.” said Assefa. “That’s our long term objective.”