Music, laughter, good food abound at Arab Fest

June 4, 2018 GMT

A diverse crowd of guests ate their fill of food from Fort Wayne’s Famous Falafel, listened to music from Ali Paris and laughed and sang along with performer Ronnie Malley during the fourth annual Arab Fest celebration.

Inside a market tent at Headwaters Park, vendors offered a range of goods including herbal teas, coffee, hookahs, jewelry, clothing, bags and henna tattoos. Posters full of photographs showed visitors examples of Arab-American entertainers, journalists, politicians, athletes and business people.

Outside in the sunny weather, kids and adults alike waited for a turn to ride a pair of camels. They were the weekend’s most popular attraction, said Rema Addrayie, the president of Arab Fest Inc., the nonprofit hosting the festival. Although this weekend was the festival’s fourth year, it was the first year hosted by Arab Fest Inc. Previous years were hosted by the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. 

On Saturday, more than 1,000 people attended, Addrayie said. The festival is an opportunity to educate the community on Arab culture, she added. 

“I hope (guests) learn about our culture and know that we’re here as a community and we’re just like everybody else,” Addrayie said. “We’re all just people.” 

For Fred Gilbert, a Fort Wayne resident who spent nearly 40 years as a social worker for refugee communities, the annual Arab Fest brings back memories of living in Turkey. Arab Fest is a unique celebration in Fort Wayne, Gilbert said, and could be someone’s introduction to this part of the Fort Wayne community. 

“You cannot know a people until you know the people,” Gilbert said. “This is the beginnings of someone’s introduction to how big the idea is. To listen to the music, to listen to the camaraderie, the friendship, getting your fortune read. The more we have, the more we learn.”