Around the World Embassy Tour
Saturday was the annual World Embassy Tour in Washington DC. Perhaps due to the overcast skies, there were no lines as last weekend at the EU embassy tour. Getting in and out of the embassies was a breeze too – unlike the European embassies, there were no secret police and no metal scanners. You may surprised to learn the embassy we rated tops.
Is Latvia a cold country? Because the reception at this embassy certainly was chilly. There was an art exhibit on, works combining oil painting and photography. Interesting, but no one bothered to explain who the artist was, or tell us anything about Latvia.
You would never know that the majority of people in this country suffer from extreme poverty judging by the opulence of this embassy. The place seemed to be full of expatriates of Haiti hanging around with their unruly children.
The volunteers in Croatia were helpful and friendly enough, and there were many brochures on table after table extolling the virtues of the country – the Dalmatian Coast, the Slavonic Pannonian Plains, the wonders of Zagreb. A pretty tourism movie ran continuously in one room and they had a basket of goodies to give away – fake Medovnik cookies and small lavender scented bags. When I told a couple of Croatian embassy workers there that my grandparents were from Croatia, they looked uninterested and asked nothing in return. I left feeling no connection to the place, and wishing there had been more of an effort to show the real Croatia with costumes, food and some real cultural activities. And their toilet leaks.
A few blocks away from Embassy Row in the Kalorama neighborhood lies the Sri Lanka Embassy, welcoming visitors with a brightly colored tent lined the walkway and tiny lights wrapped around the trees and Buddha. A chef happily served little hotcakes with a spicy spread eaten sparingly, called Pol Symbol, a combination of grated coconut, onions, red pepper, lime and salt. We were invited to try on saris from a colorful rack, and two friendly women wrote out our names in the two official alphabets of the Indian Ocean island – Tamil and Sinhala.
Walking into this embassy just a few doors down from Sri Lanka, we were struck by the solemnness of the visitors. Lots of people who appeared to be from Senegal were lined up and no one was speaking. I asked if someone had died, and one woman then explained that they were voting in an election, and that the embassy was not open to the general public. Oops.
Republic of Benin
Around the corner from the voters we could hear a loud commotion – beating drums, frenetic singing, tamborines and shakers being played furiously. Up the steps and into the backyard we walked, where we came upon a group of rowdy musicians and dancers twirling and gyrating to the music. Inside the embassy was a table laden with the food of the West African country, a country I am afraid to say I had never even heard of before. The food was excellent and the people seemed to be having such fun, we wished we were citizens of the country. Our unanimous vote was that Benin was the best embassy to visit on the tour.
The last embassy we visited was Serbia, a formal embassy the seemed somewhat sedate, owing to the fact that it was right smack next door to the party happening at Benin. Happily for me, they were serving kifliki, the miniature kifle my great grandfather made in his bakeries, and ajvar, the smooth pasty red pepper spread I wrote about last year. In one room they played a travel video full of churches with onion shaped domes, and in another was an art exhibit and a table laden with exquisite Turkish Delights, called ratluk. The Serbian staff were polite and very polished and professional, and the food tasty. But again, as in Croatia, I wish we could have seen more of their culture – costumes, crafts, dance or music.
As we walked back the two miles to where we had parked the car, we passed by the Syrian Embassy and a small group of protesters encouraging the government to free the country. We offered our solidarity with them, and in return were given “Free Syria” t shirts. I went around the world, and all I got was a t shirt.