The first things you notice about the International Festival, held in Agnes Blackadder Hall’s common room, were the smells. From empanadas to brigadeiros, from curry to quiche, a world of aromas met you at the front door. For a £5 fee, you received an entrance ticket, which turned out also to allot you one free item from the food booths lining the common room. The whole system was a bit chaotic, but with this being the Islamic Society’s first festival of this kind, the slight disorganisation was completely understandable.
All the food was delicious, and with dishes ranging from egg curry to potato dumplings to tofu with chillies, it was all certainly interesting. A particular favourite of mine was the Belgian society’s goat cheese and honey tart, which I would never have thought to make, but would most definitely think of buying again. The empanadas, especially were a delight, as they reminded me of home. I think the reason a festival located as far away as Agnes Blackadder Hall, the distance of which I can vouch for being a resident, could draw such a crowd of people is just that— it reminds us of home. With a student body as diverse as that of St Andrews, an international festival was a great way for many students, including myself, to be reminded of the home we are so far away from.
In addition to the vast array of food, several people, from all the different societies, were playing instruments and merrily dancing around, giving everything a festive atmosphere. There were several art contributions as well, from Arabic calligraphy to Henna tattoos, which added to the multicultural environment. All the different food and entertainment made the scene seem like a bizarre bazaar, with countries ranging from Iran to the Czech Republic represented.
A couple hours into the festival, the main event, in the form of a talent show started. The president of the Islamic Society, Nasser Al-Naaimi, started it off with a speech about Charity Week, the reason behind the international festival. Charity Week is a week in which Islamic Societies in universities all across Britain raise money for charity. In St Andrews this year, the fundraising included a dinner, fundraising with charity buckets and of course the festival. In total, all of these efforts raised over £3100, which went to aid orphans.
The talent show started off with a personal favourite, La Bamba, a Mexican folk song, during which I think it’s impossible for anyone to be unhappy. There was also an impressive ballad sung by the president of the Middle Eastern society, Vincent Forster, in which he sang in at least five languages, from Arabic to Mandarin to Swedish, truly encapsulating the international spirit of the festival. However, my personal favourite was an Arabic song, which was accompanied by piano. All of the audience, many of whom were sitting on the floor, clapped along to this song. Although most of us could not even understand the language, it was very much a unifying experience, and I felt somehow closer to the people around me, even though we were all from backgrounds as diverse as one could imagine. As Nasser said in his original speech about charity week, all this was ‘not just about charity, it’s about knowledge and respect.’