Egyptian pavilion up and running in Folklorama

By Libby Giesbrecht

Folklorama’s brand new addition, the Egyptian Pavilion, wants to show you why their culture is more than just pyramids and sphynxes. No, they don’t “walk like an Egyptian,” and no, they don’t live in pyramids. But these misconceptions come from a vastly rich African culture that visitors to Folklorama’s newest pavilion will certainly be entranced by.

Folklorama is the largest and longest-running multicultural festival of its kind in the world, as determined by the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts.

Folklorama began in 1970 as a celebration of Manitoba’s centennial, and has grown into an annual two-week festival of global culture that takes place the first two weeks in August. Over 40 volunteer-run pavilions participate each year, showcasing unique cultures in venues throughout Winnipeg. Pavilions feature lively entertainment, cultural displays, warm hospitality and authentic ethnic cuisine.

“What I remember in Egypt is the warmth of the people,” shared Sherif Sherif, that pavilion’s media chair. “this is something that I always remember fondly, how nice people were to each other and how there’s a lot of family cohesion.”

Neighbours, he says, make a habit of knowing their neighbours, an aspect of what he calls the “warmer culture” of Egypt.

Diana Hanna is an adult ambassador for the Egyptian Pavilion this year and lived herself in Egypt until the age of 14. She remembers the diversity of her homeland. “There’s a lot of different groups of people who live there,” she shared, noting the difference between the northern and southern ends of the country.

“As a kid, I used to play in the street a lot with my friends, and that would be usually after school,” she recalled. “That’s a very big part of Egyptian society until I was about 12; then I wasn’t allowed to play in the street anymore… Usually, girls just watch from the balcony.”

As the girls watch, the boys continue to play soccer in the street, the predominant sport in Egypt.

In 1996, the pavilion co-coordinator, Hala Salama, left Egypt to study in England. Her family then moved to Canada for her husband’s work, expecting to remain in the country for a year before returning to Egypt. A love of the Canadian community, however, prompted the family to stay.

Tia Awadalla, Salama’s daughter, was not born in Egypt as Sherif, Hanna, and Salama were, but that hasn’t prevented her from falling in love with her heritage. This year, she is serving as the youth ambassador for the pavilion.

“I was always around our family, and in our community, even if you’re not family, you are family,” Awadalla chuckled. “It’s really confusing, honestly, but just being around so many people who have been immersed in the culture for so long is always interesting.”

Folklorama is something that the group sees as an opportunity to not only show and teach their culture to others but to also bring together the existing Egyptian community in Winnipeg.

“This is a good reason for old Egyptians to get together and know each other,” says Salama. “There’s a reason to work together and show our culture. It’s a happy occasion and it is beautiful to forecast all of what the Egyptian culture can offer.”

“I see new ways of being involved in my culture,” Awadalla shared. “I’ll go to my uncle’s house and he’ll show me all these amazing foods… being around all these people, they really make me feel like even though I’ve been to Egypt a handful of times, I really fully get to embrace my culture just being with them.”

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Awadalla says that while growing up in Canada, her parents were always sure to “bring back Egypt for me” in addition to her Canadian upbringing, contributing to a multicultural worldview she has cultivated and says she is blessed to enjoy.(From left): Sherif Sherif, Diana Hanna, Tia Awadalla, and Hala Salama from the first-ever Egyptian Pavilion, part of Folklorama’s 50th year.

Hanna is also grateful for her Canadian culture blended with her rich Egyptian heritage at home.

“My family, they’re still very very Egyptian,” Hanna smiled. “We still hold our cultures (sic) very dear to our heart and my mom still cooks Egyptian food every day, and she’s teaching me right now how to cook.”

Coming from a place such as Egypt, well-known from Canadian history classes for the pyramids and pharaohs that once ruled the land, leads to many misconceptions about their culture.

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Interestingly, interrupting in Egyptian culture is not an act of rudeness, but actually, one showing respect. According to Salama, it is encouraged in their culture to interrupt someone who is speaking because it shows interest in what that person is sharing.

Hanna laughed when she recalled a question she’d been asked upon first arriving in Canada. “When I first moved here, people asked me, ‘how big is the pyramid that you lived in.’

“It would be nice to clarify that – we don’t live in pyramids,” the adult ambassador smiled. “Another misconception is that we ride camels in the street, and I only see them in touristy areas, actually.”

Another misconception that the group noted was the idea that women are discouraged from pursuing higher education, a perspective that does not hold true. In fact, the pavilion members shared that it is not uncommon for the majority of post-secondary programs to be made up of female students.

“I think the thing I hear always about Egypt is whenever anybody has been to that country, they come back and say, ‘we are so amazed by how the traffic works,’ because the traffic is very chaotic; it really verges on dangerous,” Sherif said. “Yet, I have to say that I’m extremely impressed that it’s a day-to-day business for Egyptians.

“It’s functional.”

Check out the first-ever Egyptian Pavilion during Folklorama 50 at the University of Mantioba’s University Centre, 210 -224 (66 Chancellors Circle) from Sunday, August 4 to Saturday, August 10, 2019.