By Dagnachew T.
The last seven days was a very busy day in Maryland, USA where tens of thousands Ethiopians were in attendance for the 30th Anniversary of the Ethiopian Sport Federation in North America (ESFNA).
The anniversary, which officially kicked off last Sunday at the University of Maryland, attracted a large number of Ethiopians than in previous years.
The organizers witnessed a record high gathering in which expansive parking lots were over overcrowed.
Only on 30 June 2013, during the official opening ceremony, more than 20,000 Ethiopians and other non-Ethiopian fans of the festival gathered at the university of Maryland.
The number soared to an estimated 40,000 on Friday 5 July 2013, which was celebrated as an Ethiopian Day.
Thousands of Ethiopians, decorated with the Ethiopian rainbow color t-shirts, some even with shoe and other traditional clothes, making the venue a place like a little Ethiopian village outside of Ethiopia.
“I feel like I am somewhere in Ethiopia… I am enjoying it than I can tell you,” said Misrak Ketema, a college student from Dallas.
Like Ketema, many Ethiopians enjoyed the celebration as an annual vacation time.
Thousands also arrived from all over the United States of America and some others from Ethiopia as well as Europe and Australia.
There were Ethiopians who drove over 600 miles to the venue.
“I am very happy to come here to Maryland and see all my beloved people. Long live ESFNA …for having us all here….expecting more to enjoy until the last day,” added Ketema.
The event also helped many Ethiopians to find their old friends and classmates, and even their relatives.
“It is the third time when I attended this festival. I met my old friends, whom I never expected to meet here in the US.I met my friends after six years. This anniversary is special to me,” said Mesfin Hailu, a Virginia resident.
Like Hailu and Ketema, many Habeshas enjoyed the celebration with a special memory.
“Long Live ESFNA. Thank You ESFNA!” was what the visitors repeatedly voiced when asked how they felt about the event.
The 60 board members of ESFNA are confident that the 30th anniversary has gone down into history with an unforgettable memories in the minds of the tens of thousands of visitors who converged on the University of Maryland.
ESFNA dedicated the 2013 Tournament Ethiopian women, who constitute more than half of the over 80 million people.
“The 30th anniversary, dedicated to the Ethiopian women, will celebrate and acknowledge the achievements and contributions of Ethiopian women. Since its our 30th consecutive years, it is not an event any longer. It is a Celebration; what better theme than ‘celebrating Ethiopian women’,” said Getachew Tesfaye, ESFNA president.
Following the official opening, a number of football matches were held among the Ethiopian football clubs from various states of the USA. A large number of nonprofit organizations, comprising book publishers, real estate, software developers and Medias as well as Ethiopian restaurants are also displaying their works using the event as an opportunity to make business partnership beyond the people-to-people relationship.
Yeshitila Araya, Secretary of the Ethiopian Heritage Society in North America told this reporter that the celebration is becoming a great opportunity to introduce Ethiopia and its culture for the outsiders than bringing the Ethiopian community together.
“I would like to use this opportunity to thank ESFNA for their effort in supporting organizations like us to display our works free of charge. The organizers offered us this stand free of charge taking into consideration our missions to the public,” said Araya.
“I believe that the event is also becoming as a means to promote our country and our culture to others,”
Araya further appreciated the year-to- year-improvements in organizing the annual Ethiopian festival in the USA.
Many agreed that the annual celebration is getting its popularity not only by the Ethiopian community but also among the non-Ethiopian communities in the USA.
“It is a wonderful occasion to see you-Ethiopian- together here. It is like visiting your beautiful country,” said Eric Thomas, one of the foreigners who attended the official opening ceremony of the 30th ESFNA anniversary.
An estimated 200,000 Ethiopian descent are estimated to live in the Washington DC metro area, Maryland and Virginia).
According to the organizers, over the past three decades, ESFNA has become a cultural and sports Mecca for Ethiopians in North America. Every year, thousands of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia spend one week in one of the 25 North American cities selected as a host city; they watch dozens of soccer games amongst the 30 member clubs.
Pilgrims also witness and interact with hundreds of food and dry good vendors and non-profit charitable organizations–in one venue.
However, much happens surrounding the soccer tournament independent of ESFNA—which is exactly what the organization envisioned since its inception. Along the way, every year, Ethiopians spend millions of dollars in the host city–making a major contribution to the local economy.
A good number of the Ethiopian communities are using the celebration as a venue to make business beyond the friendship opportunities and finding a lost friends there.
This reporter observed a good number of Ethiopian communities in various moods at the celebration.
Real estate, promoters, publishers are among other who are using the on going celebration to promote their respected organizations and make a deal for a business both here in the USA and to Ethiopia.
“Yes, this gathering, is also a good opportunities to make business, joint venture deal and others,,,” said Mekuria Maeregu who was busy dealing with various organizations about a business.
Like Maeregu many use the gathering to promote their organizations at the College Park,in Maryland, being regarded as an “Ethiopian Village”.