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Finding Magic in Morocco

Moroccan festival hopes to dispel myths

The Moroccan Festival being held this weekend at the McLean Community Center is being touted as an opportunity for cultural understanding and healing. "I'm committed to fostering understanding. These are the types of Americans we want. With the world climate what it is today, I want to do whatever I can to bridge misconceptions," said festival organizer Annalisa Assaadi.

The organizers of the event are stressing the cultural, racial and religious diversity of Morocco to give the community an insider's look at Morocco and its people.

Dris Behnmend is a Moroccan who has made McLean his home for seven years. "I'd like people in my community to know the real Morocco, with its ancient, rich culture and hospitable, peace-loving people," said Behnmend. The festival, he said, can "clear up any ideas people may get from the news" about that area of the world.

Morocco is a country roughly the size of California with much of the same topography. It has both fertile farmland and desert oasis within its boundaries. "Even though it's a small country, it has a lot of ethnic groups, with their own customs, food and religions. They get along. That's the Morocco I know," said Behnmend.

Annalisa Assaadi said, "I am concerned about the fairness of how we portray Muslims and Arabs in our community. Morocco has a long history of peace and is a wonderful example of how different cultures and religions can come together."

INVASIONS, WARS, travel routes and expanding Western empires have all left an impression on Morocco throughout its history. Sociocultural mutations have occurred through the influence of the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, French, Spanish and Arabs, as well as the omnipresent influence of Morocco's native people, the Berbers. African, Arab, Berber, European, Jewish and Muslim cultural influences are all apparent in Morocco today.

Nasir Assaadi, a McLean Moroccan, said his countrymen here who are working on the festival want to impart a sense of the richness of the culture to their neighbors. "As a Moroccan I would hope people get a clear idea about the culture and see the different and new face of the Moroccan community and see the similarities we all have as a community.

Annalisa Assaadi said, "I hope that people will walk away [from the festival] with the sense that Moroccans are gentle, compassionate people whose culture can complement our way of life."

Nasir Assaadi estimates there are around 10,000 Moroccans living in the Metropolitan area with a high concentration in the Falls Church area. "There are a couple hundred families living in McLean," said Nasir Assaadi.

The diversity seen in Morocco mirrors that of McLean, according to Behnmend. "I chose McLean for its ethnic diversity. My neighbors are from all over. My neighbors are French, from Brazil, Arab, from all over," said Behnmend.

THE MCLEAN COMMUNITY CENTER mounts the fall cultural festival each year to bring the traditions of other cultures to the community. This year's festival, Magical Morocco: Sahara to the Sea, will feature several native illustrations of the culture.

These include food, music, clothing, rugs and pottery. "We picked the things that are particular to Morocco. If you go to Egypt, you'll find rugs, but they will be totally different," said Behnmend. He credits the difference in style and pattern to the influence of many different cultures on Morocco over many generations. "We felt people would be interested in know about Morocco, but we only have five hours to do that. It doesn't show everything about Morocco, it couldn't, but it gives you an idea," Behnmend said.

"People here in McLean are well-traveled and well-educated, but we need to do whatever we can to bring understanding," said Annalisa Assaadi. "The top Moroccans in the community, who are passionate about creating the array of sights and smells of Morocco, are working on this. It is being displayed through the food, the pottery, rugs and fashions. Morocco is the smell of mint tea, fellowship and brotherhood."

One of the more unique elements of the festival will be the re-enactment of a traditional Moroccan wedding by a local couple who visited the country last year and became so enamored of the people and culture they are returning in a few weeks to get married there. "They've picked up on what Morocco is. They have experienced the joy and the open arms of Morocco," said Annalisa Assaadi. "We hope everyone who comes will experience this for themselves."

Admission to the festival is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children ages three to nine.