For Md. pharmacist, Odunde fest offers chance to promote Kenya

Posted: June 10, 2014

IN HIS makeshift shop, set up for one day at 24th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue, William Macharia grazed his hand over four plastic baskets that held goods he offered for sale:

Dozens of bracelets, made of cow's horns, purchased by Macharia from artisan women in Kenya.

"Nothing goes to waste," he said, referring to the natural resources of his home country.

Above the baskets dangled mobiles with zebras and elephants made of banana leaves galloping in the hot June sun. Alongside them were traditional African necklaces with a red, white and blue-beaded square - a depiction of the American flag - dangling at each end.

Macharia, 37, of Laurel, Md., in Philly for the 37th Odunde Festival yesterday, said that Africans make use of what they're given.

"Kenya has more or less metropolitan cities. But we have farmland - we produce tea, coffee," Macharia paused. "It's beautiful."

Macharia came to the United States from Kenya 17 years ago to study pharmacy at the University of West Virginia. Now, he's a pharmacist by day and a cultural teacher by night.

"I want to educate people about Africa," he said. "Some people can be so narrow-minded. I don't want to lose my roots. I want to keep in touch [with them]."

Macharia has sold his Kenyan crafts at African festivals in the Baltimore area, but yesterday was his first time at the annual Odunde Festival - one of the largest African festivals in the U.S. It spanned 12 city blocks and attracted thousands of visitors.

Macharia was among about 100 art and food vendors at the daylong festival. Musicians and dancers lined a stage during the evening, but the main attraction - an annual peace offering to Elegba, a Yoruba orisha, an African folk god - was held at noon.

A group dressed in traditional, colorful African garb paraded from 23rd and South streets to the South Street Bridge for the ceremony. Chants could be heard from blocks away. Some participants carried baskets filled with fruits, breads and honey, while others carried incense filling the humid air with a musky smell.

They threw fruits and flowers into the Schuylkill as a "thank you" to bring sweetness into the year, said Oshunbumi Fernandez, CEO of Odunde Inc., an organization that brings cultural awareness for Africa year-round through events and classes. Its main goal, she said, is "inspiration."

"It's more than just a festival," said Fernandez, 40, of South Philly. "I love Odunde no matter what. I am willing to die for Odunde, I love it that much."


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