Students and guests took their seats in the North Pod of the Memorial Union in preparation for the African Student Association’s (AFSA) East African Night. The event took place on Tuesday, April 3 at 6 p.m. Many members of AFSA arrived early to help set up decorations, organize chairs and tables, prepare food and plan a list of topics and questions about East African culture and heritage. Twenty-two territories constitute Eastern Africa: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and the French overseas territories of Réunion and Mayotte.
AFSA students shared stories and personal facts about themselves and the East African countries, allowing guests and other students to ask questions about their culture and traditions.
“I joined AFSA right away because I wanted a sense of community, and because I am from Africa. It is very rewarding to be a part of this association, and I have made a lot of great friends,” graduate student Belyse Malaika said. “It’s cool to learn about all the African countries on the continent, and to just have fun with new people while also experiencing the culture and traditions of my home country.”
To set up for the evening, AFSA members prepared traditional East African food to give guests a taste of what African cuisine is like. Rice, vegetables and meat were served alongside pecan donuts and other desserts to transport students into the world of East African culture.
“I think these kinds of events are so important to have at our school. Learning about other cultures is a great way to get UMaine students to appreciate and experience what life is like in other countries and other parts of the world,” fourth-year student Jordan Daley said. “Everyone should come to more of these events and learn about all the things the world has to offer, and all of the different cultures we have yet to experience as college students living in America.”
Students from Ethiopia, Burundi, Nigeria and the Congo spoke about their families and home lives in Africa. President of AFSA Bethlehem Abay passed out note cards to guests and students to write down any questions they had about East African culture or about assimilating into life in America. Each member of AFSA took turns answering the questions. Students also discussed what it was like to adjust to life in Maine, while also still remembering where they came from.
“I came here when I was around 10, and I just wanted to make connections with people who are also from Africa, and learn about the culture from other students who have lived there,” Malaika said. “The first time I went to AFSA, I felt so included and welcomed, and I immediately found other students who were from the same country that I am from. They told me things about my country that I had forgotten because I came here when I was so young. It’s cool to be able to speak in your native language to others students who are from the same place as you. It helps you never to forget where you came from.”
AFSA’s African Night was one of three consecutive events in a series of discussion-based meetings in the Memorial Union. On Tuesday, April 10, AFSA will be hosting another night to discuss and introduce the culture of West Africa. On Tuesday, April 17, the group will be discussing and answering questions about the continent of Africa. AFSA also attends conferences and other events in order to learn about how to improve African countries and how students in the United States can get more involved.