Photographs by Nabil Akkad and Chika Udezue
La Fiesta Latina recently took Udhailiyah by storm and it seems that this new event has come to stay. For weeks, a group of residents of Hispanic heritage worked hard researching recipes, locating entertainment, cooking and tasting food, and creating intricate decorations. Their joint effort culminated in the success of the first-ever ’Udhailiyah La Fiesta Latina. The six-hour sold-out event was held on June 15, at the community school’s cavernous gymnasium and drew rave reviews.
La Fiesta Latina was a formal introduction of South American employees and their families who have brightened up the community and are already contributing significantly to its lifestyle. Most of them come from Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. The evening was for families and was planned to entertain and educate. “We were received upon arrival at Udhailiyah by a community that seemed to be eagerly waiting for us and this is our way to say thank you,” said Jairo Leal, one of the organizers, in his opening remarks.
Decoration was simple but retained Latin charm and elegance. Each guest was greeted at the door by charming ladies sporting white bandanas around their necks. Similar bandanas were draped and knotted around female guests while men were treated to red ones. One lady who requested was refused a red colored bandana; she was told that like in the Columbian cumbia dance where such bandana are worn, red is for men and white for ladies.
A glass of Salpicon, a delicious red concoction made with fruit salad, red cola and an optional drop of condensed milk accompanied each guest as they found their seats for the evening, to the throbbing and toe tapping sound of samba music. “This welcoming drink is typical of South America but back there, the fruits are cut in larger chunks. The use of milk depends on one’s country though,” said Francisco Garzon who hails from Colombia.
Each table had little touches of slower and colorful runners or vases, while two candy-filled piñatas covered with brightly colored frills hung down from the ceiling. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed; the fun was contagious.
The evening also afforded guests the chance to sample South American food including appetizers of Ceviche or shrimp marinade and chicken salad, South American style. Main meal consisted of dripping potato, Arroz con coco or rice with coconut, Muchacho; succulent tenderloin roast, and chicken Creole. For desserts, guests indulged in more delicacies like tres leches and elote cake which is a Guatemala corn cake. “We had to work with the cooks at our dining hall for days to perfect these recipes and I can see that it all went down well”, added Cecilia Brown, a resident and one of the organizers, as she watched guests enjoy it. A video of South American lands, people, culture and natural resources accompanied dinner.
The highlight of the evening was a performance that showed the unity of ‘Udhailiyah community. Girls from many nations joined their South American friends to perform some dances and short skits, drawing others guests to the center stage for a joint performance. For the children of the community, it was a chance to laugh and play together with their parents on stage. Like many of her friends, seven year old Mackenzie Logan’s boundless energy had her on the floor for most of the evening. “My dad and I had a lot of fun but my mom only watched,” she said. “It was great having our friends join us for the performance and they were good because they did not make mistakes,” said 12 year old Maria-Camila Garzon who led the dance troupe. Xiomara Rondon choreographed the moves.
Lowering the piñata heightened the fun for the children as they struggled to hit it while blindfolded. Their efforts were later rewarded by cascading candies. “The evening was like an old fashioned street party where whole families come out and have fun” said Keith Worrell. Worrell who retires soon after 25 years with the company, counted the event as one of the memories that he will cherish for years to come.
“Getting the show off the ground was tasking but well worth the effort” said a happy Francisco Gomez, one of the event coordinators. “Selecting and translating the recipes into English and then talking the cooks through the use of spices was not easy but our ladies were able to show them that food can be very good and wholesome without too much spice. That’s what makes South American dishes unique.” His wife Elvira was especially pleased with the warmth and professionalism of the cooks who helped to prepare the meals.
Ray Waites, ‘Udhailiyah School Counselor who acted as master of ceremonies injected much life to the evening with his jokes and anecdotes. Door prizes were alternated between children and adults. Waites later thanked all those who contributed to the success of the evening, especially the Udhailiyah Chapter of the Saudi Aramco Employees association who sponsored it.
Many in‘Udhailiyah hope that this Fiesta Latina will be the first of many. “It was by far the best family fun for years,” said Mohammed Al-Khalfan, Udhailiyah SAEA Vice President. “I have never seen so much life and energy at a party in ‘Udhailiyah.” concluded Terry Stecyk, another resident.