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The Nassau Guardian 

Sample Haitian coffee, sip local brews and indulge in delicious seafood. With art and craft on display, there’s something for everyone, and all roads will definitely lead to the 17th Annual International Cultural Festival.

Twenty-three countries and 140 booths strong is what will be showcased this weekend at the Botanical Gardens in Chippingham, with approximately 25,000 people expected to swarm through the gates over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

Stage entertainers will be all the rage. There are some 350 performers representing a variety of countries that will proudly showcase their cultural traditions. A dance troupe is flying in from Haiti, a country that is a must see. Patrons can visit Haiti’s 10 booth pavilion and get a sense of a nation that is exploring new and tested areas of commerce. And talk with experts about business opportunities for Bahamians. They can also sample Haitian coffee, look at their fine art, pottery, try their cuisine and consider some of their emerging tourist areas for a visit.

India and the Filipinos will capture the crowds with their colorful costumes and dance routines. China will treat patrons to the lion dance and a fashion parade of regional costumes. Crowd pleaser, the Bahamas All-Star Marching Band will light up the lawn in front of the stage with their drills. And the Cubans, winner of the Best in Show Cable Bahamas Booth Award for two consecutive years will be looking to captivate the imagination of the judges again and make it three straight. They will also treat patrons to interactive salsa dancing.

The Bahamas will be 37 booths strong, showcasing local brews, seafood, arts and crafts, a nursery, and offering trip getaways to the Family Islands. This year the pavilion will be decorated by Wild Seed Designs. The space is expected to be transformed into a truly festive setting.

New this year to the already fantastic lineup will be a free classical concert by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Nassau City Opera, sponsored by the Starlight Global Foundation at 7 p.m. The festival entrance gates will remain open until 7 p.m. for the convenience of straggling music lovers to join regular festival patrons already gathered at the Botanical Gardens. Food and beverage booths will remain open until 9.30 p.m.

“We’re very excited about the new elements of the festival and Starlight Global Foundation’s sponsorship of the refurbishment of the main stage and the free concert, the country pavilions as well as new booth holders and those who are making a come back,” said Janet Johnson, the festival’s chairman. “The festival is growing year-on-year and this is good to see in these uncertain economic times,” she added.

The three Coca-Cola entrances on West Bay Street, Marcus Bethel Way and Chippingham will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Organizers are implementing express lanes to eliminate the long winding lines of previous years for the convenience and enjoyment of all.

Showing off a spanking new main stage sponsored by South African resident, Werner Gruner of the Starlight Global Foundation, festival-goers will also be able to visit expanded country pavilions with multiple booths staged by China, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Peru and of course The Bahamas. New this year is Ethiopia and back this year are the Netherlands, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Scandinavia.

Leading sponsor, Bank of the Bahamas, will facilitate the cashless festival format again this year. This is not only a safety mechanism that protects vendors from leaving the grounds with oodles of money and possibly vulnerable to criminal intent, but it gives festival organizers a way to gauge the fiscal performance of the event, year-to-year. Additional security measures will be in place via a network of closed circuit television cameras throughout the grounds and parking areas for added safety.