From Where I Sit – Been There, Done That

For the first time in forty-two years I attended Edmonton’s Heritage Festival. In the past I considered and then dismissed the idea of going. It’s so big, it’s so far, and it’s so hard to get to were the worrying deterrents. It’ll probably be too hot. Or it might pour. There’s a lot to see and miles to walk; what if the comforts of shade and tables and toilets were nowhere to be found.

But about a week ago I found the festival’s little travel guide inserted into the Edmonton Sun. That made it feel more real. The map didn’t look that daunting. It was possible to buy food tickets ahead of time. But the clincher was that Hilary agreed to go with me.

For affairs like this I rely on her to drive or orchestrate the logistics. The festival runs three days and is a strict no car zone. So we parked as close as we could (outside the Tag & Tow residential areas) and ordered an Uber. Let me just say, the traffic is a freaking gong show. With policemen directing traffic, bumper to bumper park and ride buses, plus normal Sunday traffic, it felt like a parking lot. Eventually we got there. Roy suggested a cheque payable to the Edmonton Food Bank would be a lot easier than toting a bag of canned and boxed goods. Smart guy.

Before leaving home, I’d printed off the menu that itemizes each pavilion’s food offerings and number of coupons required. With seventy countries offering over 500 food and drink items, each coupon being worth a dollar, and some incredibly long lineups some pre-planning made sense. As it was, two of us used sixty dollars worth of coupons! That unbelievable amount is more a function of price and less of big eaters. An onion cake, five bucks. Four slices of watermelon, five bucks. A heavy fruit-filled bun from Russia, five bucks. Four spring rolls, five bucks. Three Mexican Tacos de Cochinta, twelve bucks. It all adds up.

The grounds were muddy from the previous night’s rain and hailstorm. But there were tables to sit at and dance performances to watch. There was shopping to do if your tastes run to clothing, jewelry, souvenir type objects. Everything I saw seemed either over-priced or readily available through ethnic stores or mall kiosks.

We walked and we walked. I didn’t have the presence of mind to wear my Fitbit but according to my phone we logged about 8000 steps or 5.3 kilometres. In the heat.

This description likely sounds whiny. And in many ways, that’s exactly how I felt. Between the food coupons ($60), two Uber rides ($24), the two donations to the Food Bank ($50) it wasn’t a cheap outing.

And yet. There is something to be said for the sheer mammoth undertaking of it all, the absence of any visible complaints or impatience, the exposure for the ethnicities represented, the food drive, the magnitude of the volunteerism.

But maybe the biggest thing is I can scratch it off my bucket list: attend the world’s largest multicultural festival in one location. Been there, done that. Now this crowd and traffic hating introverted farm kid never has to go back again, from where I sit.

Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.

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