Embassy Days Part 1: Island Hopping

5 May

The typical tourist highlights of DC are monuments to American leaders, and museums about American art and history,and institutions of American government. And while the National Mall is a great place to visit, so is Embassy Row.

The annual Around the World Embassy Tour invites guests to visit the embassies from Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Americas. On this one day, the doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the embassies host special exhibits and performances. The free tour is part of Passport DC, a yearly month-long celebration of international cultural awareness hosted by Cultural Tourism DC.

More than 40 embassies were participating today, but my friends and I only made it to five. Had we started earlier and not stopped for Cinco de Mayo margaritas, we maybe could have made it to more. However, some of the embassies had long lines and were not necessarily very close to each other.

At the end of the day as we enjoyed our Cinco de Mayo suishi, our group of 10 realized that  we only visited island nations.

The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesian embassy

Indonesia had the most beautiful embassy. Since my visit, I have learned that it is in the Beaux-Arts style and was a private residence. When you walk in, your eyes follow the cherry staircase up to a stained glass ceiling. In the back, in the Garuda Room, there’s a massive Baroque wood organ next to the golden eagle of the Indonesian coat of arms.

When we arrived, they were doing trivia and were preparing for a performance of child dancers. But because it was a bit stuffy and crowded, we worked our way outside to watch the martial arts demonstration. I was surprised to see that they used scarves when fighting. I was even more surprised to see that scarves could be an effective combat tool. Other than putting the opponent in a choke-hold, the scarves seemed to be more effective as a defensive tool by grabbing and redirecting an opponent’s fist, knife or foot.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas reminded me the most of my childhood Global Day experiences when each elementary school class would represent a country and other students would come to visit and learn (though in second grade we weren’t a country…. we were space. Leave it to the gifted kids.) At this embassy, we never stopped moving. We snaked through some rooms with displays of handmade crafts and posters talking about the history and industries of the islands.

As we followed the queue outside, we heard music and were handed samples of delicious, moist rum cake. Some of my friends won key chains as we moved past a table where they asked trivia questions such as how many islands make up The Bahamas? (Answer: 700) The next thing we knew were back on the street, looking for a new embassy to explore.

I don’t even have photos of the embassy because it all happened so fast.


The end of the earthquake number

We followed the crowd at the Haitian embassy up the stairs to a large empty room where we were told to sit. A man in jeans introduced himself as the Haitian ambassador and then handed the floor over to a dance group and drummer. The dancers had three numbers: an attention-grabbing an opener, an emotional interpretive dance about the January 2010 earthquake and then a big party number complete with umbrellas and Haitian flags.

After some deft leaps and twirls, one of the dancers in a butterfly mask fluttered on the perimeter of the audience and offered me her hand: She was inviting me to come up and dance. I gave her an incredulous look and shook my head, gesturing to the purse and camera on my laugh, “I have all this stuff!” She wasn’t taking no for an answer so I looked at my friend Jamie who told me to go for it.

So I handed my stuff off and followed the dancer to the center of the room where thankfully other audience members were also jamming out. At a certain point my dancer left to drag in a little girl and give her a flag to wave. I danced aimlessly around by myself until it the music subsided and I found my way back to my seat. I danced in the Haitian embassy; not many people can say that.

Dancing at the Haitian embassy (I’m on the right in turquoise)

On our way out, I grabbed a paper cup of punch to quench my growing thirst.


The only photo I took at the Australian embassy: The photo-op aboriginal packing up at the end of the day

Australia was the only embassy where we were able to try both food and drink. As we made our way through the metal detectors, men in cute straw hats and striped shirts handed us tickets for wine – my sweet, bubbly pink stuff was certainly tasty. Women walked around with big trays of Vegemite on toast and I felt a little apprehension as I slowly put it in my mouth. I had heard awful things about Vegemite. Turns out, it’s not that bad.

While at the embassy, I accompanied my friend as an Australian daughter of a serviceman gave my friend a temporary tattoo of the Australian flag. We had started to walk into the auditorium to see the aquarium exhibit but we turned right around when we saw the big yellow snake.

Trinidad and Tobago

We headed to the embassy of Trinidad and Tobago because one of the girls in our group had a friend from there, but the festive street-party-like atmosphere pulled us all in. The ringing of steel island drums competed with the sound of Andean pipes drifting from the neighboring Embassy of Peru. Men walked around operating massive puppets that danced. It was an upbeat way to end the day.

It’s kind of cool because it looked the massive puppet was sitting on the operator’s shoulders. Their feet were connected and the operator could control the arms with sticks.

The humid, up-hill hike walk around Massachusetts Avenue  today was one of my favorite experiences in DC. Where else can you wander from country to country in one afternoon? Not even EPCOT can compare. Next weekend I get to do it all again with the European Union member embassies during “Shortcut to Europe.”

I highly recommend planning your next trip to the capital around the Passport DC events.


One Response to “Embassy Days Part 1: Island Hopping”


  1. Embassy Days Part 2: Shortcut to Europe « Vingtaine - June 4, 2012

    […] last week’s awesome meanderings around the world, I couldn’t wait for this weekend’s adventure: Europe. We started early and on the […]

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