By Rod King
For IN|Fort Wayne publications

The Midwest’s only Arab Fest returns to Fort Wayne the first weekend of June.

The fourth annual festival is a celebration of the diverse culture, traditions, music, dance and food of the 22 countries that make up the Arab world.

Sponsored by the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, the free festival kicks off Saturday, June 2, with gates open from noon to 10 p.m. at Headwaters Park West in downtown Fort Wayne. The festivities continue noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 3.

Shane’s Camels of Sheridan, Mich., will offer camel rides for $5 at the fourth annual Arab Fest June 2-3. Photo by Rod King

Festival-goers will have the chance to ride a camel both days of the festival. Camel rides around the park grounds cost $5 and a professional photo on the camel costs an additional $1.

The two-day event will feature a large “souq” tent, or Arabic marketplace featuring a variety of vendors selling international trinkets, home decor, scented candles, artwork, jewelry, cards, paintings, soap and hookah smoke pipes. Food items will also be for sale including spices, breads, dates, baklava, olive oil, exotic coffees and teas, and honey.

Vendors offer various products at the festival’s “souq” or Arabic marketplace. Photo by Rod King

Among the vendors is the Alhamwi family, who designs and produces handmade leather goods. The family came to the United States in 2016 after spending three-and-a-half years in a Jordanian refugee camp. The family members fled their homeland of Syria in 2012 when the civil war destroyed their home and their leather business.

The family includes the father, Hiatham, and mother, Miasar, three adult children (Mohammed, Safa and Marwa), a 10-year-old daughter, Sara, and Hiatham’s 92-year-old mother, Zahrieh.

With the help of Exodus Refugee Center and two sponsoring organizations, Irvington Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, the family was able to receive approval to come to America. They arrived in Indianapolis in 2016 and lived there on the east side.

With a sponsor’s help, they secured a sewing machine and restarted their family leather business. Hiatham designs high-quality purses, bags, backpacks and wallets and his son, Mohammed, operates the sewing machine. They also produce products of faux-leather and cloth.

Sam and Paula Jarjour, members of the Arab Fest planning committee, hope visitors will welcome the family and take time to learn about their experiences of living through the Syrian war as well as their time in a refugee camp.

The Jarjours said the festival has grown each year and that the committee is excited to be able to expand its cultural, education and entertainment value.

Friends of the Third World will be collecting items for refugees, and Fort Wayne for Syrian Refugees will have an information booth.

Attendees also will have the opportunity to experience henna hand painting and fortune telling with coffee grounds.

Henna hand painting. Photo by Rod King

Entertainment includes Ali Paris, a well-known Qanun (lap harp) player, performing at noon Saturday and Latif Bichal providing piano music throughout the event. Muhamad Abbasi will do a stand-up comedy routine Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Crafts and a variety of activities will be available for children.

Traditional foods and sweets for the event will be provided by Famous Falafel Restaurant on St. Joe Road.

Arab Fest takes place during the holy month of Ramadan. At sundown Saturday (around 8:45 p.m.) the call to prayer will be made for members of the Muslim community to observe the breaking of the fast. Area rugs will be available for recitation of prayers and religious devotions.

Arab Fest Fort Wayne

When: Noon-10 p.m. Saturday, June 2; noon-6 p.m. Sunday, June 3

Where: Headwaters Park Pavilions, 333 S.Clinton St., Fort Wayne

Wheelchair accessibility: Yes

Admission: Free

Website: //www.facebook.com/ArabFestFW/