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Rain keeps crowds at bay during annual Africa festival

A host of new vendors sold goods at this year's Africa festival, but the deluge on Sunday meant few Baltimoreans wandered through the usually packed event.

"The people from Baltimore just did not come out," complained Aghieghid Singapore, who traveled from New York City to sell Nigerian shea butter, a balm he said would fade the deepest scars within two weeks.

He complimented the festival organizers for attracting regional vendors and even an international entertainer. For the past four years Baltimore has sponsored the event, officially called FestAfrica, as a part of a series of ethnic festivals in the city. It was held at Patterson Park.

Typically 4,000 attend, said Toun Olumide, chairwoman of the event's planning committee. Organizers did not have an estimate of this year's attendance, but most of the visitors came on Saturday when the weather was clear, she said.

The festival started eight years ago as an annual picnic for the state's vast African diaspora. Now the intention is also to teach non-Africans about the continent, she said.

Like many Baltimore festivals this one was dominated by food vendors, including one selling "African donuts," the Congolese version of fried dough. Also for sale was goat head, snails, plantains and moi-moi, a bean cake made with fish and eggs.

For the less adventurous, one stall offered barbecued chicken and beef. "We have barbecued everything," said Ali Johnson, from Wheaton, who ran that operation. Johnson is African-American — but not African — and said he felt a little out of place. "Most people are confused and saying 'Why are you all here?'" he said.

Many of the other vendors were West African and came to the U.S. in the past decade, fleeing from war and had mixed feelings about returning. "When I think of Sierra Leone, I think of war," said Sunkarie Kamara, 23, who was selling jewelry made from vintage beads and fabric. "It is not a lot of good memories."

Across the park, Abraham Luakabuanga also had unpleasant memories from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he and his wife left eight years ago. The couple left, he said, after he was arrested for speaking out against the government. But he hopes to return one day, saying he could advance quickly there using the business skills he's learned here.

"Once the country is stable politically, we are leaving on the next plane," he said.

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