The Houston International Festival has for a long time been one of our favorite family events to attend. Even before we had kids it was a great weekend of fun, food, and music. We’ve attended most every year that we’ve lived here in Houston. We even slugged it through the years it was held at Reliant Park. Vast parking lots have absolutely no character, so we were very happy when it moved back to downtown!
2005 was an especially good year for iFest – that was the year we participated as a vendor! Connie and Alyson started planning their business venture, Té House of Tea, in 2004, and by January 2005 started searching for a suitable location for the tea house. This took longer than expected – so many locations just didn’t have the right amount of parking, the right rent, or just the right feel for a peaceful, contemporary tea house. Then we noticed the featured country for iFest this was was India, and since Connie had developed an authentic Indian chai recipe (with the help of our dear friend Hema), we decided to throw up a booth at the festival.
Luckily, we got a booth in the India Food Court.
These were the early days of our business planning, and we didn’t have a lot of extra cash for extracurricular adventures, so we made do with hand-painted signs and logos. We were very proud, though, of the final result for our sign, which was pitched above our booth. I hand cut some graceful, Indian architecture-like curves with my trustworthy jigsaw, and Alyson and Hema laid on the paint and paisley patterns. It was gorgeous!
We only had enough time and energy for one weekend, so a boba-tea shop took our booth location the weekend. The weekend we set up was sunny and humid. The crowds were still there, though, and our teas were an instant hit – especially with all the Indian-Americans! All the neighboring Indian restaurants were pitching our chai to their customers, as “fresh and authentic”. Come 5 pm, and suddenly the Indian crowd was in line eight-deep at our booth – Tea Time! It may have been a hot day, but they still wanted hot chai – it’s only right.
We completely ran out of all that we had prepared in the morning, so Alyson and Connie stayed in the back to boil some fresh brew. Mmmm, it was good, the aroma of boiling milk, black tea, and fresh spices filling the air around our little tent.
We completely ran out of our two days worth of tea supplies in just one day, so on Saturday midnight I was at Fiesta buying fresh spices – cardamon, cloves, ginger, etc. – so we could be prepared for the Sunday crowds.
Sunday was just as busy for us, but we are able to keep ahead of demand this time. 5 pm was still a rush, and we were ready.
We were very proud of our success, and our acceptance by the local Indian community. We had recreated a bit of their own culture in the form of local food and afternoon tea traditions, and it fit the general atmosphere of Indian dance and music all around us.
Last weekend, I had the honor of being invited by iFest for a sneak peek of one of their own cultural recreations: a model of a 13th century underground church in Ethiopia. This in preparation for the coming International Festival’s focus on Africa.
I visited iFest art director’s Kati Ozanic-Lemberger home and studio on a recent Saturday, along with a lot of other excited bloggers. We got a see a bit of cultural recreation in action: the construction of the underground caves leading to the church (the church itself had already been carted away). With paint and plaster, Kati and team are bringing a touch of this exotic African history right here to Houston, for visitors to see and touch.
It’s not the real thing, but that’s not the purpose. Visitors get to see and read a bit about something they probably knew very little about before, learn a little history, and ponder. That is, by crawling in a cave, they’ll get to leave their own little cave. And that’s good.
Should be a good two weekends: everyone get out and enjoy iFest this year!