Rare Taste of Africa : Church Dishes Up Music, Fashions and Other Delicacies


Chazz Bradley made sure that three generations of his family attended the Africa Alive Safari Festival on Saturday.

The Mission Viejo man brought his mother and his three children--Natasha, 8, Chanel, 6, and Beau, 4--to the festival to learn about African traditions.

"You don't see a lot of African culture in Orange County," he said as Natasha tugged on his arm. "I want to make sure that my children are exposed to its beauty so they never lose touch with their heritage. It's important to be here as a family."

The Bradleys were among more than 300 people who sampled African delicacies, music and fashion at the Main Place Christian Fellowship. The festival, which raises money for African educational funds, began three years ago to accommodate the needs of the church's multiethnic congregation.

Helen Bako, one of the festival organizers, said they hope to share a knowledge of African history and culture with the entire county.

David Cotrill, a volunteer, was candid about his first reaction to the festival: "I didn't even know there were Africans in Orange County."

For Natasha, the best part of the festival was listening to West African singers.

"But I haven't seen the fashion show yet, so maybe that too," she said, swinging her ponytail back and forth and beating her younger sister with a hand-held African drum.

Her father he said hopes to travel to Africa with his children this year.

"It's too easy to get lost outside your culture," he said. "Sometimes I even get lost." Adults milled around nibbling pastries from Kenya and admiring such arts and crafts as elephants made of mother of pearl and intricately carved wooden masks.

Children ran around the sun-dappled parking lot trailing white and yellow balloons. The ink stamps on their hands read, "Friendship warms the heart."

But for Ahshim Reval, the day was tinged with sadness.

Reval, 51, sat in the sun selling Zulu bridal baskets and iron-tipped, 10-foot Masai spears while telling passersby about the changes he'd seen in South Africa during his life. Born in Pretoria to a mixed-race couple, he has fought for equality most of his life. After years of dodging the police, he was imprisoned for four years, he said.

"In South Africa it was always the same," he said. "They picked you up, they tortured you and then they let you go."

Reval fled the country of his birth in 1970, not returning until 1993, when the country's leaders agreed to multiracial elections for the first time. He now lives in Durban, a coastal city in South Africa, and journeys around the world selling African art.

"I want people to know that Africa needs a lot of support," he said. "We have kids that are dying for an education."

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