I’m an Ohio girl, born and raised, but I have the heart of a traveler. I love my native land, but give me the whiff of something foreign or exotic, and my virtual tail starts wagging. Fortunately, my West Virginian husband shares my interest in other cultures, so when our neighbor dropped off a flyer for her church’s Egyptian Festival, we both immediately agreed we would go. A church festival is not exactly as thrilling as a trip to the country itself, but when you live in southwest Ohio and you are parents to a toddler, you take what you can get.
What we got was delicious food, interesting conversation and an eyeful of beautiful architecture. Upon arrival, we bought several platefuls of steaming Egyptian food, which is quite close in style and taste to Greek cooking. We polished off our paper plates laden with tangy, savory dishes prepared with falafel, lamb, spinach, filo and grape leaves, with even the Wee One chowing down on forkfuls of couscous. We lost our sense of Egyptian culture for a little while when we stepped into the church’s parking lot, which had been converted into a classic American carnival midway, complete with fair rides and a funnel cake trailer, but a glimpse of the black-robed priest, chatting with parishioners, reminded us that this wasn’t the typical fair fare. We were in the process of figuring out how to enter the church itself when we fortuitously ran into our neighbor, who offered us a tour.
Inside, St. Mina and St. Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church was resplendent. I haven’t seen that much marble in a church since visiting Rome. The church was only completed last year – they hope to have it consecrated by the Cairo-based Coptic Orthodox Pope within the next several weeks – and shines with an opulent beauty that only churches, palaces and the occasional library can get away with. Inside, another church member was giving a lecture, and we did our best to keep the Wee One hushed as we learned more about the icons that lined the church’s front and the saints and stations of the cross on display in its windows.
Downstairs, at a small bazaar, we browsed Egyptian tourist trinkets, baked goods and grocery items, purchasing a ziplock baggie of zaater spice, recommended by our neighbor. (She says it’s quite good for flavoring olive oil and sprinkling on chicken.) We had our family portrait taken in front of a backdrop of the pyramids and Hubby and I both enjoyed chatting with our neighbor’s friends, learning how the church came to be in the 1970s as a very small community and has grown to more than 100 families. They’re obviously a tight-knit group, composed of both American and Egyptian-born members, and it was touching to see how proud they are of their beautiful place of worship. For a few hours on a mild Ohio summer night, it was a pleasure to enjoy their small, Egyptian oasis.