PORTLAND – Flags flew along State Street in the afternoon breeze, leading people from all walks of life to Deering Oaks park for the ninth annual Festival of Nations on Saturday.

Spices from ethnic foods mixed with the scent of burning incense as music filled the park and friends and families mingled among more than 60 vendors. The festival, designed to showcase Maine’s diversity and promote unity among cultures, featured various performances, a smorgasbord of cuisine, local organizations and a variety of artisans.

Under a quiet tent, Jerry Mayfield and Jane Gagnier led people through Sahaja meditation. Mayfield said this type of meditation is the highest form of yoga practiced in over 100 countries. He said it helps people to reawaken their energy and move toward a balanced state, while also allowing them to realize the “intercollectivity” in the world.

“We love this fair,” Mayfield said. “Everybody sits down and reconnects.”

Near the stage, Elaine Gammon of Portland and Elizabeth Link of South Portland sat in the shade to eat a late lunch. Gammon enjoyed an Afghani rice dish and a dessert called gelabee, a swirl of fried dough with honey and lemon. Link enjoyed a plate of Jamaican food, including jerk chicken, rice and beans. It was their first time sampling food from each country.

“The rice has an interesting flavor to it,” Gammon said.

Pointing to her chicken, Link said, “It’s really, really good.”

Both had liked looking at all the jewelry and the various wares being sold, but were excited for the opportunity to try different food.

“The whole point of being here is to try different things you normally can’t get or don’t cook at home,” Link said. “I was surprised to see how many different varieties of food.”

In addition to Afghani and Jamaican foods, there was food from Ethiopia, India, Thailand, Sierra Leone and the former Portuguese colonies.

Maria Ferreira came to South Portland from Cape Verde in 1998. On Saturday, she shared a number of dishes from her island, as well as Brazil, Portugal and other countries. Many of her dishes featured cod as the main ingredient.

“When I go to the Union Wharf, they ask me why I buy so much cod,” she said. “There are so many different plates you can make. Fish is good for us, more than meat.”

She said the more she shares her cooking with people, the more they realized the versatility of the white fish.

It’s Ferreira’s willingness to talk about the dishes she prepared to those tasting them that speaks to the mission behind the festival. Through introducing people to cultures and cuisines they may not have otherwise experienced, it helps people realize the diversity of our state.

“It’s really living up to its name,” said Link of the festival and variety it offered.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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