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The world comes to Albany

By CATHERINE LUKE

The Capital District has the whole world in its hands. Or, perhaps its belly would be the more correct anatomical part.

On Sunday, Oct. 29, Albany's Empire State Plaza Convention Center will host the 35th annual Festival of Nations. From noon to 5 p.m., the convention center's walls will be filled with the colors, tastes, and melodies of more than 20 different countries represented by nonprofit organizations. Country groups will be presenting booths offering cuisine, crafts, and entertainment reminiscent of their homeland. There will be raffle prizes as well.

Manoj Ajmera serves as the chairman of the event. This year will be Ajmera's 21st Festival of Nations. The retired state environmental engineer and Bombay, India native began his involvement with the festival as a dancer for India. From there, he proceeded up the ranks to head his country's group, then acted as treasurer of the festival and other positions until finding himself in his current role.

The afternoon's events will begin with a parade of the participating nations. A file of countries will circle the venue and finish on stage where Ajmera will welcome all. Then, members from each country will perform ethnic music and dances. The live entertainment will continue throughout the afternoon, only recessing for the crowning of the 2006 Miss Festival of Nations.

The Miss Nations contest is not a beauty pageant, Ajmera said. The focus is directed on contestants' voices, overall presentations, costumes, and knowledge of their country.

The most exciting part about the event? "Every group gets the chance to cheer for their own contestant," Ajmera explained.

Twenty-three nations are set to participate in this year's celebration. The event's itinerary is self-organized by participating groups. About 4,000 " 5,000 culture-hungry visitors attend the festival each year.

"We are proud and flattered that thousands of people make our event an annual part of their schedules. We've seen many familiar faces through the years, and each and every festival brings more new friends," Ajmera said.

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