Organizers of Fiber College, an annual week of classes, demonstrations, vendors and more at Searsport Shores Campground, held a delicious “dress rehearsal” for an event set for Wednesday, Sept. 9, during this year’s lineup.

On June 7, 40 friends and neighbors from Searsport and Belfast shared a Bantu Feast. Prepared by Atiya Haji, along with her family and other members of the Lewiston-based Somali Bantu community, the menu included wood-fired bread called muuffo and flaky chapati bread. There were several varieties of sambusa, which is crispy dough wrapped around a savory filling  — beef as well as a vegetarian option.

There also was bean stew and sukuma, a mixture of spinach with potatoes, onion and spices. A sweet treat called mandazi, traditional fried dough from Kenya, completed the meal, which was fragrant with chili powder, garlic, cardamon, curry and ginger.

In addition to being a fabulous cook, Haji is part of The Women's Empowerment Project, which has developed a number of initiatives including the Basket Weaving Program. Muhidin Libah, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston and Auburn, spoke briefly to the group about some of the challenges faced by the Somali Bantu Community members.

SBCMALA is a 501©3 nonprofit organization with a mission to assist the Somali Bantu refugee community with the transition to our their lives and to their new home here in Maine. Since 2005, SBCMALA has worked to offer programs to help give refugees the skills and education they need to find employment. Bantu people are incredibly hard workers, seeking economic independence for their families. Libah stated that 2015 is an important year as it is the 10th anniversary of the organization.

Fiber College is collaborating with Haji and her colleagues to offer a class in weaving a traditional market basket. Participants will listen to the Maay-Maay language and its translation while they sit with others and weave the reeds that have been specially imported from Kenya. This is an opportunity to learn an original handcraft from the people who have been practicing it since they were children. The class will be divided into two three-hour sessions, providing time to weave at leisure before learning to add handles and embellishments.

In addition to the aforementioned food specialties, the Wednesday Night Dinner Sept. 9 will include building a traditional Somalian pod home, music and a fashion show. For more information about either event and other options in the 2015 Fiber College, visit

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or