B.C.’s Goan community ready to party it up at carnival fiesta prior to Easter (with video)

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Sharlene Lobo has been putting in long hours preparing for the upcoming Goan Carnival Fiesta. Here she decorates wall signs in Surrey, B.C. Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. Ric Ernst/PNG

The Lower Mainland’s Goan community is gearing up for its last hoorah before Lent on Feb. 13.

Surrey’s Carnival Cultural Club’s biannual Carnival Fiesta — happening this Sunday at the Royal King Palace and Convention Centre in Surrey — is something Sharlene Lobo, 23, has been doing every second year for her entire life.

“My grandmother started it, so we’re all involved — all my cousins, all my aunts and uncles — we’re really involved in the carnival, on the committee,” Lobo said from the basement of her Surrey home, surrounded by glitter, paint and decorations for the upcoming event. “It’s just something we do.”

The festival marks the start of Lent — a 40-day period of fasting before Easter — which plays a big role in the Goan culture, with about 99 per cent of people practicing Catholicism.

“(So) it’s an extremely small minority in India,” said Edwina Nazareth, Lobo’s mother. “The religion is different, traditions are different, the cooking is different, it’s just a different community.”

They’re also a small community in B.C. and across Canada.

But it was Nazareth’s mother, Martha, who started the festival in Canada in 1995. Martha passed away in 2003, but her family proudly carries on the successful tradition.

“It was never meant to be anything,” Nazareth said of her mother’s first-ever Carnival Fiesta, which had about 80 people attend. “It was a tiny little event that took place in a small community hall and since then we’ve grown and grown and grown and last year had 630 people.”

“I’m sure she’d have been very proud if she was here today to see how big it has grown.”

Nazareth hopes the event will raise about $10,000 this year, which they’ll donate to charities or student scholarships, but she also hopes to put some of the remaining funds towards a clubhouse for the local Goan community.

But the festival is “basically all fun really,” said Nazareth.

“We just have lots of partying, we have games of skill, something for everyone — something for the children, for the adults,” she said.

There’s a big feast, dance performances, a float parade and competition as well as a talent competition. And this year’s theme is “blast from the past,” so everyone will be in ’30s, ’40s, ’50s or ’60s attire and building their floats to match.

“We have people dressing up as Elvis, as Marilyn Monroe — people will be in costume,” said Nazareth.

People from all over the Lower Mainland are building floats to take part in the competition as well.

The extravagant event is something Lobo looks forward to every year, but it certainly takes a lot of work.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate,” she said. “I’m in charge of all the decorations for the day, the main King Momo’s float . . . and I’m also competing in the float competition.”

Her basement — which has been turned into a Carnival Fiesta workshop — is a testament to that. Cardboard cutouts of glittered and colourful displays are strewn across hardwood floors, tables are hidden beneath cloths and turned into painting stations and the garage is the construction zone for Lobo’s two floats.

“I’ve been working on all this stuff since, I would say, November — putting it together slowly,” she said. “I’ve been putting in 12-hour days some days on the weekends and every night another six or seven hours some days, so it’s been a long time.”

“There’s a lot of construction involved … lots of organizing and lots of manpower.”

But for most of the hours she puts in community members come over to help — so it ends up being a social event.

“Everyone has a great time,” said Lobo. “It’s fun . . . it’s something that runs in my family.”

But after all her hard work, she’s hesitant to reveal her masterpieces before the grand event.

“Our main king Momo’s float is a real blast from the past,” she said with a smile. “But I can’t give it away.”

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