Chicago plans big New Year’s Eve bash for world’s ‘simple citizens’
CHICAGO – You’ll never guess who’s coming to dinner.
Looking for suggestions for ringing in the new millennium, Chicago city officials got an e-mail response all the way from Italy.
”Invite two persons, of each countries of the world, but not VIP: only simple citizens,” wrote Bernardino de Vincenzi, a city worker in Vigevano.
The e-mail crossed the desk of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who issued a two-word order.
”Do it,” the mayor told his somewhat bewildered staff.
This week, two people from nearly 200 countries and territories are arriving in Chicago. They include a gardener from the South Pacific island of Kiribati, a taxi driver from London, a gorilla tracker from Rwanda, a bank clerk from Bolivia, an obstetrician from Kazakstan and a teacher from Laos. And de Vincenzi, of course.
”It’s been a huge geography lesson,” said Dorothy Coyle, the Chicago tourism director who has headed the millennium dinner project.
The city has spent $1.5 million on the event and received another $1.5 million in donations, including airline tickets, hotel rooms and warm coats and hats. Most of the guests will arrive Wednesday and Thursday.
The idea began taking shape more than a year ago with city officials spreading the word throughout Chicago to submit names of ordinary people to invite.
”It’s not about knowing somebody or being somebody important – it’s just about luck,” said Therese Meyobeme, a Chicagoan who will play host to two visitors from her homeland of Cameroon.
Karin-Aude Montabord, a tourism officer for the Caribbean island of Martinique, was suggested by a friend at the University of Chicago. She was surprised – and pleased – to receive her invitation from the mayor.
”I thought, ‘Mmmmm, Chicago in December. It’s going to be minus what?”’ Montabord joked. (It’s been in the 20s and below.)
Others were chosen for their good deeds. A woman who works at the Guatemalan consulate, for example, suggested a mechanic who had gone out of his way to fix her car during a visit to the Central American country.
On Tuesday, several early arrivals – from such places as Ecuador, South Africa, Sweden and Tunisia – had breakfast together at a Chicago hotel. Some planned to visit museums or shop while in town.
Some had to learn such things as how to ride an escalator and the best method for walking in heavy boots.
The guests will spend at least one night with host families and, on New Year’s Eve, will gather for a millennium dinner that will include roasted chicken and apple pie cheesecake.
This is the first time many have been to the United States. That includes Tahmina Akhter, a teacher from Bangladesh who was chosen by a Chicago-based association of Bangladeshi immigrants after she wrote an essay about Abraham Lincoln.
”The mayor – he has done a great thing,” said her husband, Kamal Ahmad, an army major in Bangladesh. ”When there is so much fighting across the world and ethnic problems, we feel he has done something to make the world come together.”
Ibrahim Afeef, a resident of the Maldives who leads scuba diving tours in the Indian Ocean, agreed: ”There is no better way to celebrate an event like this.”