January 24, 2012
A culture predominately obscure to many Americans is the Arab culture. Although it is as different from American culture as baba ghanoush is from apple pie, people around the world are fundamentally similar. Endeavoring to educate and familiarize local students and teachers on Arabic culture, the Berks County Intermediate Unit’s Asian Studies Collaborative, in conjunction with World Artists Experiences, hosted an Arab Cultural Immersion Experience trip to Washington, DC.
Excursions began with visiting the Iraqi Cultural Center, where the director welcomed educators and students and set the scene for our day of experiencing the Arab culture. We received presentations on various aspects of Iraqi culture, the Arabic language, and cultural understanding. Our visit to Iraq ended in a much- appreciated, delicious lunch of Middle Eastern food samplings complete with spiced hot tea.
At the Egyptian Cultural and Educational Bureau of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Cultural Attaché gave profound insight into Egypt’s history and culture stemming from the days of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Students asked questions on Egypt’s recent uprisings and current political situation. The resilience and strength of this ancient race of people showed brightly during our visit, and we departed Egypt in greater unity with these people across the globe.
The final segment to the Arab Cultural Experience tour was that of being special guests at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. We moved from display cases depicting Mecca, traditional clothing, and artifacts to an opulent conference room where we settled into cultural presentations. The presenter outlined the Saudi male attire consisting of a thawb, ghutra, igal, and sandals, and the woman’s dress of an abaya, hijab, burka, or niqab, and sandals. He then chose audience participants, clothed them in various ornate, bright dress, and bring them onstage. As he explained the differences in arm lengths, material weight, and fabric colors of the thawbs and abayas, we came to understand how Saudi dress is representative of the person’s surroundings and living conditions. The finale of the Arab Cultural Immersion Day came with a generous Saudi dinner of piles of fresh Middle Eastern salads, pans of slow-roasted meats, and baskets of warm pita bread with a finale of sweet delicacies.
We headed home with heads full of what we learned, stomachs full of what we ate, and hearts full of growing closer to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe.
contact: Sue Calvin, program administrator
Laura Ross, specialist