Friday, November 2, 2012

The Jerusalem Center's Arabian Night

Yep—this is the Arab night episode. Sorry it took so long—I have been away, you see. More on that later. For the moment, this is about what the Jerusalem Center Arab festivities entailed:

Arab Décor: I helped to decorate the Oasis for the evening. We strung lights from the arches, covered the tables with clothes and kafyas, set out baskets and pieces of pottery, strewed beans and seeds and corn kernels here and there, and set up a photo shoot area with multi-colored draperies and bean bags. If I do say so myself, it looked pretty awesome when we were done. I also enjoyed speaking Arabic with our amazing chef, Ahmed. My favorite conversation was thus: I looked at the decorations and said to him, “Hatha jamiila—this is beautiful.” He replied back, “Inti jamiila—you are beautiful.” Aw, shucks. J

Arab Costume: As I told you before, I bought a dress. And on this occasion I wore my dress. I also swapped my sparkly blue scarf for Catherine Chipman’s plane cream one and used safety pins to make it into a hijab—an Arab woman’s head scarf. The dress was a little big, so I made some alterations. It now has a very fashionable dart in the back that I sewed on myself. I am quite proud.

By the way, I was one of the winners of the costume contest. My prize was Mentos chewing gum. Hooray!

Arab Religion: The evening was kicked off with a presentation from a father and son who chant the call to prayer from the minaret at the Al-Aqsa mosque at the Haram Es-shariif (the Noble Sanctuary, aka Temple Mount). They chanted Surat Miriam (the chapter of Mary) from the Quran, detailing Mary’s calling and the immaculate conception (Muslims do believe that Mary was divinely called and that Jesus is important—but in their doctrine He is a prophet and not the son of God). They also showed us how the Muslim prayers worked. They both had beautiful voices, and it was fun for me to listen and hear phrases and words I understood from my Arabic class—such as “Bism Allah ir-rahman ir-rahiim” (in the name of God, the merciful, the magnificent) and “Allahu Akhbar” (God is very great) and “Ilhamdu L’illah” (Praise be to God).

Arab Food: What can I say? Many spices, much rice, copious pitas, and a whole lot of meat—that about sums it up. We had lamb, chicken schwarma, beef, roasted vegetables, rice, pitas, hummus (lots of hummus, which we all love—Ahmed’s recipe is the best), fried things of different varieties, and Sprite (not very Arab maybe, but still). 

Dessert was also nice, sporting a wide variety of pastries I have never seen and don’t have names for but that I did take pictures of. My favorite is Kanefeh, the orange shredded wheat looking one. It’s delicious.

All in all it was a magnificent meal. Was it healthy? Not really. Did I eat too much? Absolutely. Did I feel a little sick afterwards? Maybe. Was it worth it? Oh, yes.

Not-so-Arab Women: Everyone took it in turns to do the photo corner after dinner. After a short trial-and-error period, a few of the boys ended up making a dozen or so girls (yours truly in her awesome costume included) stay sitting while the boys took it in turns to sit in the middle and pretend they were surrounded by their harem. It was pretty funny. I didn't want to add to the camera juggle that was going on, so I still need to get some of the good ones from other people, otherwise I would post one here.

Arab Dancing: I ran downstairs and changed out of my dress to go have fun dancing. I was a little surprised to see that our instructors were really no older than we were—maybe younger even. They taught us some Arab dance steps—complicated, yes, but bouncy and fun. 

I finally started getting it down as the evening wore on. Part way through, we had what in Irish is called a step-out—everyone standing in a circle and various dancers taking turns showing off their stuff in the middle. I did a few Irish leaps and felt a little abashed that they were so clumsy—but then Katie motioned to me from the other side of the circle that we should go out together, and I emphatically agreed. We skipped toward each other into the circle, leapt and soared past each other midway, then danced out again. Even though she has done a lot of dance and is majoring in music performance, Katie doesn’t like being on stage or playing in front of people all that much sometimes, so I was thrilled that she was willing to dance with me. When everyone started dancing again, we did a few of our old World Dance class steps in the corner. My shin splints were acting up again by the end of the night, but it was worth it. I didn’t realize how much I  missed dance until then.

That’s all for now. Next up—Jordan!


  1. I love the Arab dress! What a great picture! Arab night sounds like a blast. The food looks great. You are having some fantastic experiences. I like your new background for your blog. It's so colorful!
    love, mom

  2. Ohhhhh, Rachel! You look beautiful in your arab attire. Love it! Love you lots n' lots & Miss you tons n' tons. :)