Skip to main content

An Arabiyat Evening: Dancing, Singing and Conversation

Duke Arabic language students celebrate launch of new project with Iraqi refugees

Naji Hilal entertains on the oud with Nadim Bou Hamdan on the dumbek.  Photo by Hannah Jacobs.
Naji Hilal entertains on the oud with Nadim Bou Hamdan on the dumbek. Photo by Hannah Jacobs.

More than 70 students, guests and members of the public enjoyed a lively Arabiyat evening led by Duke Arabic language students Sept. 23.

The students spoke about their experiences on Duke summer programs in Jordan, Qatar and Egypt, and celebrated the launch of a new Dardasha project that connects third and fourth year Arabic students with local Iraqi refugee families.

Ten students and five Iraqi refugee families living in Durham, some of whom attended the event, meet once a week for cross-cultural English/Arabic dardasha (conversation) in a semester-long project organized by Arabic Instructor Maha Houssami, Duke's Service-Learning Program office, and the Durham office of Church World Service, an agency responsible for Iraqi refugee resettlement in the Triangle.

A singing duo playing the Middle Eastern oud (stringed instrument)and dumbek (drum) entertained the students, guests and members of the public.

A dance teacher representing the Triangle Lebanese Association, Bearta al Chacar, performed the Arab folk dance native to Lebanon called the dabkeh. Several Arabic students, including Sarah Haas, Ahmad Jitan and Emily Mendenhall joined in the group dance.

Professor of Comparative Literature and Middle East Studies Abdul Sattar al-Jawad al Mamouri, who said he misses his hometown of Baghdad, proudly showed off his Baghdadi version of a fedora. Before coming to Duke, he was dean of College of Arts Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and edited the Baghdad Mirror.

There was time for more socializing during a Middle Eastern dinner buffet that included Moroccan chicken, salad, pita bread and hummus.

The Arabic students and the Iraqi refugee families can look forward to continued cultural immersion through the Dardasha project.

According to Houssami, since the Iraqi refugees recently arrived to the area, the students have helped become more familiar with the city, with Duke, and the greater Durham community. Duke students and young children from the families are sharing English and Arabic words, giving the Duke students exposure to the Iraqis' modern standard Arabic and the children a chance to improve their English language skills.

"The partnership organizers and the Arabic-language students are all looking forward to the semester of cultural exchange as one of many positive new experiences for the Iraqi families in Durham," said Houssami.  "As author Rodney Williams once wrote, 'Everyday you have the opportunity to learn and experience something and someone new. Seize the opportunity. Learn and experience everything you can, and use it to change the world.'"

The Arabiyat evening was organized by the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and co-sponsored by the Service Learning Program and the Arab Student Organization at Duke. 

Below: Professor Abdul Sattar al-Jawad al Mamouri enjoys the Arabiyat event.  Photo by Julie Poucher Harbin.

abdul sattar al-jawad