MECA Hosts Mahrajan Middle Eastern Festival


Jade Kwitkiwski, Contributing Writer

DURHAM- Whether you’re getting married, throwing a birthday party or hosting a baby shower, you can celebrate Mahrajan. The Arabic word for festival, maharajan applies to all kinds of occasions that bring people together. 

Around 100 students gathered in the Granite State Room (GSR) on March 3 for the Middle Eastern Cultural Association’s (MECA’s) annual Mahrajan event. The event featured local cuisine from Pauly’s Pockets on Main Street and a belly dancer who taught the crowd to dance at the end of the night. 

According to co-chair Sarah Aleisa, MECA’s Mahrajan celebrated Middle Eastern culture as a whole, specifically highlighting some traditions from Egypt and Lebanon. She hoped that guests would learn more about the Middle East while enjoying the event. 

“The Middle East is not one country, it’s many countries. You’re talking more than 15 countries in there and all these countries are different, each country celebrates in a different way,” Aleisa said. “So we’re trying here to show the people that the Middle East is a big place.” 

Aleisa, who identifies as Middle Eastern, hails from Saudi Arabia and moved to the United States in 2019. After the previous MECA president graduated, Aleisa gladly accepted the role of co-chair.

“When I came here, the International Office introduced me to the last president. And since then, I just love my culture and I’m so excited to share and tell people more about my culture,” Aleisa said. 

She said the belly dancer was one of her favorite parts of the night, a type of dance that originates from Egypt. MECA’s other co-chair Marah Mohamed noted in the event’s opening speech that the significance of belly dancing has evolved over the years. 

“People would do dancing as a ritual for fertility from the goddess Isis. As time went on, the beliefs changed and now it’s something that’s used for big occasions like weddings or baby showers,” Mohamed said. “I had one at my birthday party when I turned 16.” 

During the event, the dancer wore jeweled pink clothing and entered with a yellow veil over her shoulders, which she incorporated into her first dance. Moving off the main stage and into clusters of tables, some guests rose from their seats to dance alongside her. 

Faris Zeino, MECA’s secretary, expressed that every culture has “hidden delights” waiting to be uncovered and enjoyed. In the event’s opening remarks, Zeino retold the story of his parents’ immigration from Syria when they were his age. 

“The first thing my dad did when he got here when getting to the airport was go to Hasbrouck Heights McDonald’s to see what the fuss was all about,” Zeino said.

“There’s a man with a big mustache and a big suit and he’s eating a Big Mac. He felt like he was in a totally different world, but in reality, it’s the same world that we’re all living in,” Zeino continued.

Alongside other events and meetings, Aleisa says that MECA helps students on campus more comfortable to tell others they’re Middle Eastern. 

“It’s not just what the news tells you about us. We can have fun, we can celebrate. We have a unique and amazing culture that we want to share with everyone,” Aleisa said.