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Mahrajan celebration educates about Arabic culture

In order to both celebrate and educate students about an often misunderstood culture, UNH’s Middle Eastern Cultural Association (UNH MECA) held a Mahrajan, Arabic for festival, on Thursday, April 6, in the Granite State Room.

The festival consisted of a belly dancing performance by dancer Zabel, along with a dabke performance by the Boston Dabke Troupe and free henna tattoos. Students were also treated to a delicious buffet of traditional Lebanese cuisine; consisting of stuffed grape leaves, falafel wraps, chicken kabobs, rice, fattoush and tabbouleh salads, hummus and stuffed spinach pastries.

“We’ve been organizing this event for a few months now, reaching out to performers and caterers,” first year economics major and UNH MECA’s Public Relations Chair Nooran Alhamdan said. “We met every week and would also invest a lot of time outside our designated group meeting time to tie up the loose ends with paper work and advertising.”

According to junior biomedical science major and president of UNH MECA Sarah Waterhouse, prior to this year, UNH MECA was a small club, made up of only about five people.

“So the event was a goal to grow our organization. This year we figured, let’s make it bigger,” Waterhouse said. “And everyone was more interested in our organization this year because of current political events. So we wanted to expose people to the culture and have people get a chance to learn about it.”

After the buffet was served, Zabel performed a traditional belly dance for the crowd. Zabel is a local dancer who frequently performs at Cafe Nostimo in Portsmouth and other restaurants in the local area, in addition to performing at UNH MECA’S “Mythical Middle East” celebration last year.

“She danced specifically to Egyptian-style music, which places a heavy emphasis on the darbuka drums,” Alhamdan said. “Belly dancing is so much a part of Arab culture, especially at weddings and parties.”

The highlight of the evening for many was the dabke performance put on by the Boston Dabke Troupe, a group made up of Palestinian-American graduate students. According to Alhamdan, the “dabke” itself is a traditional form of dance originating from the Levant, the region consisting of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan.

“We simply called them up and asked them to come to our event, and they said yes,” Alhamdan said. “They drove all the way to UNH in the pouring rain and we are so grateful they did, because they were truly the life of the party and taught all the guests who weren’t familiar with Arab culture how to dabke!”

The entire event exceeded the expectations of the organizers, according to Alhamdan. At least 220 people turned out for the celebration, which was far more than expected.

“I think it is very important for UNH students to go to cultural events like the one we hosted, because you can learn something new about a culture you may be very misinformed about,” Alhamdan said. “I think in this political climate, Arab culture has unfortunately been misrepresented and even demonized. Anyone who came to our event last night knows that Arab culture is not what we see in the media. Arab culture is about genuine hospitality.”

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