Meet the Middle East held to showcase culture, traditions

Richard Kelly

On Friday night, University United Methodist Church hosted an array of diversity. “Meet the Middle East” was in full swing, which included speakers, food from three different cultures, and dancing.

The event was festive, despite the approaching snow storm. The audience filled to standing-room only as people listened to the opening remarks of Jerry Farley, president of Washburn University.

“I think you all will find this event absolutely fascinating,” said Farley, calling “Meet the Middle East” an “exciting educational event.”

Each speaker had a different agenda on hand. The speakers were Bob Beatty, professor of international and comparative politics, Abeer Othman Al-Asali, faculty adjunct of Arabic, Bassima Schbley, the BSW Program Director at Washburn, James McHenry, director of development at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and also Thomas Kennedy, a retired Washburn professor.

One of the subjects that was discussed was ideology in Islamic countries, which as explained by Al-Asali to be very different than what people in America commonly believe. Schbley also spoke about the difference between her country and what would be expected. She described the free-ness of Lebanon and the respect for others that the culture has developed.

Next, McHenry spoke about his experience in Turkey and its contrast with America. At the end of his speech, he sang a song to the audience in Turkish.

While many were there to listen to the speakers, the food available certainly delighted guests as well. Dishes from three separate cultures were on hand for the night. There were Jordanian dishes, which included meat and spinach pies. Lebanese dishes were also served, which included Tabouli and Hummus. Turkish dishes were served as well, one of which was Eggplant Kofta. The desert was Baklava. Waithira Macharia, a sophomore at Washburn who attended the event, praised the food.

“The food is very rich,” said Macharia. “The spices are very unique. Seems like it must have taken a lot to prepare, just eating it.”

As the evening drew to a close, the International Folk Dance Group of Topeka put on a show for the audience. They demonstrated basic Turkish and Arabic dances and attempted to teach onlookers. Although participation remained limited to the folk dance group, the audience seemed to appreciate the spirit of the festivities.

With so much uncertainty about how the event would turn out, Schbley was excited by the final outcome.

“It felt really great to see this kind of audience,” said Schbley. “It felt like we got the whole community involved. It also felt great to teach people that the Middle East is highly diverse and that for the most part we’re kind, loving, generous, and just want to teach people about our culture.”