Middle Eastern Week 2015

Lydia Tsou/HIGHLANDER
Lydia Tsou/HIGHLANDER

Movie Under the Stars: “The Agony of Love.”

Under the windy night skies of Tuesday night, the Middle Eastern Student Center (MESC) held a film screening for the second day of the weeklong festivities. The staff, which was made up of several members of MESC, welcomed the guests to the HUB Plaza as the sun set, handing out fresh popcorn and hot drinks to the gathering crowd.

The crowd was mixed, with couples huddled together on blankets, small groups crowded around the brick planters and a row of middle-aged adults crowded in front of the projector. Since there are no English subtitles available for “365 Days of Happiness,” we instead watched the Egyptian comedy-drama “The Agony of Love.” Host Tina Matar explained that Egypt became the Hollywood of the Middle East beginning in the ‘60s — and though much of the humor was likely lost in translation, the film was actually quite good, with much of the audience laughing at the comedic moments. As the night drew on, more and more students arrived at the grass, drawn to the smell of food and the lights of the projector likes moths to a lamp.

The film ended a few minutes after nine, with many of the viewers pressed together against the chilly air. The only denizens of the HUB at the time were us and the ever-present dance groups that congregate at the oddest hours of the day.

Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER

True Life: I’m a Middle Eastern Man

The third day of Middle Eastern Week featured an event designed to shed light on the experiences of male Middle Eastern students at our campus. The panel, which consisted of six students, gathered in front of a crowd that filled up the entirety of HUB 260, who enjoyed the lovely trays of cookies, hummus, sandwiches and other snacks thoughtfully provided by the MESC. Though they tackled heavy topics that ranged from their views on marriage to personal stories of being at the receiving end of bigotry, the panelists managed to keep things light while explicating several rumors about Middle Eastern men and culture.

The first question posed by moderator Natalie Haddad asked the panelists how they had assimilated into American culture. Panelist Shaheen Nassar had a very thoughtful answer, explaining that assimilation “isn’t something we’re looking for,” as conforming to an American ideal would mean a loss of identity. Daoud Hussein recounted that he had trouble fitting in, mentioning that a teacher had asked him, “Oh, your last name is Hussein?” during the early years of the American invasion of Iraq. Stories of racism were a common theme shared among the panelists, which included Peter Aziz including how a college counselor asking him if he was “planning anything” when he used to sport a full beard. Anis Kadim recounted his experience in a humorous light, noting how odd it is that he’s always selected for “random searches” when going through airport security.

Topics also touched on Middle Eastern views of marriage and homosexuality. All of the panelists expressed support for gay rights with a “live and let live” attitude. In the discussion of marriage, Shaheen said that ideals of marriage “transcend cultural boundaries,” encapsulating how beautiful and loving any relationship can be, regardless of sex, religion or culture. Shaheen also asserted that the Middle East had an egalitarian society for a long time, and that European colonialism and dominance led to an adoption of male-centric ideals.

Besides getting a degree, the college experience is about the free exchange of ideas and new experiences, and the MESC’s true-life event on Wednesday truly captured the spirit of what college is supposed to be. They broke barriers, told jokes and undoubtedly helped many people in the audience shake some presuppositions about Middle Eastern men and culture.

Free Minds: Open Mic Night

The Barn had a busy night on Thursday, as the last event for Middle Eastern Week took place. It was an open mic event, with the stage taken 17 times and in a diverse array of mediums, ranging from singing and slam poetry to instrumental solos and even stand-up comedy. Most of the students onstage were of Middle Eastern descent, and through singing, instrument virtuosity or truth spoken through poetry displayed an intense pride in Middle Eastern customs and culture.

The event opened up with Mossab Hammadi, who sang twice on stage, the first song being John Legend’s “All of Me” followed by a popular Arabic song that the crowd clapped along to during its intense beats. There were other moments highlighting student pride in Middle Eastern culture, as Reem Jaber and Beshoi Nashed recited lines of Arabic poetry, unbroken for several minutes, that attracted plenty of respectful cheers and finger snaps. Mehron Kazemi played a pair of Afghan drums with such skill that at several occasions the crowd attempted to clap along with his beat.

The night became intensely personal when Sean Darmal took the stage to perform comedy. After thanking the MESC director for having the open mic, his material centered around love, be it from the lack of sympathy expressed in staring matches between him and drivers who almost hit him in the streets (“Come on motherfucker, I dare you to hit me!”) to reminiscing about his childhood memories of his older brothers constantly fighting each other. “They never fought like white guys, where it’d look like they’d be trying to hug and kiss each other,” he comically stated. “They made each other bleed and bruise.” It always came back to the topic of love for Darmal as he went over the estranged love for his parents (“to all my white people here, we’ve been beaten by coat hangers our entire lives!”) and the comical ups and downs of a recent relationship (“It’s so weird that here in the 21st century, we measure our love by how comfortable it is to fart in front of each other”). Ultimately, Darmal’s set pointed to the fact that love, no matter what the circumstances, always wins in the end.

There were a few sets that were not entirely dedicated to Middle Eastern culture, but nonetheless provided entertainment for the Barn crowd. A few of those people included guitarist Rafid Solder, who performed a rendition of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” and UCR’s Improv Club, whose varied sketches always centered around ideas shouted out by the audience.

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