Every two years, there's an Arab festival in Seattle. I didn't hear about this one until just a few days before, and I was all over it.
A wonderful weekend actually, starting off with volunteering at the aquarium, where we got the most amazing plankton drop. We drop a net over the side of the pier a couple times, to see what kind of plankton might be swimming there. I tell people that this is the stuff you swallow when you swallow ocean water- plus the 7 million viruses in a tablespoon of seawater that you can't see.
But never before have I found such a rich diversity in one haul! All under the projecting microscope, there were copepods and fish eggs, a flat worm and numerous shrimp, jellies and - wait for it- even an amphioxus and a miniature scallop, crawling around! The scallop was just like it's larger cousins, but transparent, and we could see it's foot moving about on the scope. Amphioxus is our closest living invertebrate relative, looking like a simple fish with a notochord (primitive backbone) and dorsal hollow nerve tube(primitive nerve cord). They most commonly seen in plankton trawls or sediment dredges, but in all my life, with many trawls, I've seen them in a sample only twice before.
Then it was off to the Arab festival, where I spent all weekend, minus the aquarium and Meeting Sunday morning. Subconsciously, I was expecting something along the lines of the annual Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan, which goes for blocks and blocks. Honestly, that was a poor expectation, with Dearborn having the largest concentration of Arabs in North America. This festival was still well-represented though, with three venues. I met up with a number of friends, some new, some old, and gained a lot of valuable contacts as well.
Dancing was a significant portion of the event. Watching was fun. Participating...well, there were three workshops. I missed the debke workshop due to the aquarium, and showed up to the next. It was mostly women. I asked to make sure, and was told that, yes, guys could be part of it too- you just don't shake your hips as much. Turns out, no, not so much. It was pretty much a woman's dance. And highly embarrasing for me. Oh- I forgot to mention. It wasn't in an isolated room. It was in the middle of a large room, in front of a large audience, watching. And I didn't feel like I could leave in the middle of the dance- but as soon as it was over I was very gone.
The performed debke was much more comfortable to watch:
Besides wonderful dancing and music, there was the atmosphere. Suddenly, I felt like I was back in a Middle Eastern country again. And not some sort of Disneyfied version either. This is how the people dress over there- some Western, and some traditional. All within a block of the Pacific Science Center and the Science Fiction Museum, in the middle of Seattle Center, and yet, a whole new world. It was good to be invited to sit down again on froshes and drink some tea, and relax in a pool of Arabic.
There were moments of disturbance. Guys with large signs about how you need to be saved by Jesus, and yelling out passages from the Bible. Two issues I have with this. One, Numbers is one of the more boring passages. There are more exciting ones. Two, it was in English. I wouldn't have minded as much if they'd tried to fit in with what's going on.
More disturbing was a representative walking around in uniform in front of the country booths. While we are bombing their countries and killing their citizens, supporting countries that engage in apartheid against Arabs, I just think it's a bit gauche to walk around in front, sharing the good news of the US Army.
I had know idea that Lybia had a secondary flag- but then Lybia is perhaps the most mysterious of all the Arab countries.
Underneath there were the booths, where I found there is a Washington State Moroccan Association, which I of course signed up for. There were actually about three different booths for Morocco, the most heavily represented country there, which was good for my wholefully fousha-deficient Arabic. And the Moroccans had the most bling going on too, with a full salon set up to lie in.
Below, also a great mini-store, where I got some tasty zahtar, a Lebanese oregano delicacy, sometimes with meat. Evidently there's a fully stocked Arabic store in the area, but all the way up in Everett. And a couple organizations for defending the civil rights of Arab-Americans, and the rights of Arabs abroad under US rule to continue to live. And then one travel agency, Caravan-Serai, whose patron looked vaguely familiar. She looked at me for a bit, and also thought I looked familiar. It turned out that I volunteered a few times for her, Rita, five years ago! She had been trying to get an Arab museum together at the time, and still is. She has a large collection, and no permament place to house it.
But even more intriguing, she recently returned from leading a tour of Yemen and Suqutra, and is planning another such trip in January- and could easily get a very reasonable priced trip to only Suqutra for March. Something to check out, to be sure...