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  • Writer's pictureMaria Vandenburg

Embracing the Arab side of me

So to really tell this story, we need to go back a few years. I'm half Arab, but have grown up with my American mother (who of course I love dearly, xoxo Mummy ). For awhile now, it's sort of felt like part of me is missing.

In 2015, I ended up getting in contact with the Arab Center of Washington and a woman named Laila (funny fact: my cat at the time was also named Laila). Laila was incredibly welcoming. She talked about how her story was similar to mine, and opened the door for me to step through and become connected to the Arab community in Seattle. She asked me to volunteer at the 2015 Arab festival. I agreed, but unfortunately ended up not feeling well on the day. I don't think I was ready just quite yet.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I felt the urge to go to the Seattle Folklife Festival. I ended up arriving just in time for the Arab Showcase. That morning, I wouldn't have been able to tell you that that festival was even going on, let alone that there was an Arab Showcase. I ended up staying for the whole thing.

The highlight for me was an Egyptian father and son - George and Maurice. Maurice is in his 90's and an Oud master. They were both so passionate and had such a love for the music - it was incredible. It was one of those moments that I felt honoured to be a part of it - here's a snipit:

The other incredible part of seeing the Arab Showcase was that it reconnected me with Laila all over again. I leave for London in a few weeks, but the 2017 Seattle Arab Festival happened to be this weekend, and I got to spend my day yesterday volunteering for it.

I finally got to meet Laila (pictured below with myself and a girl named Lena, who reminded me of a 17 year old version of myself, although she actually talks to the guys shes interested in, haha)

So everything came full circle once again (that seems to be happening a lot in my life recently). I got to honor a commitment I made a few years ago and finally connect with the Arab community here in Seattle.

Highlights from the festival include:

-Everyone running late and the "opening ceremony" consisting of a presentation that they couldn't actually get to play. I really honestly did love everything about that though.

-The fact that I only know approximately 5 Arabic words - however I could consistently pick them out - "oh that song has the word one in it," "oh there's habibi!" - imagine what would happen if I actually understood two words in a row.

-My apparent love of Arab children - it seems my maternal instinct just might be kicking in - don't get any ideas mother lol

-When my shift was finished I found myself outside at the make shift coffee shop - complete with blasting Arabic music, hookah, coffee and talk. While I didn't actually engage in conversation with anyone, it was still fantastic to just sit, observe and feel as if I was a part of it all. Those Arabs certainly have a love for dancing though lol. Video footage below :)

I loved that it didn't matter who you were - young/old/male/female . As long as you knew the dance (or had the courage to try) you could join in. Maybe next time.... I will.

The whole experience was great, from being able to met Laila face to face, to hanging out with Lena at the info booth, to seeing all of these people passionate and fired up about the Arab community, to just sitting and observing. I'm so grateful that I got to be a part of it all.

Next Up,I head down to Oregon to visit the family cemetery in Verboort (this would be my mothers side of the family where my namesake is buried). Have I mentioned everything coming full circle? :)



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