Students studying Arabic had the opportunity Sunday to interact with native Iraqis and engage with them in their culture and traditions.
The Iraqi Cultural Evening in the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University brought together the university family and the Iraqi community in Durham and the surrounding areas to directly and informally interact with one another.
"This is the fourth year we've had this event," said Abdul Sattar Jawad, professor of comparative literature and Middle East studies at Duke and primary organizer of the event. "We arrange this every year for students who study Middle Eastern culture. It gives students the opportunity to interact with Iraqi people and their families. It's become a tradition."
Sponsored by the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Duke Islamic Studies Center, the Iraqi Cultural Evening opened with Azeddine Chergui and Laith Jajo playing traditional Iraqi music while traditional Iraqi food was setup in the hallway.
"It is a pleasure to see all of these beautiful faces here to celebrate on this occasion," Jajo said.
Maha Houssami teaches advanced Arabic at Duke University and works with the local Iraqi refugee population. Houssami sees the annual event as pivotal to students and the local Iraqi community.
"Some of the families here are just families in the community and some are Iraqi refugees," she said. "It's (Iraqi Cultural Evening) very important. This is one of the many cultural events we have in the Arabic program.
"It's an opportunity for our students to meet people in the Durham community and surrounding area who are holding on to their culture and traditions on another place on the map," Houssami said.
Chergui, a Durham resident who played Iraqi music Sunday, said that "we firmly believe that music can establish those bridges and that it's a good tool for outreach."
"There is a significant Iraqi refugee population here and this is a chance to give them a snapshot of home," Chergui said. "I hear a lot of appreciation for the piece of home in their new homes."
Duke University sophomore Nicole Boykins said that she came out to support her class who was putting on the event and to "interact with people of a different culture."
"In one of my classes we're learning about the politics in the region and our professor suggested we learn about the cultural aspect too," said Boykins.
Standing in line to get a taste of traditional Iraqi food, Boykins said that she liked the event a lot and that that "music was really fun."