When the Morlan Centre of Faith and Culture in Aberystwyth asked the Arabic Women’s Communty Initiative (AWCI) to host an event, we felt ‘The Great Get Together’ would be perfect for the AWCI to invite the wider public to an Arabic-flavoured evening. The Great Get Together brings communities together once a year in events inspired by Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered on 16 June 2016.
The AWCI first met as a group in February 2019 and now have two-weekly meetings. There are women from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.
In the group, we have experts in various fields and have had interactive talks about nutrition, hair and nails, exercise, and even a shampoo-making session.
We have had two children’s events during the school holidays and a Q&A session with our local MP, Ben Lake.
After a break for Ramadan in May, we got back together to prepare for the Get Together at the Morlan on 22 June.
An Arabic women’s event would not be complete without food and there was a glorious food debating meeting. To keep within budget, vegetarian food was eventually agreed – not without some resistance: what, no meat?!
Some of the Syrian women in Aberystwyth now have a social enterprise – ‘pop-up’ food events. Trained and certificated, they passed on their knowledge of licensed kitchens, food hygiene and so on, while Aber Food Surplus gave their full support and advice to the organising women.
A kitchen full of Arabic women is an experience to be had, with lots of banter, vibrancy, colour, generosity, support, friendship, kindness – and wonderful aromas.
Rehab of Egypt told me her favourite part of the event were the two days the women worked in the kitchen together. The atmosphere was amazing and reminded her of home.
The event itself was a success. To our joy, 150 people arrived from across the community.
The programme was to bring a ‘flavour’ of the Arabic world, beginning with a feast of tasty, varied food, which was enjoyed and highly praised by all.
Then nine-year-olds from Iraq, Oman, Palestine and Sudan sang Welsh songs. A Sudanese girl, shy and totally charming, performed a Welsh poem about food, while a Syrian refugee read Nizar Qabbani’s ‘Damascene Moon’ – a love poem to Damascus, the city from which the refugee was exiled.
Local storytellers told tales of the Arabic world. Syrians sang songs. We danced.
Aberystwyth is a ‘desert’ for Arabic culture, so we created our own. People brought items of clothing and other colourful displays from their homes to decorate the hall. Birmingham musician Zirak Hamad performed for us, encouraging the audience to get up and dance.
My favourite moment of the evening was during his performance when I turned around to see a Syrian refugee in her late 60s who has been through a lot give me a big beaming smile that filled her face and her whole being.
That is what the Great Get Together is all about!