Learning, connecting and sharing the positive aspects of the Arab culture — that’s what the Olympia Arab Festival is all about, event coordinator Farihan Bushnaq said.
The Olympia Center was filled with music, dancing, artwork and food Friday night and Saturday for the event, hosted by the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. The festival was last hosted two years ago, and about 1,000 people attended, Bushnaq said. She said she hoped to see a similar turnout this year.
“Nowadays, a lot of Arab countries are in turmoil, and we wanted to show a little bit of the positive culture,” Bushnaq said. “We want to be able to share our culture with the community.”
The festival is based on a Seattle event that also is hosted biannually. Bushnaq said the two events are hosted on opposite years so people can stay active in the community. The Olympia Arab Festival doesn’t just cater to Olympia and Thurston County — attendees, presenters and performers come from all over Washington. One speaker, professor Raouf Halaby, flew in from Arkansas.
Saturday’s events kicked off with a performance by the Shahrazad Dance Ensemble, a Seattle-based group that has been performing since 1978. Spectators watched while checking booths and eating Arabic foods.
Students from the Bellevue College Arabic Culture Student Association handed out popcorn and baklava made with an Egyptian recipe.
“Baklava is called the same thing in lots of Arabic countries, but the recipe changes from country to country,” said Orchid Raisdanai, the club’s adviser. “So the baklava you would get in Egypt is different from Palestinian baklava.”
The popcorn, she explained, is flavored with a blend of spices called za’atar.
“They have popcorn in the movie theaters in the Middle East, but it has to be flavored with za’atar,” Raisdanai said. “That’s just the way they do it.”
Huda Giddens and Sherry Garman, of the Palestinian Heritage Group, hosted a booth with crafts made by Palestinians to be sold in the United States — olive wood sculptures, needlework, ceramics and jewelry.
“We place an order, they make everything and send it here,” Giddens said. “Then we sell it and the money is used to fund Palestinian children’s organizations and medical aid.”
Events such as the Olympia Arab Festival are an important part of building community and keeping culture alive, said Ossuama “Sam” Alkhalili, of the Arab Center of Washington.
“It’s good for us, especially the kids,” Alkhalili said. “They need to know their heritage and speak the language.”