‘Stranger in a Strange Land’

Hung on the walls of the Portland State Native American Student and Community Center for the Annual Palestinian Cultural Night were two of local Palestinian-American artist Kanaan Kanaan’s tapestries. One of the art installations pictured a dove flying into the sunset with its tail made up of names of Palestinians who died during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A larger piece pictured a Palestinian, stone in hand, wearing the traditional thobe and keffiyeh with three horses running in the backdrop.

“Palestinian culture has become a form of resistance, and we are celebrating because we are resisting colonization and resisting it in many forms,” Kanaan said.

PSU’s student group Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) hosted their 3rd Annual Palestinian Cultural Night on May 18 as a way to showcase Palestinian culture and history.

During the event, PSU alumni Jenna Saadeh talked about tatreez, a traditional style of Palestinian embroidery. Saadeh wore a handmade Palestinian thobe embroidered with tatreez, which included designs of flowers and a pattern at the hem common to the city of Bethlehem.

“I grew up here in Portland, and one thing that was always present in my life as a young Palestinian girl was that I would always get these dresses from back home,” she said. “I took a deep dive into the cultural significance of Palestinian embroidery. As many of you may or may not know, you can usually know where someone is from based on the embroidery on their dress.”

Many attendees that evening also wore various styles of the traditional Palestinian thobe. One attendee, Layla Abdel-jawad, who is originally from Ramallah in the West Bank, wore her grandmother’s.

Tables displayed traditional dresses, tapestries and dishes, including the Arabic coffee pot known as a dallah. The artifacts were provided by the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon.

Local Palestinian poet Mohammad Bader, whose book The Traveler was sold that night as a donation to SUPER, talked briefly about his journey from East Jerusalem to the United States. He was a graduate of English from Bethlehem University and eventually became a poet in the U.S. He read from excerpt below:

Ahmad, the Arab  

And I wander far away,

Stranger in a strange land,

Burying my pain and sorrow

Eight members of the Seattle-based group Jafra Dabke danced in the Palestinian style as well. Dabke is a type of traditional folk dance popular throughout the Levant, varying slightly depending on the specific country. Most of the performers were of Palestinian heritage, while two—Ahmed Ali and his brother Naji Ali—had actually grown up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus.

As the event coincided with the Islamic month of Ramadan, the evening also featured Iftar, the meal in which Muslims break their day-long fast. Dinner was catered by Salem-based Palestinian restaurant Al Aqsa—a name borrowed from Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem—and included chicken, bukhari rice, fattoush salad, hummus and flat bread.

The evening ended with one final performance from Jafra Dabke, as members of the audience were invited to join and learn the steps of the traditional Palestinian dance.