The Al-Bustan Experience: Camp 2017

I’m Adam. I was the counselor in charge of Group ‘Baladi’ (Arabic for ‘my country’) at Al-Bustan Camp. Despite my height and spattering of facial hair, I was pretty much a camper myself. That’s because everything the children did and learned, I did and learned, too. Shoulder to shoulder, we recited Ustadh Yaseen’s Arabic lessons and songs and banged on the Tabla with Ustadh Hafez. We crafted radial designs and herbal concoctions with Ustadha Lisa, told stories with Momma Sandi, Brother Nashid Ali, and Kala. I have to say there’s no better way to learn than by being ten years older than all the other students in the room.

I’m quite versed in the ways of Al-Bustan, being I was actually a camper myself from a young age, both my own and the program’s. As I greet parents dropping their children off in the morning, I realize that I can’t tell them about all the magic that goes down once camp begins. Much of the experiences I’ve had, that I wanted to tell them their children would have, remain unavailable for articulation. But I know. I’ll try to share some of what I know now.

19955874_10155525226109618_5150064712594634036_o

I know what it’s like to sit there and loll my oversized head and then all of a sudden, a teacher has directed me back to Earth where there is Arabic before me. Arabic! Yep the language that my parents speak at home. The one that I understand but I’m not confident enough to speak. The one that’s responsible for making unpronounceable the names of all those dishes I love but my American friends have never heard of. The one that gave me my name! Masha’Allah! Yes that one!

Anyway, I know what it’s like in the art room, waiting for Ustadha Lisa to finish her explanation because I’ve already snatched one of the colored pencils from the middle of the table, and this color is mine, and I’m going to make a fish, and I’m so excited, and as soon as it’s time to actually let loose I have no idea what I’m doing because I wasn’t really listening. Yeah. That happens. I always loved art.

I definitely know the drumming circle, the drum that’s too big for my little lap, so it wobbles when I play it. I know how to say “Dum, dum, tik-a-tak, dum, tik-a-tak, tik-a”, and then how to play it, and then how to tell you what that rhythm is called. It’s called baladi. (woah, isn’t that, like, the name of our group?!) I know the impulse to tap, tap, tap that tabla while Ustadh Hafez is talking but I refrain so I don’t miss a beat!

Something we brought back this year is the Dabke. We learned to dance. Sort of. Group Baladi was the absolute unruliest of the three when trying to teach the thing. They just wanted to play ninja. I’m a sucker for ninja. I beat everyone my second time around. But we had to learn it! So together we counted the steps, wahed, ithnan, thalatha, arbaa, khamsa… Or around the circle, holding hands, and we’d go wahed… ithnan… wahed… ithnan…. wahed, ithnan… Funny. We could never get the whole thing down unless the word ninja was mentioned.

Playful learning aside, Al-Bustan reminds me of home, which, Isuppose was the original mission for young Arab-Americans like myself. It’s never just Arab-Americans, however; there are campers with heritages from around the world and some whose histories lie in mystery. Some who shrug their shoulders when asked where they’re from and say, “Ana min Philadelphia!” (‘I am from Philadelphia’) It’s all great. We all get reminded of our homes, the ways in which culture and language express our lineage and livelihoods.
– Adam Bdeir, Temple University Class of 2020

Advertisements

A Journey In How Arabic Language & Arab Culture Shape Perspectives

In my freshman year at Motivation High School, I was exposed to something that would be instrumental in shaping my future and career goals.  I had  the opportunity to study the Arabic language, which is unique and rarely taught in American secondary educational  institutions. As I continued my academic journey,  I had the great privilege of traveling to Morocco in North Africa, where Arabic is one of the primary languages. This experience allowed me to gain better understanding of different cultural traditions and even develop friendships that will last a lifetime. As my passion for  the Arabic language grew, I was able to further my studies at Middlebury Monterey Language Academy, and now at West Chester University.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 2.48.51 PM

Soumya Dhulekar (Programs Coordinator) and Byquill Mosley (Counselor/Intern) working together at Al-Bustan Camp.

Arab culture and the Arabic language have opened an abundance of doors for me and will continue to pry open more doors of opportunity for me in the future. Through my participation in Arab cultural traditions and institutions, I was able to gain a broader perspective on life. The language has also given me a wonderful opportunity to intern this summer for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, an arts based non-profit organization in West Philadelphia.

Interning for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture over the years has been an eye opener for me on many levels. I never realized how big of an impact one organization has on an entire cultural community. During my internship I had the opportunity to meet immigrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq, who sought sanctuary in the city of Philadelphia. Just interacting with the families and hearing their stories made me realize that I will be continuing my career as a humanitarian domestically and internationally far into the future. As Al-Bustan continues to be very supportive of immigrants and refugees in the community, I am glad to to be a part of an organization that tries to improve the lives of others  through altruistic deeds.  Al-Bustan’s mission is not just to expose Philadelphia to Arab culture, but to develop better relationships in our city regardless of ethnicities, religion and political affiliation.

19894647_10155536903064618_5758501742632367000_n

Wrapping up the last day of Al-Bustan Camp with an amazing team of campers, educators and counselors!

One of Al-Bustan’s key contributions to the Philadelphia community focuses on helping people understand Arab  culture through initiating  conversation and through the arts.  That’s huge to me because Arabic language and culture helped me reach certain heights. These heights are reachable for anyone, you just need to be open to experiencing new things. Through this internship program, I was able to see first hand the day-to-day operations in running a successful arts based non-profit organization in a major city. I also  learned certain aspects and the amount of diligence that goes into running a non-profit organization. Thanks to Executive Director, Hazami Sayed, for establishing  Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, as it truly taught me how to use my knowledge of Arabic language to benefit my community.

Byquill Mosley- Intern at  Al-Bustan

West Chester University

Class of 2019

Reflections on (DIS)PLACEMENT – Through The Arts

Weeks of planning from Al-Bustan’s staff led up to the (DIS)PLACED Arts Workshop on June 22nd. The theme of our (DIS)PLACED project is to highlight not only the physical reality of moving or immigration (whether through coercion or choice), but also the mental state or condition of being displaced. Over fifty people participated in the workshop, from a variety of backgrounds and with a great diversity of experience. All different age groups, ethnicities, nationalities, races, and religions were represented; the enormous diversity and plurality of experiences seemed to encourage increased connections and communication between different individuals.

What struck me the most was the fact that in a group with such divided experiences, almost everyone could reflect on and express their own emotions, thoughts, and experiences stemming from displacement. It has become clear to me over the course of this project that displacement is a universal condition of the human experience. My own life experiences have been shaped by displacement: First the displacement of my grandparents from Pakistan to Europe, and then that of my parents and I from Europe to America. Not everyone has experienced the forcible displacement that refugees in the Middle East and around the world are experiencing on a daily basis, however, being able to understand the feelings associated with displacement is a step towards developing the empathy to relate to their stories. This became tangible to me during the workshop.

Syrian installation artist Buthayna Ali had been invited to participate in a workshop with us during the summer months as an artist in residence, but the reality of the travel ban eventually made this impossible. This did not deter Al-Bustan from showcasing Ali’s work, and Ali helped participants engage with difficult themes and topics using her artistic process as a means of expression. She managed to present her work and lead the workshop by videoconference from Damascus against the odds. As I watched her interact with audience members in Philadelphia, a location where she was expressly forbidden from physically being by the current American administration, I felt that this was truly a symbol of artistic vision and exchange overcoming the bigotry and hate that divides our world today.

19452931_10155451290079618_3353521228314732849_o.jpg

My final thoughts as I helped lead workshops and watched as audience members continued to engage with the challenging theme of displacement was the power of varying and diverse kinds of arts as modes of expression. Through music, poetry, and visual art, participants in the workshops were able to unlock and express their own narratives, as well as understand those of their fellow participants, bridging gaps in culture and experience.

Anisa Hasan-Graneir – Summer 2017 Intern, Sociology Major at the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020