Monday, July 25, 2011

Dancing the Iraqi Rumba

If you’re like a lot of Americans, your only impression of Iraq is based on the skewed sketches we get from the daily news reports about war.  This weekend, I was reminded once again how little I actually know of the humanity and beauty of the Middle East.
Late in the afternoon, women in head scarves toting mummy-wrapped babies and drink-filled coolers ambled into Ed Benedict Park with their kaftan-clad husbands and flock of lively but well-behaved children.  The Iraqi Village had arrived!  Most of the Iraqi families at the expo have come to the United States within the past two years, making them one of the newest immigrant groups in East Portland.  Although several spoke English, they mostly relied on smiles and gestures as they invited us to dance with them.  The Iraqi women remained seated, adhering to tradition, but clapped along to the infectious music as the men clasped hands and began a grapevine-like shuffle around the stage. 
After a few minutes of enchanted observation, my newfound Mexican friend and I, along with several others from the lawn, joined the chain.  We tagged along as the confident elder of the group steered us in a wavy oval, smiling in a jovial and satisfied way as he spun his kerchief like a lasso, and found ourselves unable to stop grinning.  The little girls formed their own disjointed ring and gazed in adoration and delight at the adults, who were now cracking up as one of the men came around the circle shimmying his chest in everyone’s face. 
Later, as the guitarists played on—Gypsy Kings, love songs, Iraqi-infused rumba (“rumba music has the rhythm, Iraqi music has the passion”)—I watched one of the littlest girls being tossed in the air by one of her relatives, a young man in his 20’s.   The open display of affection, the rubbing of noses, the squeals as she flew up and was caught in his arms, were so universal that I couldn’t help but wonder at how familiar they seemed.  My friend leaned over and whispered “mira las preciosas… que lindas, casi parecen Latinas!” (“look at the precious little girls… how cute, they almost look like Latinas!”).  
Having not spent much time with anyone from the Middle East, I’ll confess that I had no idea what to expect from the Iraqis who live in my neighborhood.  What I discovered, however, was that they are family—like everyone else I have met.  If we don’t speak the same words, at least we can appreciate a good rumba, hold hands, and shuffle around a circle together, smiling.

No comments:

Post a Comment