Festival of Nations recap by IARP intern Jackie Myer.
As visitors entered the exhibit area, they to the festival were drawn to the beautiful blue replica of the Gate of Ishtar, the former eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. The gate was originally constructed in 575 BC by the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and was considered to be one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The other side of the exhibit was decorated with a replica of shanasheel, an element of traditional Arab architecture. The projecting windows frequently used in houses and palaces to provide privacy are typically made from wood lattice, and the design attracted attention from visitors to the Festival who wanted to know more about the origins of the design. As visitors walked inside, they were able to see beautiful carpets and pillows, multiple tea sets, and various other decorations from local Iraqis. Children in particular were attracted to the large blue gate, and were often lined up outside the entrance waiting to get inside to receive a stamp in their passport and their name written in Arabic.
It was enjoyable to work at the exhibit with local Iraqis and listen to them tell stories and answer questions from children about Iraq, as well as laughing with them as I made (frequent) mistakes while attempting to speak Arabic. The Iraqis were eager to share the side of Iraq that is not usually portrayed on the news. When asked what they knew about Iraq, most children responded by saying, “there’s a war there, right?” but typically did not know anything else about the country. At the exhibit, we were able to teach them about Iraqi culture, typical foods in Iraq, and the Arabic language, as well as explaining the rich history of Iraq, which was often prompted by questions about the Gate of Ishtar. As people increasingly only hear about Iraq in the context of conflict, this opportunity to share the other side of Iraq with the community was invaluable and I hope that it opened their eyes to a richer, more complicated picture of Iraq than what they hear on the news.