Light from the chandeliers in the Rackham Assembly Hall reflected off the bejeweled djellaba dresses worn by members of the Iraqi Student Association (ISA) as they hosted their third annual Chai & Chobi: Iraqi Culture Night on Wednesday. Over 100 members of the campus community came together at the event to explore Iraqi culture through food, dance and education.
After members of ISA greeted attendees in English, Farsi, Chaldean, Hebrew, Turkish and Kurdish — which are some of the languages spoken throughout Iraq — Public Health senior Marwa Khalil, ISA president, highlighted the importance of gathering to celebrate the diversity of the country. Khalil said the media sometimes overshadows the beauty of Iraqi culture with political conflict in the region.
“Tonight’s goal is to highlight the beauty of Iraq that so many current narratives do not share,” Khalil said. “Iraq is so often seen as only a war zone … but it’s so much more than that, and that’s what we want to showcase.”
Two years ago, ISA held the first Chai & Chobi night in the Rackham Assembly Hall with a Small Grant from the Barger Leadership Institute (BLI) — a student and faculty-run organization within LSA that awards funding to student projects that will benefit the campus community.
LSA senior Diana Ramo, ISA treasurer, was in charge of fundraising for the event and purchasing the costumes, food and supplies. According to Ramo, BLI is no longer involved with the event, so she and other ISA members worked to find other sources of funding. After having attended the in-person event in 2020, Ramo told The Michigan Daily it was fulfilling to bring everything full circle and treat the campus community to Chai & Chobi once again.
“I loved (Chai & Chobi) as an attendee and so getting to be involved with the planning and the dance (performance) and everything was a really rewarding experience,” Ramo said.
شاي — pronounced “shay” and often transliterated to “chai” in English — is the Arabic word for tea. In Iraq, chai is often served at events and is one of the most important hot beverages in Iraqi culture. To commemorate this tradition, attendees had the opportunity to drink Iraqi chai while enjoying handmade baklava, hummus and other Iraqi foods and pastries.
Business junior Daniella Sultani said she came to the event with friends to immerse herself in the sights, sounds and flavors of Iraqi culture.
“We wanted to try the delicious chai,” Sultani said. “Trying the Iraqi sweets has been super fun and … so has seeing all of the culture and outfits and music come together.”
Sultani and LSA senior Hamsa Ezzi are also both members of the Arabesque Dance Troupe, a campus organization that has done collaborative dance performances with ISA and other cultural organizations in the past. Though she was familiar with some of the traditional Iraqi dances from her experience with Arabesque, Ezzi said watching ISA members dance at the event was an enjoyable way to spend the evening.
“This is my first time attending a Chai & Chobi,” Ezzi said. “The performances have been really exciting.”
According to Ramo, “Chobi” is the national dance of Iraq and is often performed at public events in the country. It is performed by either a line or a circle of dancers who hold hands while kicking their legs in unison. At Wednesday’s event, ISA members performed the Chobi dance to a medley of Iraqi music.
During the performance, attendees began clapping to the beat of the music, rhythmically uniting the crowd with the dancers. The ISA performers then invited the attendees to join hands with them on the dance floor and learn the Chobi dance.
LSA freshman Noor Alchalabi was one of the performers. After attending Iraqi culture events with her older sister at U-M Dearborn when she was in high school, Alchalabi said joining ISA has helped her find a community on campus. Alchabi said she hopes after Wednesday’s event others on campus will have experienced that same sense of belonging through drinking chai and dancing Chobi.
“I’m excited to drink chai and see more members of my community,” Alchalabi said. “I’m looking forward to doing Chobi with everyone who wants to do it.”
Daily News Editor Roni Kane can be reached at email@example.com.