The last few weeks in DALC have been punctuated by a number of intercultural events. It is a great opportunity to learn about the origins of celebrations and cultural practices that we may wonder about. Knowing about the strange and the other can eliminate the fear if it. Moreover, as our society is itself a multicultural one, it is only right that we learn more about the world outside of our own.
Last Friday 1st February, we invited a woman named Hafsa to the centre to deliver a talk all about the hijab. It was a really interactive workshop. She asked everyone to write any questions on a piece of paper – no matter how strange or obvious the questions seemed. Many students asked really practical questions. They covered everything from fashion, the logistics of wearing a hijab, niqab or burka say if you went swimming, (there is a special waterproof version of course!), if you wore it in bed, when and at what times exactly you took it off. One man asked such entertaining questions! I especially liked his genuine concern in asking if Muslim ladies spent as much time trying them on in shops as some Irish women did when buying clothes.
Hafsa was receptive to all and every question and answered them all with an energy and openness that made the unfamiliar more relatable. We got to understand the woman behind the hijab! It helped to demystify the hijab and to understand that it is purely a symbol and expression of faith. I learned that there is a variety of colours it comes in depending on the occasion. I tried on a rather blingy one! I always thought it was made from a particular type of reverent cloth, special hijab material, yet discovered that most scarves can be worn as a hijab and nijab. Many older students told me afterwards that they remember women having to cover their head in Catholic churches when they were younger and were struck by how similar it was to wearing the hijab.
In our groups this week we have been learning about Chinese New Year and some people participated in the events in Dublin last weekend.
Today we read all about Valentine’s Day. One student told us that is called Lover’s Day in Nigeria but that it is only celebrated by the younger generation; nod to the fact that we all now live in a global world, thanks to social media, with many places taking the opportunity to capitalise on it with plans to sell cheap flowers and gaudy chocolates to starry eyed lovers.
The reason for the universality of such celebrations is simple; they all centre around a shared interest in family, food, love and togetherness – if we are lucky, things we can all relate to. We can share and learn about our differences but in many ways, we are all the same.