Students traded their usual games of Beirut for a more exotic taste of the Middle East on Saturday, mobbing “Night at the Kasbah” in Davenport.
Baklava, belly dancing and backgammon were offered at the party, which attracted more than 1,500 students. With a $5,000 budget from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, the organizers — representing eight student groups — sought to give partygoers an informative taste of Middle Eastern culture, while showing them an extravagant good time.
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The event straddled the Davenport dining hall and common room, featuring dancing in one space and a more laid-back “palatial lounge” in the other. Both rooms exposed students to Middle Eastern culture, with information tables and food available in the lounge and belly dancing and music featured in the dining hall. The party’s organizers — which included members of Yale Friends of Turkey, Yale Friends of Israel, Arab Students Association and Yale Belly Dance Society — won a grant from the UOFC to pay for the party.
The Davenport common room was transformed, with drapery and cushions, into what the flyer for the party called a “palatial lounge.” Trays of baklava, Turkish tea and other Middle Eastern snacks made their way around the room, while students talked, played backgammon or learned about a Turkish game called “okey.” There were information tables — one each for YFI, YFT and ASA — manned by students offering candy and distributing informational handouts.
Saned Raouf, a co-organizer of the party, said one of the goals of the party was to educate people about the Middle East.
“It’s only one night, but it’s enough to get a glimpse of the culture,” he said.
But not all partygoers shared Raouf’s optimism about the educational impact of the event. Jacob Abolafia ’10, a member of Yale Friends of Israel, was skeptical about whether people would really gain an increased cultural awareness from the party. He said he saw the event as primarily an exotic way to have fun, and for him, it was really all about the food.
“I wish there was more baklava,” Abolafia said.
Since the hosts publicized the size of their budget and used it as one of the party’s main selling points, many students spent the night trying to find out where all that money went.
“With that budget, they should have rocket launchers or something,” Ryan Harper ’10 said.
The party attracted about one-third of the undergraduate population, UOFC chair Hassan Siddiq ’08 said in an e-mail, and it was a great success. Comparing Kasbah to last year’s Gatsby party, which was also funded by the UOFC prize, Siddiq said each party was a success in its own right, but he suggested that Kasbah perhaps achieved more by creating an educational and cultural experience.
“Kasbah has generated an extraordinary amount of surplus value in the form of mutual cooperation and goodwill between students and the various cultural organizations,” he said.
The educational component of the event included a slide show of photographs from Middle Eastern countries, and a team from YTV filmed a documentary that featured brief interviews with partygoers, gauging the level of Middle Eastern cultural awareness among students. They asked questions such as “Istanbul is the capital of which Middle Eastern country?”
It’s a trick question — Ankara, not Istanbul, is the capital of Turkey.
Even if students did not gain profound cultural knowledge, they were invariably exposed to a small amount of Middle Eastern life.
Jarrett Moran ’10 said he came to the party because the theme sounded intriguing. He was happy to “just chill on a cushion with some tea.”
What did he learn about Turkey? That its tea is too sweet.
As the night went on, the focus of the party shifted to the dining hall, where a mob of screaming students watched belly dancers from the Yale Belly Dance Society perform on stage and danced to contemporary Middle Eastern hip hop.
One partygoer, Valeria Lopez ’08, called the belly dancers “beautiful and talented,” while another, Imran Bhalo ’10, said that he wanted to “grind with a hot belly dancer.”
Kristen Windmuller ’08, the president of the Yale Belly Dance Society, emphasized the overlap between the fun of belly dancing and its educational value.
“Although the dance can be very sensual, there are many other aspects to it that come from centuries of tradition and innovation,” she said.