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Middle East Meets Midwest

August 25, 2011

Recently, we had the opportunity to spend a wonderful weekend with Aman Qasim Al-Niyazee, our guest from Iraq who is in Iowa this summer through the Iraq Science Fellowship Program (ISFP).  The Iraq Science Fellowship Program is a public-private partnership, funded by the U.S. Department of State. This fellowship gives Iraqi scientists, technicians, and engineers the opportunity to study, research, and work alongside their colleagues at host institutions in the United States in order to increase Iraqi professional and technical capacity while promoting infrastructure and workforce development in the fields of science and engineering. CRDF Global implements the program on behalf of the U.S. Department of State in partnership with the Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization World Learning.  IRIS is partnering with World Learning to provide cultural experiences for Aman, who is the only ISFP participant in Iowa at this time.


IRIS Executive Director Del Christensen and his spouse, Dr. Debora Christensen traveled with Aman to Tama, Iowa recently to take in the sights and sounds of the 97th Annual Meskwaki Powwow. A friend of IRIS and Meskwaki native, Stephanie Snow, joined us for the event. Stephanie is an anthropologist who works at the Meskwaki Cultural Center and performs traditional dances throughout Iowa and beyond. She explained that the Annual Meskwaki Powwow originated from the traditional religious and social beliefs of the Meskwaki Tribe, but today it has less significance as a religious event, and serves more as a social gathering. Historically, the Powwow derived from the “Green Corn Dance” and other social events of the tribe in its early years. The “Green Corn Dance” was an annual event that commemorated the start of the harvest season and was so named because the corn was harvested while it was still green. Today, the Meskwaki Powwow is the only one of its kind and is held annually on the only Native American Settlement in the State of Iowa. During the four-day event, Native Americans from throughout the Midwest gather to celebrate and perform in full-dress regalia, dances that have been handed down for generations. IRIS is grateful to Stephanie for taking the time to meet with Aman personally and explain the Powwow celebration as well as more about the Meskwaki culture.


  Native American dancers performing the traditional “Pipe Dance.”

 Aman Qasim Al-Niyazee (far left) in the Meskwaki Cultural Heritage Tent with (left to right) Dr. Debora Christensen, Iola Snow and Stephanie Snow

 Aman Qasim Al-Niyazee with Native American dancer, Tyson Lasley at 2011 Meskwaki Powwow.


Later in the weekend, Aman visited the Jordan House in West Des Moines, Iowa. The Jordan House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. It is one of the oldest structures in Polk County, built in 1850, just over three years after Iowa’s statehood was declared.  The original owner, James C. Jordan was the first settler of what is now West Des Moines and later became a State Senator. Prior to the Civil War, the basement rooms were home to escaping slaves who were on their way to Canada and freedom as part of what is commonly known as the “Underground Railroad.”


 Aman Qasim Al-Niyazee (left) with Dr. Debora Christensen of Drake University at the Jordan House in West Des Moines, Iowa.


Iowa has so much to offer visitors from around the world. Next on Aman’s social calendar is the Iowa State Fair! A visit to Iowa in the summertime would not be complete without a visit to the State Fair. We are looking forward to spending more time with Aman over the next two months and showing her more of our great state of Iowa!

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