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BTL Arabic: A look at week one

IWP intern extraordinnaire Emily Seiple has spent most of July assisting Between the Lines Coordinator Kecia Lynn, and boy have the two of them been busy. From June 30th through July 14th, the IWP hosted a wonderful group of Russian and American students who together participated in creative writing workshops, attended literary salons, film screenings, and readings, and who, when all was said and done, left Iowa City knowing something more of themselves as writers and of each other's cultures.

Last weekend, BTL Russia participants celebrated the end of their two weeks in Iowa City just as students for our BTL Arabic program hit town. We've got a wonderful wrap-up of BTL Russia to post soon, but first, here's Emily's day-to-day account of our current BTL program.


July 14: Goodbye BTL Russia, Hello BTL Arabic 2012!

By the time Kecia and I greeted the new class of Between the Lines Arabic at 9:00 a.m., we had already been awake for six hours. Exhausted from a late-night graduation celebration for the first-ever BTL Russia program and their early morning goodbye, we managed to lead the new students around Iowa City. The few minutes before the walk were the only moments the students seemed like strangers. Almost immediately, friendships formed across language lines, and the 18 representatives from Algeria, Bahrain, Canada, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, the U.S., and Tunisia became a unified group. After a trip to Coralridge Mall, the students met Marcus Jackson and Iman Humaydan, both of whom refused the title “instructor.” The night ended with getting-to-know you games. Isobel McHattie gave a memorable and convincing 1-minute history of Canada in a game called “One Minute, Please!” As a result, some students may truly believe that the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens began with an argument over whether the tail on a fur cap should be worn in the front or the back…


July 15: Class Begins

The group split for the first time into their separate Arabic and English writing workshops. The American (and Canadian) students have little choice about their workshop placement, but several of the others were torn over which to attend. Kecia, Marcus, and Iman devised a flexible schedule in order to offer multi-lingual students the chance to attend equal numbers of workshops in each language. They also added a once-weekly workshop for all students.

After five hours of class, the students retreated to the Coralville Reservoir. At the beach, forgotten swimsuits and towels became a non-issue. Innocent splashing progressed into an all-out water fight which ended in swimming with shorts and T-shirts... It was a welcome break from Iowa’s relentless heat and humidity.


July 16: A BTL Birthday

With a cake, candles, and a card filled with poetic birthday messages in English, Arabic, and French, the group celebrated Ali Kadhem of Bahrain’s 17th birthday. Once the cake was gone, students pushed chairs out of the way and began to dance. Students taught and learned a wide range of moves—from salsa steps to traditional Palestinian and Tunisian dances. The party ended only when curfew arrived.


July 17: A Typical Enlightening Weekday

Each day during the week, students attend a literature seminar in the morning and a writing workshop in the afternoon. Iman’s lectures encourage sociological analysis of the world surrounding the day’s text. Opinions and viewpoints clashed in discussions about women in Islam, as students from different countries and points of view read and responded to the same reading. Despite disagreements, the students have expressed enthusiasm over this opportunity to hear from others and share their own perspective. In the evening, students explored campus facilities and summertime Iowa City attractions, like salsa dancing in the Ped Mall and cold pie shakes from Hamburg Inn.


July 18: Bina Shah visits BTL

In the morning, students listened to the first of two online guest lecturers. Today’s guest was 2011 IWP resident, Bina Shah from Pakistan, who joined us via Skype. After discussing where writers find ideas and inspiration, students shared ideas they’d like to develop into prose or poetry pieces, inspired by their experience traveling to Iowa for Between the Lines. While receiving feedback from Shah, students discussed culture shock, the symbolism of airports, and how they have experienced times of belonging or not belonging in a culture, family, or group.




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