Celebrating Islam in Maine, Moon Watchers and Out of Nowhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast Friday, August 2nd, I’m Your Neighbor Portland hosted its largest event yet, “Ramadan Mubarak: A Holiday Celebration and Education for Families of All Faiths.” Over two hundred people attended throughout the evening, including members from the Muslim community, Portland residents and those passing through on their First Friday Art Walk circuit.

Many attendees waited to be decorated in beautiful henna designs

Many attendees waited to be decorated in beautiful henna designs

Attendees could have their names written in Arabic when they first entered. The Portland Library had a display of their collection on Islam next to the I’m Your Neighbor Portland bookshelf, and PPL staff were on hand for anyone who wanted to check out books. The henna station was extremely popular and volunteers were kept busy as a constant stream of people were lined up waiting to have their hands painted with beautiful designs. Peaks Island author and illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien had her art work from Moon Watchers on display to show the process of her research and early sketches for the illustrations. There was also a prayer rug room set up with a video of how to pray and prayer rugs loaned to us from our Muslim neighbors on display. Volunteers were on hand to answer any questions visitors had about the prayer rugs or Islamic practices.

Prayer rugs and a video on how to pray were on display

Prayer rugs and a video on how to pray were on display

After introducing remarks were made by project director Kirsten Cappy, Reza Jalali, director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Southern Maine and author of the children’s book Moon Watchers took the stage to talk about Ramadan and practicing the Islamic faith in Maine. He touched on his own experiences coming to Portland and the growth he has seen in the Muslim community in the almost thirty years he has made this city his home. Jalali also spoke about the five pillars of Islam and the celebration of Ramadan as part of an “Islam 101” education for those in the audience who were unfamiliar with the practices. Attendees were given a chance to ask questions, some of which were answered from Muslim teenagers who were in the audience.

Pious Ali of Maine Interfaith Alliance then hosted a panel discussion with Reza Jalali, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Maria Padian, author of Out of Nowhere, and Padian’s cultural adviser, a Somali young man named Shobow Saban. The topic of the panel was the process of cross-cultural collaboration on the titles Moon Watchers and Out of Nowhere. Pious guided the panelists in conversations about how each team came to work together and the many conversations that took place between author and cultural adviser. O’Brien and Padian shared what they learned about Islamic practices and the Iranian/Somali culture during their research. The panel concluded with the audience answering the question “What is one thing you will take away from this evening?” The remarks made were wonderful; many commented on a greater understanding of the religion and Ramadan and one attendee expressed a reawakened desire for connection across faith. Another said it was “wonderful to be here with so many neighbors.”

Shobow Saban (left), Reza Jalali and Maria Padian (right) stand together after their panel discussion on cross-cultural collaboration

Shobow Saban (left), Reza Jalali and Maria Padian (right) stand together after their panel discussion on cross-cultural collaboration

At 8:15, it was time to break the fast as a community. As Jalali described during his talk on Islamic practices, Muslims fast from sun rise until sunset during the month of Ramadan, as a time to practice self-discipline and to increase awareness of and compassion for the poor and hungry. A man from the Muslim community gave the call to prayer and signaled the time to break the fast. Hungry attendees of all faiths gathered to taste food from Tandoor Bread and Restaurant including Iraqi flat bread, hummus, falafel, lentil soup, white bean soup and mountains of rice perfumed with saffron, raisins and almonds. For a sweet end to the meal, there was rice pudding and baklava.

Our thanks go to the many volunteers, Portland Public Library staff, Reza Jalali and Pious Ali, who dedicated their time and expertise to make this event a wonderful success. We also thank the family at Tandoor Bread and Restaurant for providing such excellent food to break the fast and which certainly was enjoyed by all who joined.

Guests of all faiths were invited to break the fast at 8:15

Guests of all faiths were invited to break the fast at 8:15

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Community Organizations Receive I’m Your Neighbor Portland Collection

Intern Lanie Honda putting together the collection for distribution to the communiity

Intern Lanie Honda putting together the collection for distribution to the community

On July 17th Kirsten Cappy and Lanie Honda visited community organizations around the city to deliver sets of the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland collection in the first I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Book Distribution. Rachel Talbot Ross, head of the City of Portland’s Multicultural Affairs (also head of the Portland NAACP chapter); Hildy Ginsberg, Executive Director of the Greater Portland YMCA branch; Regina Phillips, Director of Refugee Services; and Judith Southworth, Elder Refugee Coordinator for Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services received all nine featured titles on behalf of their organizations.

These organizations were chosen because of the services they provide for Portland refugees and immigrants, and for partnering with I’m Your Neighbor, Portland events. All expressed surprise at receiving the collection and Refugee Services already had plans to make them available in their waiting room.

This free book distribution was made possible through the generous donations from members of the community. We are incredibly thankful to all of the individuals and groups for their support. Please see our sponsor page if you are interested in making a contribution. All donations go towards providing free books for those in the Portland community.

Visit moth written at Old Port Festival

Visit moth written's booth at Sunday's Old Port Fest

Check out moth written designs at Sunday’s Old Port Fest

“By learning one word, we take a small step towards bridging the gap between east and west.” –moth written’s website

Stop by moth written at the Old Port Festival in Portland, Maine this Sunday, June 9th! They will have a booth selling their line of t-shirts, bags, pins featuring saying such as “Kiss me I’m Irish” and “Whales in love” in Arabic. moth written is the brilliant designers of the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland logo.

moth written is the project of Mary E. Robbins and Nabil Sibouih, a “Moroccan-American marriage in Maine.”  In Morocco, a moth is a good omen.  Mary and Nabil honor their family there by encouraging positive dialogue about the Arabic speaking world through the creation of t-shirts, bags, and pins in Arabic.

Exploring Portland’s Multicultural Markets

The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland launch featured not only great books and discussion but also a wide spread of snacks from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East from local ethnic markets in Portland. Thanks to Anne Sibley O’Brien and her summer intern Hiroko for curating a delicious array of treats! For the adventurous chef or those looking to add new (and addicting) snacks to the pantry, here’s where they went:

La Bodega Latina (Hispanic)
863 Congress St
Portland, ME 04102

Mittapheap International Market (Various)
61 Washington Avenue
Portland, ME 04101

Safari Restaurant and Grocery (African)
30 Washington Avenue
Portland, ME 04101

Sindibad Market (Middle Eastern)
710 Washington Avenue
Portland, ME 04013

Sun Oriental Market (Asian)
626 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101

Tandoor Bread And Restaurant (Middle Eastern)
845 Forest Avenue
Portland, ME 04103

I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Launched

Students, community members and authors joined on Saturday at the Portland Public Library for the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Launch

I’m Your Neighbor, Portland officially kicked off with the Launch Party this past Saturday at the Portland Public Library. During the event, members of the community were introduced to the featured books and planned events that will be taking place throughout the year. It also gave an opportunity to recognize the many organizers and facilitators whose contributions and hard work are making these programs possible this year.

The nine Featured Books were available for purchase from the University Southern Maine bookstore in addition to copies to borrow from the Portland Public Library

The community was joined by authors Terry Farish, Frederick Lipp, Maria Padian, and Anne Sibley O’Brien, as well as Aruna Kenyi, who wrote a story in I Remember Warm Rain. The authors were recognized along with their books and were available for book signings.

Authors Maria Padian (left) and Frederick Lipp (right) with Kirsten Cappy

The event started off with Kirsten Cappy, Program Director, introducing the inspiration, mission and vision for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland. She was followed by Dr. Krista Maywalt Anderson, professor of psychology at Bates College and Project Scholar, who explained the importance of reading about cultures other than ones own and her research on the issue.

Dr. Krista Aronson, Professor of Psychology at Bates College and Project Scholar spoke to the importance of reading about other cultures

The highlight of the event was the presentation of the Featured Books. Each book was presented by one of Portland’s NAACP Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellows. The students gave a brief summary and read an excerpt of their choice, including one student who related The Good Braider to his own experiences in coming from Iraq to Portland.

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King Fellows presenters with copies of Out of Nowhere

Kirsten Cappy with King Fellows presenters

Following the presentations, attendees were given the chance to donate to the Free Book Distribution, which helps fund and provide this collection of books for the community. The audience then broke up into small discussion groups and Anne Sibley O’Brien led them in introducing themselves by giving the history of their names. The discussion invited attendees to express how they envisioned using these books in the community.

A sampling of snacks and candies from various ethnic markets around Portland, including Sun Oriental Market, Safari Grocery, Mittapheap International Market, Sindibad Market, La Bodega Latina and Tandoor Bakery were available for refreshments. Guests could try Turkish Delight or Korean sesame candies or the tremendously popular freshly made hummus and bread from Tandoor Bakery.

Hummus and bread from Tandoor Bakery

Throughout the event, attendees were encouraged to write “I’m Your Neighbor” in any language that they knew on a banner. The banner will be present at each event for people to add to the growing list of languages. Already the banner has “I’m Your Neighbor” written in Japanese, Arabic, Italian, French and Somalian.

Guests were invited to write “I’m Your Neighbor” in any language on the I’m Your Neighbor banner that will be displayed at all future events

“I’m Your Neighbor” in Arabic

We hope you will join us in reading and celebrating these books throughout the year. Please visit our Events page to see upcoming programs.

Martin Luther King’s “Broader Concerns”

Maine Congressman Jon Hinck announced I’m Your Neighbor, Portland to the Portland community at the Annual 32nd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast Celebration with these words:

2013_MLK_poster_obama_5-1“Portland will embark on a literary celebration of its unique diversity in 2013.  The Portland Public Library,  Portland children’s literature company, Curious City, and the NAACP will host a city-wide read of books set in Maine’s new arrival community.

In events from April to December, residents will be able to read, discuss, and celebrate the culture and stories of Maine’s refugees and new immigrants.  The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland city-wide read will include fiction, biography, and memoir for both children and adults.

You can see a list of those books in your program and many of those books are for sale today out in the lobby.  The Maine Humanities Council has provided the seed money for this groundbreaking literary and cultural event.  If you, your company, or your organization would like to participate in any way, please feel free to talk with me after the program or to visit the website listed in your program.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.’

I hope as readers and citizens you will participate in I’m Your Neighbor, Portland  and experience the ‘broader concerns’ of this magnificent city.”