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Taste-testing culture


Boeckman Creek families learn about classmates' cultures through food.

Boeckman Creek Primary School is home to around 500 children. Those students come together to form one of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s most diverse populations: Boeckman Creek students speak a combined total of 22 languages.

Arabic is one of those languages, and Suhai Ajami, a fourth-grader, and his second-grade brother, Zein, both speak it at home.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Lida Ajami demonstrated Lebanese cooking techniques at Beockman Creek Primary School May 16. The menu featured fresh, wholesome ingredients.Their mother, Lida Ajami, was born in Lebanon and raised in Africa and the United States. She is raising her sons and their 3-year-old sister Serene to be bilingual and working to keep their Lebanese heritage intact. She arrived at Boeckman the afternoon of May 16 to share that heritage — or at least a taste of it — with the school community.

“We’re on the Mediterranean, and we’re considered Arabic,” she said. “Every Arabic country is very different, has a different culture and different ways of communication. Things that are similar are Arabic, the way we write and read, and religion.”

Even with those two major similarities, Lebanon has a unique culture, she said.

“It is known to be the Paris of the Middle East,” she said. “You can go to the beach, the mountain, the village, the city — it’s just so diverse. There are streets you walk on and you feel you’re in Europe, and streets where you feel you’re somewhere completely exotic.”

Ajami was at the school as part of a cultural celebration series envisioned by teacher Jane McGraw, an English language instructor. She is new to Beockman Creek and identifies with the non-English speakers she meets there.

“I’ve lived abroad, and I know what it’s like to try to figure out the language and culture of a new place,” McGraw said. “I have a passion for supporting children who are trying to do that in school.”

“That’s the whole point of this, is to expose the cultures of our community,” Ajami said. “It’s all about unification. ... I love cooking, and I’m passionate about giving the right influence.”

When she started dreaming about establishing the cooking program, McGraw worried that parents would be hesitant. But, like Ajami, most participants have been eager to share a little bit about their homelands.by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Lida Ajami and her fourth-grade son Suhai shared some highlights of Lebanese cuisine with the Boeckman Creek Community May 16. The cooking demonstration is part of a series organized by ELL teacher Jane McGraw.

“The hesitancy I had to recognize people just for their culture has melted away,” McGraw said. “Too often it’s just overlooked. (Culture) is something to celebrate.”

Ajami felt particularly passionate about sharing her Middle Eastern culture.

“There’s been a lot of misconception about the culture and the people who come from that part of the world,” she said. “It’s about understanding, opening up minds to different places and different people.”

On this day, not just minds but also mouths were expected to open. The school’s staff room was filled with tantalizing aromas and bright trays of fresh produce. On the menu: hummus, taboule and kafta meat balls, served with rice.

The event began with a traditional greeting — “Ahla w sahla,” which means “Welcome.” After the assembled parents, teachers and children practiced the words a few times, Ajami introduced her menu.

“It’s really whole foods. It’s so healthy, and it’s super cheap,” she told her attentive audience, which listened, asked questions and seemed eager to taste the different foods.

“I have not seen that (kind of) participation and people coming together and celebrating,” Boeckman Creek’s principal, Lindy Sproul, said of the cooking program. “You can see kids having a lot of pride in their heritage and where they come from.”

The program occurs monthly, and McGraw said she intends to continue presenting different cultures in the next school year. Contact her for more information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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