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Monday May 20th

TCNJ MENAA’s first ever Bazaar spreads cultural awareness to campus

<p><em>Students participating in interactive belly dance performance (Photo courtesy of Parisa Burton).</em></p>

Students participating in interactive belly dance performance (Photo courtesy of Parisa Burton).

By Parisa Burton
Staff Writer

The College’s Middle Eastern and North African Association (MENAA), which was officially recognized on Feb. 22 of last year, held its first ever Bazaar event on April 16. 

The executive board presented the definition of a Bazaar on a big screen, which read, “A Bazaar or souk is a marketplace consisting of multiple small stalls or shops, especially in the Middle East, the Balkans, North Africa and South Asia. ‘Bazaar’ is originally a Persian word, and means ‘marketplace’ all over the Middle East.”

Vendors were selected to represent the culture by presenting unique offerings to students, spanning from jewelry and artwork to culinary delights. 

The event not only offered students the chance to explore Middle Eastern and North African culture, which many students were unfamiliar with, but also encouraged active engagement through an interactive belly dance performance. There were various vendors selling their products and a complimentary food station serving gyros, french fries, rice and tea. 

Khadijah Tosun, president of MENAA, said that the e-board reached out to local vendors they believed the students at College would enjoy.

“We wanted to bring not only Middle Eastern vendors but multicultural vendors as well,” said Tosun, a junior psychology major. “It was important for us to give them an opportunity to sell their products as they all work extremely hard to run their business.”

Sonia Tepas, a Salvadorian multimedia artist whose artist name is SONZ, tabled at the Bazaar, showcasing her unique artistic creations. Her products included original artwork and prints, and over half were handmade.

“A lot of my artwork portrays bright colors and energy that my culture embodies, so I like to reflect this in my artwork,” Tepas said. “I am inspired by mother nature and my own spiritual journey as well as colors.”

Another vendor at the event was Ani Barsamyan, a senior management major offering sweet treats like frosted pretzels, cake pops and Armenian desserts. Barsamyan mainly caters special events like birthday parties.

“My grandma baked a lot while growing up because I spent my summers there [Armenia], so she was a huge influence for me,” Barsamyan said. 

The e-board recognized the opportunity to showcase MENA culture by holding the Bazaar event and allowing students to immerse themselves in it. They officially started planning the event in December, with most of their time allocated to finding vendors. 

The belly dancer was a last-minute decision, but turned out to be a success as nearly every attendee took part in the participatory belly dance, forming a large circle and following her lead. 

According to Tosun, it was a stressful planning process as a new organization without a precedent. However, the group experienced a great turnout.

For their first large-scale event, MENAA effectively piqued the curiosity of students who might have been previously unaware of the rich cultural heritage of the MENA region. Tosun hopes the event will encourage more students to come to their events and meetings.

“These events are a chance to showcase different cultures’ energy and their impact on other cultures as well,” Tepas said. “People from different areas of the world can relate to each other by finding the one thing we have in common, and it reminds us how we are all connected.”

The organization has been rewarding for Middle Eastern and North African students on campus, providing them with a newfound community on campus who share similar cultural backgrounds. 

“I think Middle Eastern culture needs to be represented a lot more because a lot of people don’t know our culture,” said Barsamyan, “so this event is great for everyone to come out and experience it.”


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