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One Thousand and One Nights: MENA Ball Will Retell a Westernised Arabic Folklore

Alix Ramillion provides an exclusive preview of the MENA’s debut ball, which will take place this Friday 10 March.

Have you ever wondered what living in a fairytale feels like? The Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) society invites you to experience the One Thousand and One Nights tale for one night only at their debut ball.

The MENA society will be hosting its first themed ball on 10 March at the Hotel du Vin on the Scores, based on the traditional Arabic One Thousand and One Nights story. Guests are encouraged to wear their traditional dress to complement the white and gold adornments and the subdued atmosphere of the ball that will bring to life the Arabic fairytale under a new light.

As Hana el Hilaly, president of the MENA Society, told The Saint “The One Thousand and One Nights tale has been westernised a lot, and we want to debunk cultural stereotypes concerning our culture by encouraging people from all backgrounds, may they be from the MENA region or not, to reunite to celebrate Arabic culture and traditions”.

The night will therefore seek to reappropriate an embedded tradition of Orientalism in the literary and cinematographic narratives of Arabic folklore. It is most importantly Western translations that have made the One Thousand and One Nights popular in the collective imagination. Indeed, Edward Said perceived the threats of Orientalism in art back in 1978 as reinforcing cultural disparities: “The result is usually to polarise … the Oriental becomes more Oriental, the Westerner more Western.”

According to Sirine Marillat, member of the ball’s publicity team, most people are familiar with the Thousand and One Nights as a fairytale. MENA’s goal is mainly to sustain tradition through values of openness within and outside of the community at St Andrews. The ball will mark the occasion to rediscover (or for some, discover) what was originally a monumental pillar of Arabic culture.

Keyona Fazli, the Iranian DJ of the ball, will mix bops of Arabic and Farsi musical influences from her upbringing in Qatar. She will also focus on Turkish, Kurdish, and even Urdu music. She revealed to The Saint how “it feels so good to be able to connect with my culture and have those wonderful moments of nostalgia. A lot of the music I listen to in my own personal time doesn’t have the opportunity to be shared through other DJ events. It is good to be able to connect with my culture and have those wonderful moments of nostalgia”.

MENA, founded in 2022, undertakes essential fundraising endeavours in the St Andrews charity field, as it focuses on collecting funds for the Middle Eastern and North African populations affected by current regional phenomena.

This semester, funds will be directed towards Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights, and a pot-luck with the Fine Food and Dining association will soon be organised to help those affected by the recent earthquakes that occurred in Syria and Turkey.

Last semester, the society worked with Medical Aid Palestine and Amnesty International. Its chosen charity for the upcoming ball is SALAM, an NGO supporting refugees and populations in vulnerable situations in Lebanon through emergency aid and education. The funds collected by MENA’s bake and ticket sales will all be directed towards this excellent cause.

By attending the ball, not only will you have the amazing opportunity to contribute to helping those communities, but will taste food catered by Shawarma House and Simply Flo, a Lebanese cuisine, whilst drinks will include a pomegranate martini and turkish delight.

As the Events officer, Mahe Samee, emphasised, this event will be essential in giving more visibility to the MENA region and its local communities represented by the student body at the university.

Illustration: Hannah Beggerow

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