Imagine a typical day at a typical college campus. Students gather at the elevators, relax over coffee, and mingle in the common areas. Now imagine a typical day at a private U.S.-style university in Kuwait. The conversations are conducted in Arabic or English, but the topics are remarkably similar: friends, homework, love lives, shopping and food. All the students have one trait in common... their heads are bent over the object in their hands... mesmerized by the words on the pages of a book. This scenario does not lie in the realm of science fiction -- it is entirely possible if the Writing Center Diwaniya is successful in injecting a love of reading into the multi-lingual student population.
The diwaniya is a uniquely Kuwaiti political, social, and cultural institution, but what exactly is a diwaniya? Traditionally a gathering place for men to discuss political and business issues, diwaniyas have evolved into powerful evening gatherings where connections are made, alliances are bartered, and events of the day are dissected. Family diwaniyas are popular social meeting places for Kuwaitis of all ages. A U.S. political zpecialist Tueller, who wrote The Diwaniya: A Defining Element of Kuwaiti Culture says, "The diwaniya is an intellectual forum where people discuss various issues about Kuwait including cultural and literary matters, as well as a meeting place for men of letters, scholars, poets and politicians."
Building upon the meaning of a 'diwaniya' as a place of letters akin to a literary salon, the Writing Center Diwaniya Book Club's purpose is to promote an on-campus reading culture. The mixed-gender Diwaniya welcomes students of all reading levels who share an interest in exploring the written word. The monthly meetings involve a pre-selected reading and a viewing of the accompanying movie/YouTube video if available. Each month's reading is from a different genre (short story, science fiction, classic, non-fiction, foreign language, travel, etc.) in order to expose the students to as wide a variety of writing as possible. However, the club is more than just a gathering place to discuss the latest readings... it also strives to bring the stories to life through visual and physical means. For example, the February reading selection is a chapter from The Travels of Ibn Battuta by H. Gibb. The students will be encouraged to read both the Arabic and English versions in order to appreciate the value of translation as well as to understand how literature can transcend a single language. The regional importance of the 14th Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta is relevant to GCC students as he is a vital figure in Arab travelogues. Over a period of thirty years, he journeyed more than 75,000 miles across three continents.
After the students have analyzed the chapter, they will embark upon a day field-trip to Dubai in order to view the museum-quality Ibn Battuta exhibit spread throughout the Ibn Battuta Mall. Each region Ibn Battuta explored -- Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India and China -- is reflected in the architecture and theme of the mall's six courts. These courts display the historical and cultural richness of Ibn Battuta's explorations. Accompanied by faculty and staff chaperones, this trip is a worthy attempt to visually connect the written tale with the physical evidence of his journey. In addition, the WC Diwaniya advisor will create a 'scavenger-hunt' style game in order to fully engage the students to ensure that they spend their time in an educationally worthwhile manner -- the trip is NOT a shopping expedition. An added bonus is the Emirates LitFest in Dubai which runs from March 5-9. Time permitting, the WC Diwaniya will try to attend either an afternoon or evening free event. A literature festival is an excellent opportunity for students to absorb the vibrant book culture where authors, publishers, and readers freely mingle in conversation.
So far, the WC Diwaniya has enjoyed exploring the themes and meaning of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. In addition, they shared their love of books with the campus community on November 27-28, 2012 by hosting a fund-raising Book Sale at which over 400 books were sold. Imagine this dedicated group of 25-35 students infecting the rest of the student population with the love of reading... the possibilities are revolutionary.
Dilara Hafiz is a full-time staff writing consultant at the Writing Center. She is also the co-author of The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook (2nd ed. 2009 Simon & Schuster).