Capital Rainbow Refuge and a Syrian-Canadian community builder have teamed up to organize A Middle East Soirée in the capital, taking place from 7–11pm on Saturday November 23, 2019 at Ottawa City Hall. Proceeds from ticket sales will go toward “[bringing] LGBTQ refugees to safety.”
“Experience an evening as if you were in Damascus with storytelling, music, imagery, complete with gay belly dancers and drag queens,” says Capital Rainbow Refuge coordinator Lisa Hébert. And if that were not enough to entice you, participants will enjoy complimentary Syrian food and two drinks with the purchase of a ticket.
Its success will fuel sponsorships that will save lives.
“When I arrived here, there were a lot of challenges in building a community because integrating into a group of friends, a circle of people that already knew each other and that has no common experiences with you whatsoever was quite difficult,” says Ahmad Danny Ramadan, Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker, community activist and emcee of the upcoming Middle East Soirée. “A lot of people were genuinely trying to be friendly with me, but at the same time, many of them were misguided in their way of helping.”
Ramadan says he appreciated people’s interest, but he found it difficult to relate nonetheless: “You end with a lot of comedy of errors, where somebody would do something, and that something would be completely foreign to you.”
Ramadan left Syria for Lebanon in 2012, where he spent two years awaiting a response to his refugee claim from the Canadian government. He says he was one of the first to be granted refugee status during the first wave of Syrian refugees, explaining, “I was sponsored by a local organization in Vancouver called Rainbow Refugee, based on my sexual orientation—I’m a queer man.”
It takes a while to get into the groove of things here and understand that they are two different cultures, the culture of your motherland and the culture of your new home.
“Your expectations are flowery and hopeful,” says Ramadan, recalling how he felt prior to moving to Canada. “But then you come here, and you realize that nothing is exactly as you would have expected it… It takes a while to get into the groove of things here and understand that they are two different cultures, the culture of your motherland and the culture of your new home.”
“I think something that I have been trying to do is be authentically myself. I stopped trying to become something different,” says Ramadan. “I just looked at the complex experience that is who I am and decided that I am going to be that, and people started being attracted to that and became my friends.”
He says that period in his life was rather lonely, and he needed to surround himself with people that shared similar experiences. In an effort to “pay it forward,” Ramadan organized his first event called An Evening in Damascus in 2015. This past July, the Vancouver-based fundraiser celebrated its fifth edition and was even sponsored by RBC Royal Bank.
The Syrian-Canadian community organizer says the fundraiser started off as a small celebration of Syrian culture.
“It was community-based,” says Ramadan. “Me and a group of friends came together, made some Syrian food and invited people over to eat, drink and listen to Syrian music. We invited 40 people, and 120 showed up.”
“We presented Syrian culture the way it is. That’s something that I carried with me afterward. We didn’t want to present this mainstream version of a refugee, where the refugee is meek and in need of help. We wanted to present a Syrian person who is proud of their food, their music, their dancing and their culture,” he says of the thought process behind An Evening in Damascus.
The Syrian-Canadian community organizer says he met Hébert from Capital Rainbow Refuge at “a conference for people who are interested in international affairs, refugee affairs and the queer community internationally.” That was four years ago, and they kept in touch ever since. Over the years, An Evening in Damascus grew exponentially. During this year’s edition, Ramadan says the fundraiser saw 320 people show up.
This will be its first edition in Ottawa, and it has been a joint effort between Capital Rainbow Refuge and Ramadan himself. While he’s in town, Ramadan will give a talk about his novel The Clothesline Swing at the Ottawa Public Library Main Branch and Centretown Community Health Centre, both on November 22nd.
“The Middle East Soirée at City Hall is a very interesting thing because what me and Capital Rainbow Refuge did is we sat down together, and they wanted me to help them create their own event,” says Ramadan. “I shared with them what I do, and I told them to go ahead and do what they wanted to.”
Hébert says she hopes the event is well received and is thankful to the public for its support.
“Its success will fuel sponsorships that will save lives,” she says. “We actually have seven groups participating that are actively sponsoring… Their supporters are able to target a portion of the proceeds based on the number of ticket sales. We also have a fund for non-sponsored refugees which goes toward dental and recognizing academic credentials.”
You do not want to miss the chance to witness Ramadan emcee the event. The event is open to anyone, and Ramadan encourages everyone to come explore Syrian culture with him on Saturday, November 23.
A Middle East Soiree takes place Saturday November 23, 2019 from 7|11pm at Ottawa City Hall (110 Laurier Avenue West). Tickets are available online through Eventbrite for $55 and include complimentary food and two drink tickets.