Posted on: April 17, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Juan Carbajal, Opinion Editor

“I’m in a middle-of-town market, by a dirt road, and a truck kicking up dust pulls up. A window slides down. A voice appears from nowhere, asking me, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’”

That’s how Kipp Cozad details an encounter with a Yemeni-American while in Yemen. While there’s a growing Yemeni community in America, a young man with no roots in the Middle Eastern country traveling there is a rare sight.

As he said that, the heads of an audience of students and staff of all ethnicities bobbed from laughing and chuckling—a much different reaction from how a young Cozad’s friends reacted to the news about him going to Yemen. When he first told them he was signing up for the Peace Corps and where he was going, there was pure confusion.

“My friends looked at me strangely. They were like, ‘What’s the draw?’” he recalls.

At 23, Cozad wanted an experience to open his mind, and after two years of teaching in Yemen while volunteering for the Peace Corps, he got that experience. He’s felt a closeness to the people, and their rich, welcoming history and culture, ever since.

“I thought, ‘What better way to learn about another culture than to immerse yourself in it for awhile?'” he said.

On March 30, he brought what he learned to the community here at Moraine, in a brown bag talk in the library showing the connections a man from middle America was able to make with a distant Middle Eastern culture.

It’s not obligatory for him to talk about our culture. It’s something that wasn’t demanded of him. He’s just so passionate about it and shows a genuine need to understand.

Samera Mohamed, Yemeni-American Moraine student

In modern times, Yemen is a country often discussed due to the civil war the people have been experiencing over the past few years, but Cozad wanted the audience to see the Yemen he knows–which is more than just a news story having due to with Middle Eastern conflict.

Through stories and a slideshow of facts, diagrams and maps, he showed a country that is a dichotomy: influenced by the world, and yet also isolated.

He showed how this small Arab state, one of the oldest societies in the world, isn’t as simple as some people’s preconceived notions. He talked about the spread of Islam to the region, which was once polytheistic, and explained that some Yemeni DNA comes from Ethiopia.

“It’s not obligatory for him to talk about our culture,” said Samera Mohamed, a Yemeni-American Moraine student. “It’s something that wasn’t demanded of him. He’s just so passionate about it and shows a genuine need to understand.”

Mohamed attended the talk with fellow Yemeni-American student Miriam Mohamed, who found Cozad through Facebook. She said it’s important to open the Yemeni culture to others.

“It can be tough because our culture can be very socially isolated; even compared to other Arabs,” she said. “We naturally keep to ourselves, so getting to the point where you feel like you’re part of a community in a different country isn’t easy.”

Cozad then shed light on how Yemeni people started moving to America, where they found new footing in certain jobs. He pointed out how that created a new identity that added to the collage of current American culture.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that Yemeni Americans were a community, part of the booming automobile industry in Detroit back in the day,” Cozad said.

Throughout a presentation that showed his clear love of the culture, Cozad injected humor, as with a story about what it was like to teach a group of boys English.

“I remember one time in class, a lot of them were starting to talk over each other, and I tried to demand this boy specifically to stop being disruptive. His name was Mohamed. So in Arabic, I said out loud, ‘Quiet, Mohamed!’ And then half of the class got quiet.” 

He also was quick to declare his love for Hulbah– a condiment dish made from fenugreek seeds: “I love it. I demand it. And I need it”

Cozad’s affinity for Yemen spoke louder than his appearance as an outside westerner. And the ability of the Yemen people to build this connection with him showed that differences in culture were not boundaries.

That’s the importance, he says, of traveling to another culture.

“You meet people where they are–not with some predisposed stereotypes–thinking of them in the real context of their environment and who they actually are as people.

“I think if we all try to do that a little bit more with each other, in this country especially, who knows what good that bring to all of us?”