Understanding and peace begin at home

Norway House and Mindekirken welcomes Iraqi neighbors for a day of learning

Joe Grødahl (right), director of programs and events at Norway House, and Maryam Khalil (left) raised their hands in a gesture of peace.

Director of Programs & Events
Norway House

Norway House had a more visible presence this summer at Open Streets, the annual Minneapolis neighborhood festival. The yearly event returned on July 10, 2022, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Norway House and its neighbor, Minde­kirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, are in Ventura Village, one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods. One-hundred years ago, when Mindekirken was founded, it was home for recent arrivals from Norway. It remains a home to newcomers, many now from East Africa and Latin America, as well as a home to many Indigenous neighbors who have built a vibrant urban hub revolving around the nearby Minneapolis American Indian Center.

Iraqi and Norwegian artists help visitors make their names with Sumerian cuneiform and Viking runes.

The Iraqi American Reconciliation Project (IARP) reached out to Norway House to partner up on a cross-cultural exchange event. The goals of the IARP are fairly clear from its name: promoting reconciliation between our communities and building a more peaceful and just world. And with Norway’s reputation for peacemaking on the world stage, a partnership with IARP was an ideal fit for Norway House in its work to connect to modern Norway. Both through its Minnesota Peace Initiative and through other opportunities like the partnership with IARP, Norway House seeks to foster that Norwegian peacemaking spirit.

Combining the IARP partnership with the Open Streets festival gave Norway House an opportunity to be more visible and welcoming to its neighbors. Coincidentally, the date fell on the lunar calendar Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which IARP helped to celebrate by bringing traditional Iraqi sweets and tea common to that holiday. Norway House in turn served up plenty of kringle and coffee.

Passersby were enticed into stopping for a visit by the sounds of an Iraqi musical group and by the chance to spin a language wheel from Concordia Language Villages. If brave visitors tried their best to pronounce a Norwegian or Arabic word, they received a little goodie bag, courtesy of IARP. Norwegian and Arabic speakers were on hand to guide visitors through words like “peace” (fred or salaam) or “thanks” (takk or shukran).

Paintings by a young Iraqi-American painter were on display in the Norway House Gallery.

Inside, besides edible treats, visitors found a colorful, traditional Iraqi living room setup, a rotating playlist of contemporary Norwegian and Iraqi music, paintings by Lina Al-Sharefe, a young Iraqi-American artist, helping visitors make their names from the ancient writing systems of Sumerian cuneiform and Viking runes, and more.

According to Shaymaa Khalil, operations director at IARP, partnering with Norway House was “an elegant way to showcase the mutual rich history as well as culture and traditions. It [was] a free space to start a friendship between Iraqis and Norwegians and educate the audience to encourage them to ask and search about the positive and vibrant side of Iraq represented by art, music, and ancient civilization.”

Indeed, many neighbors entering Norway House for the first time remarked that they were delighted to see our joint Norwegian and Iraqi presence, and the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity over the mysterious blue building along Franklin Avenue.

After a successful first exchange, both IARP and Norway House are looking forward to future work together. Perhaps for the next time, the Norwegians will introduce the Iraqis to such adventurous delicacies as lutefisk. Or perhaps they’ll stick to the sweets.

Photos courtesy of Norway House

This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

Joseph Grødahl

Joseph Grødahl recently took the role of programs and operations director at Norway House in Minneapolis. A Minnesota native and son of an immigrant from Kristiansund, Norway, he took a gap year in 2000 in Oslo.