The Mosaic Stories aims to collect and protect intangible cultural heritage in the Middle East through research, storytelling, and education.
I first traveled to the Middle East as a student seventeen years ago. I fell in love with the land and its people, and was astounded by the diversity I encountered: a tapestry of religions, cultures, languages, and landscapes. Over time, I immersed myself in the churches, mosques, and synagogues, came to know the craftsmen blowing glass, making soap, weaving carpets and embroidering dresses, the farmers harvesting olives, and the hakawatis spinning tales in coffee shops. The region is rich with shared heritage: sites and traditions shared by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yezidis, and those of other backgrounds—as well as an astonishing number of archeological sites dating back to our earliest human ancestors. At every turn, I was moved by the hospitality of those who invited me into their homes and told me their stories. Later, when I became a university lecturer, I learned even more stories from my students.
Yet over the last two decades, more and more of these stories have been about what is disappearing. Old men tell of sites that were once shared by many faiths, and are now visited by only members of one faith tradition. Ancient languages are disappearing, as are religious festivals and traditional crafts. Varieties of fruits and vegetables are disappearing. And now, as war rages in the region and millions of people are uprooted from their homes, the beautiful tapestry of relationships between members of different communities— perhaps the region’s most precious cultural heritage of all— is at risk of being lost forever.
Mosaic Stories is my small attempt to save as many stories of cultural diversity in the region as possible, and to honor those individuals who are working to protect what is being lost. If you have a story that you feel should be told, please write me on our Facebook page.
Stephanie Saldaña, The Mosaic Stories 2016