Iftar: An Exchange of Food, Words and Culture

Photo By Staff Sgt. Terrence Clyburn | Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and Civil Affairs - East Africa Service Members joined Djiboutian political officials, administrators, teachers, students and associates meet for an Iftar at the Diplomatic Studies Institute, Djibouti April 5, 2023. An Iftar is the meal following sunset in which practicing Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Terry Clyburn)

Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and Civil Affairs – East Africa Service Members joined Djiboutian political officials, administrators, teachers, students and associates for an Iftar hosted at the Diplomatic Studies Institute, Djibouti, April 5.

An Iftar is the meal following sunset in which practicing Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan. Service Members with the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion deployed to Djibouti helped plan the event in coordination with the Diplomatic Studies Institute.

“A Civil Affairs team comes on a weekly basis to do small group conversation classes with intermediate and advance students,” said ShaRon Williams, a teacher with the Djibouti Diplomatic Studies Institute, “So I suggested… that I really think the students would appreciate having an Iftar hosted by Civil Affairs.”

The Iftar provided the opportunity for current and prospective students at the institute to gather while sharing their culture with CJTF-HOA and Civil Affairs Service Members. U.S. Service Members have frequent interactions with the students, regularly leading English discussion groups.

“Most of the participants within the English discussion group are of Muslim faith,” said Sgt. First Class Sophia Johnson, a medical operations noncommissioned officer with the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion. “We thought it would be a good time for everyone to get together and break the fast, talk, and for us to participate and understand some of the culture.”

More than 45 people attended the Iftar where the variety of foods and desserts were just as diverse as the participants.

“Iftar is really important because we fast for 15 hours with no food, no drink while working and going to school, doing everything people do on a daily basis,” said Zeinab Hanadouabdallah, a student of the institute. “We are very honored to be here, and despite religious and cultural differences, we are here together eating, laughing, having fun, talking and getting to know each other, and that’s really important.”

In addition to enhancing cultural awareness, interactions through the Iftar and English discussion groups aim to increase literacy, close skill gaps, and reduce youth unemployment.

“I think it strengthens relationships on a less formal level,” Johnson said. “Everyone getting together, being able to have this community gathering, talking outside of a structured or topic specific environment really helps to continue our relationships.”

CJTF-HOA and Civil Affairs Service Members who participated in the Iftar hope to have more events like this in the future.

“We would like to have this as a reoccurring event,” said Capt. Ray Harvey, a team leader with the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion. “We are very grateful for the hospitality of the Institute and the genuine embrace of all that came. We look forward to the next time we can do this.”

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