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Iraqi poet Saif Alsaegh kicks off international series at Great Falls Library

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Saif Alsaegh reads from his poetry book "Iraqi Headaches" and answers questions from the audience Saturday at the Great Falls Public Library.
Saif Alsaegh reads from his poetry book “Iraqi Headaches” and answers questions from the audience Saturday at the Great Falls Public Library.

Iraqi poet and UGF student Saif Alsaegh kicks off the first of six lectures on International relations on Saturday at the Great Falls Public Library. The talk starts at 4:30 p.m. And is free to attend.

And while technically it might be a lecture, Saif said he does not consider himself one to give speeches but instead reads his poetry, tells personal stories and answers questions from the audience.

“The idea of just talking, for me, is boring and that’s why I don’t give speeches,” he said. “I like to tell stories and do it in a creative way of expression where I can mix information in with stories. It’s more entertaining and more fun for me and the audience.”

Earlier this year Alsaegh released his first book, titled “Iraqi Headaches,” which was published through the local micro-publishing outfit Nouveau Nostalgia, operated by Tyson and Sara Habein.

The book features some of Saif’s favorite poems in both English and Arabic and recently started its second run of copies.
Saif said he was approached by representatives with the Great Falls City Commission’s Advisory Commission on International Relationships last summer about possibly participating in this series.

He said he’s looking forward to reading his poetry and interacting with new audience members in Great Falls.

Kathryn Kruithoff, vice chairperson for the ACIR said Saif was a key element to this whole series taking off and that after they got him to agree to do it, they started finding others.

The series continues during the first Saturday of each month through April with Dariya Mowry of the Ukraine, Eamon Ormseth, a Great Falls native who spent time in Jerusalem recently and will speak about his experience, Raymonde Page of Madagascar, Adim Zaazaa of Morrocco and Rhoda Bargas with the 219 RED HORSE Squadron on the Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Kruithoff said they wanted to start this series ever since she started with the ACIR but didn’t quite know where to start until Charity Jacobson mentioned that she had heard Saif speak and thought he would be a good candidate for this series. Kathryn said a big goal with this series is showing that our town has more culture than it might seem at first blush.

“In my travels, my perspective on a lot of things has been greatly changed so I wanted to bring part of that to Great Falls,” she said. “Plus, there is a large multicultural population in our community which I think gets overlooked. I hear people think that Great Falls as a place where everyone is white or that Montana has no culture, and that’s simply not the case.”

Similarly, Saif said when he first came to Great Falls, he too thought that it wasn’t big on other cultures, but the longer he stayed here, he quickly discovered there were many other people here who come from a lot of different places.

“I think Great Falls is getting better and at first I did not like it here, but the longer I stayed here, the more people I met who were of different cultures,” he said. “Just at UGF I’ve met people from Europe, Sweden, Brazil, I have good friends from Brazil, Colombia, a guy from Sudan, and it’s interesting. Plus, I think people from Montana are more accepting of other people. They have a lot of ignorance about the Middle East, but that’s why I’m here to help explain it.”

Saif said he feels a big reason why people have a twisted view of what’s going on in the Middle East is that people tend to get a lot of their information about what it’s like there from the news media, which a lot of times tends to over-exaggerate the dangers.

“My friends here, the people who know me, their ideas of Iraq have shifted a bit, but the general public, I don’t think (it’s changed), because the news is still bad,” he said. “If you get reports of Iraq saying how it’s becoming better, people’s views might start changing, but right now all the news is shitty so they’re going to keep that shitty idea unless hear from someone from Iraq saying it’s not that bad.”

For more information on the ACIR talks, visit its Facebook page online.

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