Intercultural cafe formed by local women

Megan Cole

Clouds of smoke drifting from the kitchen formed a haze in a meeting room of the Neighborhood and Community Services Center last Thursday evening as women trickled into the room for the Bowling Green Women’s Intercultural Café’s last meeting of the year, dishes of food familiar to their country in hand.

“It’s like we’re in a real home,” Nancy Lindsey said, one of the women who helped form the Women’s Intercultural Café.

Lindsey also helped establish a similar group in Detroit for women in the city called Operation Hope.

“It was right after the riots in Detroit,” Lindsey said. “It was really bad there with race relations, so a group of women came together and started an organization like this one, and I learned so much.”

When her husband received a job with General Motors, they moved from Michigan to Bowling Green. Lindsey said she quickly realized the community needed a place for people to come together and build a greater understanding of who people are individually.

“We hope for women to come together and build relationships,” Lindsey said. “So many wonderful women are in this city, and already there have been so many wonderful relationships formed.”

Mersiha Omic, a member of the Café, moved with her husband to Bowling Green nine years ago from Bosnia to work at the Islamic center where her husband is the priest, or Imam. They moved here when a large number of Bosnian refugees came.

While they weren’t refugees themselves, they did move because of the war in their country.

“It’s been really refreshing to hear new ideas and opinions and be in a welcoming atmosphere,” Omic said.

Omic said one of her favorite things about the Women’s Intercultural Café is it truly is intercultural and it’s also intergenerational, so you’re learning from people who are older than you.

Stephanie Crabtree is another woman who was first on-board with the establishment and vision casting for the Intercultural Café.

“The very first time we met was at the library by campus,” Crabtree said. “Our first official meeting was this April 2016, so this is really new.”

Crabtree said the format of the gatherings are either a panel or a dialogue modeled after the world café.

“The World Café is where we have a topic and get to discuss that topic,” Crabtree said. “It isn’t about teaching, it’s more about getting to know each other and where we come from.”

Thursday’s meeting included a panel of women in the community who told stories of themselves and how they came to Bowling Green.

Omic, who was on the speaking panel, said she feels most comfortable and very welcomed here in Bowling Green.

“In some places it seems like when people see me as a Muslim woman, they scream and I’m just like ‘Here I am!’,” Omic said during the panel, receiving a response of laughter from the room.

Omic said she had seen more horror situations in her home country as opposed to living in Bowling Green, where she had experienced very few incidents during her nine years of living here.

Omic said that one thing she is proud of is being the wife of her husband, and part of that role is familiarizing people with their culture.

She shared one specific situation where she told a group of elementary school children at the Mosque that they could ask her anything they wanted to.

“A little boy pointed to my hijab and asked if I showered with it on,” Omic said. Again, laughter erupted.

“Fear is rooted in the unfamiliar,” Omic said. “We are afraid and make assumptions of the things in which we do not know.”

Omic continued on to express her love for America.

“As Americans, I would love to tell you that I truly appreciate the freedom that you have here,” Omic said. “All over the world people are suffering from the lack of having basic rights.”

Crabtree said they would love to invite women to come and experience having relationships with people from different cultures.

“We would love to see students come to meet the people here and get to know them,” Crabtree said.

Reporter Megan Cole can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].