Sunday, August 16, 2009

Exploring the culture of Detroit, Michigan

There are so many interesting places to visit in the United States. Recently we were in Detroit and learned about the people who settled there.

Detroit is located across the river from Canada. It was very important in the 1800s as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was not underground and not a railroad but a secret route used to help slaves escape to freedom in Canada. It was very dangerous and had to be kept secret because it was illegal. At The Museum of African American History we learned a lot about the slave trade. Our guide led us through displays that started with what life was like in Africa when there were many kingdoms to the awful experience of being kidnapped and to arrival in American where Africans were sold into slavery. Many died crossing the Atlantic on the slave ships. When they got to America they were branded and sold to people who wanted them as workers. Many tried to run away and were helped by people like Harriet Tubman. Harriet was an amazing woman who escaped from slavery but continued to put herself in danger by helping other slaves get to freedom. We visited the First Congregational Church where slaves were safely hidden until they could cross the river to freedom in Canada. They have a path set up in the cellar of the church to show what the trip was like for slaves who ran away from a plantation in Louisiana and traveled in the dark through swamps and woods for over 1000 miles in order to get to freedom.

We took a group tour of a neighborhood where people from Poland settled nearly 100 years ago. At the Polish Arts Center, Joan, the owner taught us how to make wycinankis. Wycinankis are similar to making paper snowflakes but much more complicated. When finished they are very delicate and colorful. Wycinanki started with shepherds who cut designs out of tree bark and leather. They were used as decoration in their homes. It takes a lot of skill and patience to make beautiful designs. Our tour was a lot of fun because we listened to Polish music played on an accordion. We also watch a dance group dressed in beautiful traditional outfits perform Polish dances. At the Polonia Restaurant the owner, Janusz Zurowski, taught us to how to make potato noodles. Grinding the cooked potatoes was fun. But the most fun was eating the Polish food, especially the stuffed cabbage and pierogies. Pierogies are small pockets of dough with a variety of stuffing.

We also learned about another group that lives in Detroit, the Arab Americans. At the Arab-American National Museum, Nadia, our guide, showed us a map of the Arab world. Nadia said, "There are 22 Arab countries. They all share a common language but may have different religions and nationalities. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all began is what is today the Arab world." We also visited a mosque where people of the Islamic religion worship. We learned there are five important parts to the Islamic religion. They must believe in God, pray five times a day, give money to the poor, not eat during daylight hours during their holy month, and try to visit the holy city of Mecca. There is always a lot to learn.