I attended my first women’s gathering at an Emirati’s home. It was like a baby shower on steroids. It was a mix of about 40 local and expat ladies; friends, families and acquaintances held at the magnificent home of one of the local ladies.
It was pouring rain and Brenda, Samia and I all rode together in Samia’s car. We arrived like a band of hooligans. Rolling in like a pack of wet mutts. Unable to find a parking spot that wasn’t in the middle of a small pond, we kept pulling in and out trying to find a better option, and each time we struck out, the more embarrassed Samia became. It must be a South Asian/Middle Eastern thing because as an American, I found it all amusing, as a South African raised in the apartheid, Brenda found the puddle a small problem by comparison — but Samia wasn’t so nonchalant.
“Brenda, please pull your umbrella inside the car!” In the crazy, wind-blown, rain splattering event of getting from the car to the “palace” Brenda’s new umbrella was turned inside out and it resembled more of a white flag than it did an umbrella. While we were pulling in and out of unacceptable parking spots Brenda stuck her umbrella outside the car window as if a symbol of surrender.
“Brenda, please bring your umbrella inside the car!” Complete embarrassment was all over Samia’s face. “No, really. Please, Brenda.” Chuckling Brenda agreed.
“Look at this place!” Samia marveled. As I said — it was definitely impressive. But I had more fun watching the expressions on Samia’s face. It’s like she was entering the Taj Mahal for the first time.
“Oh, my, we have to take our shoes off before entering the house! What do I do? I don’t want to take my shoes off! I am 4’11 if I take my shoes off I will look 15 pounds heavier!” Perplexed and horrified with her choices Samia’s Middle Eastern Cinderella’s Castle fantasy quickly came crashing down. “Well, I guess we do not have a choice. We must take off our shoes.” Brenda offers up advice in her years of international diplomacy experience. “When in doubt; don’t offend.”
I followed Brenda and Samia inside and noticed that at these types of events proper dress is either formal or national dress. Samia is in her best shalwar kameez, looking like a Pakistani princess, and Brenda is wearing a modest African dress accessorized with a small cocktail purse. They reminded me that I am a lost soul. Americans do not have national dress and until events like this, it never seems to be a problem. Aside from a Budweiser/American flag bikini, American women do not have anything to wear that says: I am an American. This has always been a huge problem with the Miss Universe pageant. Every other country looks like a million bucks in their bejeweled national ensemble and then there’s the American girl typically draped in the some fashion modification of the American flag.
As we entered into the palace our hostess greeted us in a beautiful leopard print floor length gown with a neckline too tempting for even most American ladies. She looked absolutely stunning and in a million years, I never would’ve guessed this was the same lady that could easily sneak past me in the school halls without ever grabbing a moment of attention. One by one, they arrived draped in abayas and then slowly removing them to reveal ridiculously elegant and some rather sexy gowns. I sat there feeling somewhat prudish, definitely under-dressed, and embarrassingly boring in my simple Ann Taylor outfit.
We sat in the ladies majlis, a formal entertaining room off of the center entrance hall, which was decorated in a bold rose decor and offered a variety of seating options for more than 30+ ladies. I could tell this wasn’t the type of event that only occurs when someone gets married or has a baby, or some other typical life milestone; but instead, this rooms gets a lot of use — these ladies gather frequently and this room offers all the accoutrements necessary for a super swanky tea party. Hired Filipina ladies served up Arabic coffee, tea, and dates in exquisite dishes as I relied upon Brenda to fill me in. What is this? What will it do to me? And should I partake? Which basically means, will this have me glued to the powder room while I am here at this super swanky event?
The bell rang for dinner. Yes, I am not kidding. A. small. bell. rang. to signify that we should all move to the enormously large extended-family Lawrence of Arabia dining room. The table itself was huge. Ever practical me, I am thinking to myself how many immigrants did it take to carry in this massive hunk of a dining room table? It was certainly larger than an operating table. It would’ve definitely been large enough to hold both Jack and Rose from the Titanic. It’s too bad Jack didn’t have this table. He would’ve made it to New York. One thing I am eternally grateful for is the towering baskets of fruit in the middle of the table. Thank goodness there wasn’t a baby animal on a platter laying peacefully dead in a mound of rice, dates, and a few random cashews —that would’ve blown the whole thing for me.
I looked around the dining room table to see the look of confusion on the faces of the expat ladies. What fork were the other ladies using? I think I was using the wrong one. If Martha Stewart would’ve concentrated more on these tid-bits of Middle Eastern etiquette versus insider trading, I probably wouldn’t be in this quandary I am in tonight around the Lawrence of Arabia dining room table. But no, the American capitalist let me down, but then again, Martha was probably never invited to a swanky Arab ladies dinner party. One-up. Fist bump!
After dinner, some of ladies were touring the upstairs of the villa. And I almost joined them but I caught the gaze of an Arab princess. Maybe she wasn’t a real princess but she could’ve been one. She was absolutely lovely. Far lovelier than Princess Di. Sorry Brits, but she was much more elegant. And she appeared to be staring at my small trio of hooligans. Either in amusement, interest, or dismay, her eyes followed me as I snapped (pre-approved) pictures around the magnificent villa.
Brenda really wanted to go upstairs to-see-what-there-was-to-be-seen. “B, I’m not going up there. I already feel like a third-class citizen.” I said, half jokingly. “Seriously, I don’t want to look like an uncouth and uncultured troll that’s never seen the inside of a place like this….really, we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves. Okay?!?……. Really, Samia is just now recovering from the earlier embarrassment.”
“Ladies, I think we should at least get a picture of the three of us before we go. Let’s sit on this beautiful sofa together. This is perfect.” Samia smiled elegantly in her national clothes.
“Pardon me” I said. “Please, do you mind retaking this photo because it looks like I am breastfeeding my friend.”
OMG…….you can’t take us anywhere!
*A very big thank you to our most gracious hostess*
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