ON FRIDAY night my mom and I went to the Qatar national day reception at the Naval Club in Brasilia. The club is beautiful, with a huge swimming pool and cascading waterfalls that lead down to the main function hall at the shore of the Paranoa Lake.
The invitation arrived a week earlier addressed as usual to "Sr. Rasheed Abualsamh e mae", which tickled my mother no end. Driving up to the entrance of the club, military police waved us in when I stopped to ask if we were going in the right direction. Free valet parking right at the entrance took the drudgery of having to find a parking place and walking down the slope to the venue.
Now, the invitation said full regalia/national dress, which was obviously totally lost on many of the Brazilian female guests, some of whom arrived as if straight from their offices or else were shockingly too casual. I spied two women wearing sleeveless dresses, which I thought was totally inappropriate for such a formal event given by a conservative Muslim nation. But then Brazil is a country where women often wear short-shorts and skimpy tops to school and to work, so nothing much here shocks me anymore.
The waiters at this affair were quite aggressive and kept asking us every 30-seconds or so if we wanted another soft drink, cod fish salad, or a couscous salad with shrimp, which they were carrying around the room on trays.
"This looks just like the same food they had at another event I went to recently," my mother observed as we plunged into our cod fish salad.
"They must be using the same caterers," I said.
Huge maroon and white flower displays were placed at the center of all the round tables that were set for dinner. Video screens had images of a Qatari man displayed vertically which was strange, and a small area had been set-up to serve dates and Arabic coffee.
An elderly Brazilian woman with hair dyed a deep maroon-red color waved at my mother and hobbled over with the aid of a cane to say hello to her.
"Is Estelle on vacation?" she asked my mother. When she noticed my mother's puzzlement, she added, "you know the American ambassador's wife."
"Oh I don't know," my mom said.
"But you are American and are a member of the American Women's Club aren't you?" she protested.
"Yes, but I'm not a close friend of the ambassadress," my mom tried to explain.
It seems she had had a hip replacement, and explained to us that her unoperated leg was hurting now because of the extra pressure she put on it after her other hip was operated on.
To kick off the event the Brazilian national anthem was played, forcing all of us to stand up. And they played the full, extended version of the anthem, which most Brazilians don't even do nowadays. The ambassador and his Spanish wife stood on a stage facing their guests while the anthems played. When the Qatari one was played, the ambassadress sang along heartily, and near the end of it the recording of the song abruptly stopped and we heard her mellifluous voice continue singing for a few words.
"She should have sung the anthem acapella," I whispered to my mom.
After the Qatari's envoy's speech delivered in Portuguese, and a raffle of tickets to Qatar and souvenir nicknacks, of which we won a bag, we rushed over to the dinner buffet and were disappointed by the food. "The food was much better last year, wasn't it?" I said to my mother, and she readily agreed. I had some ravioli stuffed with dried tomatoes and another pasta dish, taking advantage of the fact that I was off of my usual low-carbohydrate diet that I follow during the week.
After eating I went over to say hello to an Iraqi friend who also graduated from the American School here, though many years after I did. She has been working as an assistant at the Embassy of Georgia here, and half-way into our conversation she stunned me when she said that her parents and herself had decided to move to Georgia in March.
"Georgia? Why Georgia?!" I asked, failing to see any connection between them and that former territory of the Soviet Union. It isn't even an Arab country.
"No, I mean Jordan," she explained.
"Oh, as in Amman, Jordan, right?" I said.
"Exactly!" she replied.
Which is a totally logical choice for them. Several of her aunts, a grandmother and various other relatives live there, along with at least one million Iraqis who have fled Iraq since the 2003 invasion by the United States.
Shortly after 9pm, with no sign of dessert being served, my mother and I made our way to the exit to go home, stopping at the little coffee bar at the exit where my mom had a cafezinho and I dipped strawberries into a vat of melted chocolate.
People think that diplomatic receptions are glamorous and exciting, but the truth is rather more mundane. The best parts for me were people-watching and talking to my Iraqi friend. The rest quite frankly was rather a bore.