Around the World between Breakfast and Afternoon Tea
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Around the world in eighty days, do you recall? Eighty days?! Well that is so passé! How about travelling the world between breakfast and late afternoon tea?
On May 4, 2013, there was an exciting opportunity to see smiling faces of diplomats, who were eager to please the visitors and tell their country’s story. Oh, what a wonderful real life experience it was walking through the doors of embassies around the world - all here within a few miles in downtown Washington DC.
Thanks to the Swiss Embassy’s lead about the Swiss Club gathering at the La Madeline bakery, the morning got off to a great start. It was not just the delicious French pastries and the coffee but a first-hand experience of Swiss harmony – different tables representing the four official languages had friendly conversations going. "The couple you met - are Rita and Joe (Yousef, originally from Algeria) Aissi, they are a lovely couple", later wrote one of the organizers of the event.
“Heal not hate” and “Papu Yaar jang nar kar” – Papu: buddy let’s not pick a fight - were unmistakably welcoming messages at the open doors of Pakistan Embassy. Throngs of visitors passed through the hallways taking home some positive images when the news from distant shores is not always uplifting.
It was all smiles at the open gates of the Malaysian embassy a few feet away on International Drive. There were no apologies and it was all business; hardly anyone could miss the 56 years of strong US-Malaysian bilateral relations manifested by growth in numerous industries.
Ah, the Arab Spring! It was right there on a clear Washington sunny day across from the Malaysian folks at the Egyptian Embassy. The sweet smell of cardamom tea and umm Ali custard traveling through air in the beautiful embassy hallways was just like in the alleys of Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo. And, your imagination would have taken you up the Nile to Aswan – all on the huge map on embassy wall.
The next stop was Turkey. No, it was not crossing the Mediterranean Sea nor the on boarding Boeing’s new Dreamliner. When you have connections, a shuttle bus from Cultural Tourism DC will do. Long lines snaked around almost a block with people patiently waiting to enter. There must be something the Turkish people were doing right and nobody escaped the image of the resolute Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey. Once inside, you could see T. Taimur Soylemez, the Deputy Chief of Mission, in tee shirts and blue jean easily mingling with the visitors.
The photographs of four Turkish diplomats assassinated in America greeted visitors to the Turkish Embassy. They were a reminder that while diplomats help solve many intractable problems, they have sometimes made the ultimate sacrifice for their missions.
Massachusetts Avenue may not be known as the Silk Road but it is home to great places for trading ideas and engaging conversations – at the Cosmos Club, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institutions, the School of Advanced International Studies – Johns Hopkins University and the Petersen Institute for International Economics – to name a few.
Along this intellectual silk route, in a few hours, one travelled through centuries past many milestones through the peaks and valleys of civilizations moving at different speeds. With Japan and Turkey on one end, there was an inviting banner past these institutions of higher learning “Chile is good for you”. And, Peru had the doors open too.
A few steps further along the way, Counselor Nurgali Arystanov was waiting at Kazakhstan Embassies doorsteps. Beautifully decorated embassy room with artifacts of the rich Kazakh culture provided visual entertainment as the visitors moved from room to room. Dr Saule Sataye – a Fulbright scholar educated the interested guests with the developments in Kazakhstan in the past two decades.
Aboriginal culture was on display in the Australian Embassy. The artist went about his work on a painting impervious to curious camera lenses and flashes. “Your future unlimited” was the best pitch of the day -by the good people at Australian National University – to anyone willing to make the effort.
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