Dinner, Dialogue and Food for Thought
Last month, Sultana’s Dream hosted a women-only dinner as part of the Australian Arab Women Leaders’ Dialogue project, which brought women from the Arab world who occupy positions of leadership, to explore women’s participation in emerging democracies. I was there to assist with the event in my role as a ‘Sultana intern’.
The dinner was held at Rumi Restaurant, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Lygon Street in Melbourne. To add to the warm, inviting atmosphere, we placed cards with Rumi quotations on the tables as a talking point for guests who might not know one another.
Guests arrived and soon everyone was greeting friends and mingling. The atmosphere was one of bonhomie and anticipation as we awaited the arrival of our special guests. Soon the Arab delegates arrived and with very little fanfare the evening got underway.
I have not been to many formal events of this kind before, but based on the two or three I had been to, I expected the VIP guests to be somewhat ‘aloof’. Instead, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the delegates were warm, friendly, and happy to engage with everyone.
Throughout the evening, each delegate was introduced and asked to say a few words. While some of the delegates simply introduced themselves and their work, others went into more detail: Saudi Arabian Samar Fatany, for example, spoke of the importance of combating the stereotype of the oppressed, uneducated Arab woman. And it wasn’t all serious—Rana Husseini, the Jordanian delegate whose work on the issue of honour killings earned her a medal from HM King Abdullah II, was on the receiving end of good-humoured teasing from both the Lebanese and the Palestinian delegates, teasing which she returned with equal good humour, when it came their turn to speak.
I found myself seated next to the Palestinian delegate, Wafa Abdel Rahman, who was eager to learn about the Arab community in Melbourne: Were there areas in Melbourne with a higher concentration of Arabs? What events did the Arab community hold? How often did the community come together to discuss the important issues of the day? How much influence did the Arab community wield in the wider community and in politics? Her questions provided us with food for thought, until the actual food arrived, at which point the discussion veered slightly from politics to wondering whether the salad dressing contained sugar.
That being said, my favourite among the delegates was Dr Houriya Kazim, from the UAE. While all the delegates were very impressive, I found her accomplishments to be particularly inspiring. Dr Houriya Kazim was the UAE’s first female surgeon; according to her bio, she saw the need for a female surgeon while working in a Dubai hospital, so she won a fellowship in General Surgery in the UK before specialising in breast surgery and reconstruction. She then returned to Dubai. Her drive and her ability to take immediate action in setting up her ‘Well Woman Clinic’ and her breast charity ‘Breast Friends’ I found truly inspiring.
The laughter and lively chatter stayed until the very last of the dinner guests had said goodnight. I went home thinking about female empowerment and a particular Rumi quote we’d put on the tables:
You are a volume in the divine book, a mirror to the power that created the universe… whatever you’re looking for can only be found inside of you.
Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi. 13th century Persian poet, Sufi mystic, jurist and theologian.