Saturday, 18 July 2009

Dinner parties

I have hosted a few get together's with my brother this year in London. It has been a very pleasant experience. It has made me fondly remember and realise where Tariq and I get our oh so special diplomatic and hospitality skills from. It also helped me to realise that this is yet another one of those things that my brother and I do so well together.

Speaking of what we do so well together. Firstly, I would have to relate a little bit about ourselves. Tariq and I are exactly a year and a week apart. He was born on 20 August 1980 and I was born on 13 August 1979. In our first 'abroad' experience in Ankara, our mother used to take us around in one of those 'twin' prams!

Almost all of my childhood experiences involve Tariq. We were always up to something. One of my earliest memories is of Tariq getting hurt really badly. You see, he was always running into walls and this one time, he nearly split his head open. We had been playing together as usual and I tried to hide it from our mother by wrapping his head in one of her dupattas which I used to play with. He got a lot of stitches. Poor kid. Come to think of it, a lot of our childhood escapades involved a lot of bleeding and stitches. He once stabbed me with a pencil in Bonn. I also fell into a poison ivy patch in Bonn, I wonder if it was him who pushed me over the fence. The worst episode was in Bucharest when Tariq and I were horsing around and, this glass door fell on me and I ended up with a gushing wound on my wrist. I had to have nearly 15 stitches. In Dakar, Tariq was crushing ice and stabbed himself, his pinky. I also threw an encyclopedia at him and narrowly missed his eye. You might think we were trying to kill each other but I assure you it was not the case. All these incidents usually happened by accident and often when our parents were not in close vicinity or not at home at all.

Of course, we have always been a quarrelsome brother-sister duo but we did not try to kill each other. In fact, when we were in our teens, we used to fight so much we used to go into these 'not-on-speaking-terms' phases. I think we even went into a debate tournament together in Athens during one of these phases.

So then, what have we done so well? Well, we were each others' childhood friends, chums, co-adventurers, co-explorers, etc. We used to do everything together - playing with lego, running around, watching cartoons, coming up with secret clubs and handshakes, planning run away's (we ran away twice in Islamabad), him skipping a grade and being with me all the time, trying to publish our own school newspaper at Dakar Academy (which was sadly rejected because Mr. Agnor started his own), becoming debate partners at ACS in Athens, coming to London together for our undergrad, and so on.

More recently, we teamed up to get a flat together in London. Tariq was kind enough to ask me whether I wanted to go in with him at the time he was thinking of getting property in his city. And, because I had managed to save some money since I have started working, I was in a position 'to go in' with him. It was a nice feeling to be able to do this with my brother. He also came to visit me in Liberia and spent two weeks with my boyfriend and I. My brother was the perfect guest, got along with Wesley and the rest of my friends. I sent him up to Lofa County to my Pakistani peacekeeper friends and he charmed them too. Thereafter, whenever I met a Pakistani peacekeeper in Liberia, I came to be known as Tariq's sister! We also criss crossed across Iran last year for about two weeks and then crossed into Balochistan at the border. That was a great trip. I will never forget discovering Iran with him but I will never forget that excruciating 12-hour bus ride through the desert from the border to Quetta during which we chatted to a gold smuggler and Tariq loudly singing to Junoon's 'Neend Aati Nahin'.

So when it comes to dinner parties, it seems that we really know how to put together a party and to be hosts. You see, we've been seeing our parents entertain all our life. Being in the diplomatic service, hosting events, meeting people from different countries and cultures, representing one's country was part of every day life. When my father became an ambassador, the responsibility to do all that was even more heightened. It was either a reception at our place or a dinner for the diplomatic corps or a visiting delegation from Pakistan. Or, it was them who had to attend some function. Their weekly schedule of events was posted on a clipboard and, Tariq and I used to regularly scan it. If our parents had a reception or a dinner to go to, it meant having our own private in the house. We would watch movies, TV and eat snack food and drink coca cola to our hearts' content. When Saira came along, our job was to baby sit her. In the beginning we did not know what to do with her when she was still a baby. Once she started to cry non stop and, we called them back from a dinner after half an hour. There's also the Michael Jackson story - you see Michael Jackson had come to Bucharest for a concert and guess what? Our entire friggin school was there, all our classmates, everyone, and what do our parents do? We baby sit Saira and they went to the concert themselves! Yes, you read that correctly. We missed the one and only opportunity to really see Michael Jackson in concert. And apparently, it was a spectacular once. This was part of his 'Dangerous' tour.

If it came to an event at our house, we were also a part of the process. When we were still very small (that's in Romania), our job was to dress up little Saira in her new frock and send her down so she could meet the guests. When we got a bit older and that in Dakar, we had to start helping out. We would get the instructions from our mother - when to turn off the 'dum' from the pilao or the sequence of the food to go in. No we did not do any cooking, we were there to help the staff in the kitchen. Or, we would help to put together a collection of 'millay naghme' for national day receptions. It was always a lot of fun, being part of it. If we were having an event at our house, bouquets of flowers would be sent over starting the day before. Or, on the day of the dinner, they would get the coolest presents, some special chocolates or sweets or a vase or something typical from a country. Likewise, our parents had a stock of 'typical' things to gift - onyx, walnut or rose-wood boxes with mother-of-pearl in lay, embroidered cushion covers, shawls and so on. That reminds me, our mother would sometimes be part of these charity fairs put together by the diplomatic ladies and, we would help her to 'sell' stuff at the Pakistani stall. Or there would be a Pakistani pavillion at one of the international trade fairs which we would visit. All good fun.

So I guess, hosting and entertainment comes easily to us and we have a lot of fun doing it. I have certainly gained some mastery over cooking and entertaining in Liberia. Wesley and I have hosted dozens and dozens of dinner parties, Eid parties, a huge Christmas lunch, a fund raising party for the earthquake, movie nights, and so on. Hosting with Wesley is great because for our big do's he does an entire sheep. Nah, we're not cheap, we go all the way.

It was nice to do this one thing with Tariq here in London as well. We seem to like to clean the whole place before the party and after the party (including some nasty wine stains on the beautiful cream-coloured carpet). I was happy to be able to try my cooking and test it on London folk - my finest hour was probably the pilao with almonds and two leg of lambs. We try to be as inclusive as possible. I consciously make the effort to mingle and talk with everyone and Tariq does too. I think he's a bit more easy going than I am, I actually got a little irritated with some of the peoples' behaviour. He had planned to ask people to take off their shoes for the last dinner party but chickened out at the last minute - he was too embarassed to ask a girl. Nice guy. I on the other hand, found it very cheeky of some people to be gate crashing and/or inviting some of their own friends who would gate crash our parties. I find it interesting that while some people clearly appreciate the effort it goes to putting together a party, especially a dinner one, others take it for granted. I have to tell myself to take it easy and that it's all part of the fun. For instance it is important to take note of those who do come to your events, especially if they had to make a great deal of effort to travel to your place. I mean, I realised this was true even in Liberia and even here in London.

The thing I will remember fondly is that I was able to host parties with my brother. It was also a pleasure to see little Saira being the little grownup and being able to easily mingle with our grown up friends. She even helped to make sure the 'dum' was turned off (I am becoming like my mother, telling her to mind the 'dum' while I shower and dress, that was exactly what our mother used to tell me!!) and she also helped to serve the food. And, she was keeping a tab on who Tariq was chatting up and reporting back. Not that I told her to do so, she is just very possessive of Tariq. It was fun to host with Tariq and see that we are so similar in this respect.

I think being able to be hospitable is a good trait. It was part of our culture and of our grooming. It helps one to be part of society. It helps to appreciate other cultures and other ways. It is certainly full of surprises, good and bad. It even deepens relationships with friends in some cases! And sometimes you get the most thoughtful thank you notes and gifts. So all in all, I'm glad I hosted with Tariq!

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