WASHINGTON — A group of women in Washington's diplomatic circles decided to use their different cultures to help people in the northeastern United States recover from superstorm Sandy. The benefit, organized by women from predominantly Muslim countries, is an example of "cultural diplomacy" at work.
Dancing, exotic food in abundance, camaraderie - all in an ambassador's residence in Washington, DC. But this is not a typical party. It is a fundraiser for the victims of superstorm Sandy, which devastated coastal areas of the northeastern United States, particularly in New York and New Jersey.
The scenes of destruction spurred Rosa Rai Djalal, the wife of the Indonesian ambassador to the United States, into action.
"I saw the TV before and during the hurricane and it is so devastated, and I feel a sense of deja vu because, you know, Indonesia was hit by a huge earthquake in 2004 and at that time all the international community helped us and I right away called my friends [and said] 'Let us do something to help them,'" she said.
Djalal is president of the Muslim Women's Association in Washington and rallied fellow ambassadors' spouses and diplomats.
They decided to highlight their different cultures for the benefit of U.S. storm victims.
Guests paid $50 to attend the lunchtime benefit at the Indonesian ambassador's residence. All proceeds went to the American Red Cross, where Raquel Mata works.
"I think the title of this event says it all, 'Solidarity for Victims of Hurricane Sandy'. Because, you know, it does not have a face. We are all together. We are all unified in a cause that is affecting everybody," she said.
It is that sense of unity that matters to Fatima Aujali, whose father is the Libyan Ambassador to the United States.
"Muslim people really care about our friends and the American people. This is just us trying to do something to help them out,' she said.
Guests bid on donated items as they explored the cultures of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
"I have not been exposed to many Muslim countries, and this is a very good opportunity to see them and meet them and talk about it," said guest Se Young Thomas.
They also feasted on a vast array of Asian and Middle Eastern delights.
The combination of diversity and unity appealed to U.S. Deputy Chief of Protocol Natalie Jones.
"So many women and so many countries came together in such little time to unite around victims of Hurricane Sandy, and they did this through the power of food and their cultures and traditions," she said.
Jones praised the event as "culinary diplomacy" in action.