Every once in a while, you have a “fish out of water” moment. One such moment happened to me last SAT when I attended the ISNA Matrimonial Banquet (basically speeddating on steroids w/ chaperones) here in DC. I didn’t take my camera along, so I don’t have pics to share. My dad wanted to see some pics! I wore a dressy beige pleated blouse with small white dots (H&M), white capri pants (The Loft), dressy metallic silver-colored flats w/ silver decorations (Anne Klein), and some coordinating jewelry (small pearl earrings, beaded necklace, and rings). It was a very hot/humid day, but I was very comfortable in this outfit. I wore make-up (which I usually don’t do), but it was very natural.
Though most of the talks/seminars/etc. were held in the Walter Washington Convention Center, the banquet was held in a large ballroom a block away at the Renaissance Hotel. I didn’t know what to expect! Before the event, I noticed a petite young lady (also w/ glasses) on the metro; she was wearing a dressy salwar suit. I guessed (correctly) that we were headed to the same place. Also on the same train were 2 college gal pals who chatted happily in both English and Arabic; they wore badges around denoting that the were volunteers at ISNA.
When I got inside the convention center, it was about 3:45PM. I’m running late, I thought! I walked for a while, then finally got to the registration booth. I had to wait in line to find out where exactly the event was being held; I wasn’t alone, there were several others w/ slightly confused expressions. The gal from the metro walked over to the hotel w/ me and we chatted. She was in her late 20s, very sweet, and Pakistani-American. She decided to come upon the recommendation of a close gal pal (who attended ISNA in Chicago last year). “How else are you going to meet people?” she commented. We got our badges from the college-age volunteers, then talked/joked for a while. She commented that there were so many beautiful outfits. I realized that I wasn’t that nervous after all.
The environment seemed a bit tense (and disorganized) to me, at first, since so many people were gathered around in the hallways and corridors. A few people were in groups, either w/ their family members or friends who were at the event. It seemed like almost every woman had some sort of designer purse! Hardly anyone was wearing jeans; it was all dresses, salwar kameezes, suits, and glamorous make-up. There was some wait time (15 mins.) before we could go into the room, so I went off to wash my hands and brush my hair. Several young gals were getting ready, all dressed to the nines (according to their tastes). There were 2 sisters (one wearing a headscarf, the other not) fixing their makeup while their mom and grandma waited to another side.
When it was time to go into the event, there was some confusion. Should we line up or just file in? The volunteers ushered us in; I noticed that some of these folks were older women. There were many long tables; the few round small tables were for the parents/relatives. There was just water to drink at this time. As with speeddating events I’d attended in the past, the women were on one side and the men were on the other side of the table. The men rotated; the women stayed seated. We were seated according to our age group, I learned from one of the guys. (The gals in my group were aged 30-35; the guys were 32-37.) I think the largest group consisted of the 25-30 age group; they had more rows of tables, we had 2 rows.
The lady sitting on my right was Pakistani-American (raised overseas), very petite, quiet (at first), serious, and wore a cotton salwar suit of black and white. The white embroidery was really intricate/pretty; she got it from the old country. She didn’t wear a headscarf, but covered her hair with her dupatta (the long cloth that coordinates with salwar suits). Unlike most of the other gals, she wore no makeup, but I though she had a nice face w/ very small features. She looked a bit worried, so I decided to chat w/ her. She was studying for her Masters (CRN) and lived in a small Michigan town. She had never been to this type of event either, so she asked me more about it. I didn’t know many details, but we soon learned (from one of the guys sitting nearby) that the event was 4 hours long! He showed us a folder with a schedule inside; some people had them, but most of us didn’t.
The guys sitting across from us were very nice and easy to talk to. Since it took quite a long time for everyone to take their seats, and for the moderators/volunteers to get started, we had time to get to know each other. The lady on my left was petite and very pretty; she wore a beautiful teal-colored blazer, jeans, and very high-heeled shoes. She was wearing a lot of makeup, even though she didn’t need it. She was from Memphis, TN, and had attended this event twice before. She talked mostly with the gal on her left.
Once we got started, we talked with each guy for 3 minutes. Few people commented that 4 or 5 mins would’ve been better. I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the men were born/raised in the West (US, UK, and Canada). A good segment of the guys (perhaps 50%) were Pakistani-American. I was disappointed that hardly anyone brought their business cards! (ISNA should’ve been more clear about that.) I had my networking cards; I gave them out to the (few) guys who were living in the DC area. (FYI: ISNA doesn’t store any info on anyone in any database, so you have to be proactive.)
A little after 6PM, we got a short break. This was the time to get some fresh air, food, etc. I called my dad and mom to give them my impression. The food was not what I expected! (Hey, we paid $79 for a “banquet,” didn’t we?) There were a few tables outside the ballroom with bread, cheeses, crackers, 2 types of pasta, 2 types of sauce, cookies, brownies, tea, and coffee. I grabbed a bit of food before it was time to go back in around 6:30PM.
A couple who met at ISNA back in 2010 said a few words. Well, the wife (American desi) spoke a bit, the hubby (immigrant) not so much. (He looked nervous.) An imam from the ADAMS Center (from Sterling, VA) did his speech and recited a brief prayer. I didn’t understand all of what he was saying b/c of his thick accent; he was an African immigrant with a fluffy salt and pepper beard. I had heard of his center from some Bangladeshi American acqaintances of mine. One guy rudely mumbled: “I didn’t sign-up for this!” That was unnecessary, if you ask me. Then we had the 2nd round of mini-dates, followed by the social hour (started at 8PM). This was the time to get some more food and talk to anyone you chose. By 8:30PM, I was pretty tired, as were many others. Some were waiting around for their friends or family to call or pick them up. Overall, it was a good experience! (Some of the men thought so, too.)
Below are my notes on the single guys I met, starting w/ where they were from, profession, etc.
1) Chicago, business analyst, very handsome, great hair & personality, friends volunteered at ISNA & encouraged him to attend, dad is a food scientist who verfies halal food products/businesses, got to know a lot about him (b/c it took long time for event to start)
2) MD, airport shuttle bus driver, fluffy beard, socially awkward (didn’t say much & complained about the ISNA set-up), was the only African guy I noticed at the event (surprisingly)
3) Not sure where he was from, balding, glasses, lawyer (went to Cooley, like I did for 2 terms); I had a “foot in mouth” moment when I said “I didn’t go to a good law school” (but he didn’t mind).
4) Small town MN, finishing training to be cardiologist, raised outside Liverpool, England, great smile/personality, came w/ mom & younger sister, really enjoyed talking w/ him
5) Philly, orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke’s
6) Philly, bald, light-colored eyes (bluish), software engineer & owns a car dealership, very confidant
7) Chicago, MSU, dr.
8) Charlotte, same name as famous Bollywood actor, business analyst & web designer, very handsome, very confidant, really liked talking w/ him
9) Philly, pharmacist (like my little sister), his sister lives in Indiana (like my mom)
10) Philly, healthcare IT PM
11) Toronto, accountant, short hair, nice looks, dressed very well in tweed jacket (his dad’s), confidant, very easy to talk to, told me about R.I.S. conference (held each year around X-mas in his town)
12) NJ, family dr.
13) MD, raised in Kuwait until college, family originally from India, works as a web developer for small Arlington-based company (will look up, since I need a job), nice hair, glasses, pleasant (but a bit shy), was a little overwhelmed my the number of people & noise, talked w/ him later during social hour, asked him to keep in touch (since we’re both local)
14) VA, dentist, balding, serious demeanor, grew up in Pakistan (I assumed), at social hour he talked w/ the woman who had been sitting on my right (they exchanged cell #s and spoke a bit in Urdu)
15) DC, grew up in Washington state, neatly trimmed little beard, diplomatic job w/ State Dept (gave out his business card), while talking he was sending text messages (not cool)
16) Fresno, CA, engineer, easygoing, chatty (we mainly talked re: movies)
17) Small town AK, Comp Sci PhD student planning to stay in US & teach, from Turkey, pleasant but reserved (didn’t reveal much)
18) TX, works for internet start-up
19) VA, works at IBM (contractor to DOD), we talked re: jobs
20) NYC, internet communications (own business)
21) VA, lived all over the world, pleasant, has his own consulting business, wrote down his email for me (when I mentioned looking for a job)
22) MD, bald, works in construction management, family all in MD also, easy to talk to, gave me his business card
23) Calgary (Ontario), Pakistani immigrant, shy, barely said anything (was shuffling some papers)
24) St. Louis (but moving to San Fran), dentist, loves traveling, originally from Egypt, too excited (IMO)
25) Chicago, really into sports, sys mgr in transportation industry
26) NYC (Brooklyn), was sitting at the end of my table at start of event, dressed more casually than others (black T & dark-colored jeans), very confidant, great smile, talked w/ him after break and at social hour.
27) TX, dressed up (dark suit w/ charcoal shirt), financial analyst, nice eyes, cofidant (but in easygoing way), very easy to talk w/ him
28) Ontario, had a good convo w/ him (but can’t recall it- LOL)
29) TX, expressive, anesthesiologist
30) Chandler (AZ), small beard, works for Amazon, got his BS, MS, & PhD from UA (Tucson), has been in US since 1993, knows many of the same Bangladeshi Americans that my family & I knew back in our Tucson days (prior to 2002), also knows acqaintance of mine from NYC (who recently married a woman from Tucson), very reserved/conservative (didn’t shake hands)
31) Chicago suburb, Chase project manager, didn’t say much
Wow, that was a long post! (FYI: About 400 singles came to this event.)
Thanks for reading,
P.S. For a single guy’s take, read Looking for Love and Finding Awkwardness at ISNA.
Here is a Washington Post article re: the event.
P.P.S. Since I NEVER learn the first time, here’s my account of the second convention!