Morning Chai publisher Zahir 'Zee' Karim was part of the Canadian contingent of Ismailis in LA for the Darbar held April 15th. This is the first in a series of articles to follow on his observations and experiences in the City of Angels.
Shukran - Thank You - Merci - Gracias - Ahsante sana - Shukriya - Arigatou !!!!!!!
While we can certainly say thank you in well over 465 languages - how do we use words to convey the appreciation of well over 10,000 visitors who convened in the City of Angels for 3 days that may never be forgotten and in my view will be hard to equal. So here is my quick summary of the Canadian experience at the LA Darbar.
The stampede started as early as Thursday (one week ago) and built to a crescendo by the weekend as Ismailis from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto started landing at LAX.
On many Alaska Airlines flights the flight attendants welcomed the Golden Jubilee travellers on the public speaker and wished them a great time - what a start. Many flew direct from their cities but many had 1-2 hour stop overs in cities such as Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake, Chicago and Houston. Indeed many drove 3 hrs from Vancouver to Seattle to take advantage of the cheap fares - in some cases under $200 - there was also a seniors group that started their journey at 11:00 pm at Burnaby Lake JK on a bus to Seattle airport where they arrived at 3 am for a 6:30 am flight and landed at LAX at 9:30 am - almost 12 hours later. I happened to be at LAX when this group arrived and I think they just wanted to see a bed...
At LAX , since Friday, every visitor was greeted by LA Ismaili volunteers who welcomed them with a cheery 'Darbar Mubarak' and a package of information of events. If you happened to be at the baggage claim at LAX on the weekend you would have run into literally hundreds of Ismailis from your hometown.
Downtown LA was abuzz with Ismailis from around the globe and all the hotels were filled many weeks prior. My guess is that 75% of the rooms around the Convention Center were taken by the Golden Jubilee visitors. While LA is a major city the Downtown core is not the most tourist friendly on weekends and evenings - though there were no incidents that I know or heard of for the 3 days. As you entered the hotel lobby there was an information desk set up with volunteers who gave out a little goody bag of snacks - another great touch.
The organizers of the LA Darbar also threw another surprise on Friday and Saturday by renting a hangar at the airport with a dinner and dandia raas program. The Barker Hangar was alive with Canadians who were by now starting to settle in and feel the LA welcome.
Sunday the official program started with JK at the Convention Center and dinner and entertainment in the evening. For Vancouverites it was like being at the PNE - probably the same for our neigbors in Calgary and Edmonton. The LA convention facility is a massive structure and the first 2 days the events were held in the converted giant underground parking lot. The main worry for the visitors were their Darbar entry cards and a separate hall was set up to handle the International registrants - it seemed the largest line up would have been 6 minutes at the most - though the time passed so quick as you met fellow Ismailis and conversation flowed about the weekend, where they had gone shopping etc.
Another nice touch and a huge benefit was the shuttle services provided to the Convention hall from the hotels in the downtown core as well as at Airport hotels. The buses ran every 15-30 minutes from Sunday evening to Tuesday evening.
Monday was a full day with events planned from 10:00am onwards and it was an early evening to prepare for the next day as visitors retreated to their hotels just after 9:00 pm after a quick meal. The LA organizers had catered all the meals for the 3 days with a contractor in San Jose as it would have been a logistic nightmare for our volunteers to cook and transport the food - it turned out to be a very wise move and as with the registration there were no line ups whatsoever - the Darbar program was moving along seamlessly by the day. For the day of the Darbar the doors were to open at 4 am - the shuttles would start at 3:00 am with MHI scheduled to arrive at approximately 11:00 am.
Tuesday morning - Downtown LA was a sight to behold. Picture this - starting at 2:30am hundreds of cabs zipping back and forth between the hotels and the Darbar hall - seems a lot of visitors decided to beat the shuttle crowd. The punch line here is that with well over 15,000 Ismailis going into the facility between 4am and 8am there were no lineups as 24 security scanners processed all the entrants with relative ease. The Darbar was held in the massive main hall and each individual was provided a continental snack pack to hold them for the morning - not many restaurants open at 3 am in downtown LA - so no quick Tim Hortons or Starbucks.
While I won't go into the specifics of the Darbar itself I would be remiss if I didn't say that Tuesday was a magical day. The main comment that came out of the Darbar was that MHI was extremely happy. He spoke longer than I have ever remembered in a Darbar and he was very specific about defending your faith, being united, educational opportunities in the knowledge society, to be prudent as the economic outlook for not only the US but for the rest of the world would be soft and that when the jamat rejoices later in the dandia raas he would be there in spirit. In talking to many people on Wednesday - when most visitors went back home and again LAX was taken over by Ismailis - the Dandia program on Sunday night was simply the best they have ever experienced - seems the band was extraordinary or was it simply the excitement of the morning - either way it was the perfect ending of an incredible journey.
The LA organizers left no detail untouched in how to make this visit the most welcome for their visitors - every touchpoint was a positive one and from my viewpoint no stone was left unturned - the attention to detail was simply amazing. It will be said that the LA Darbar will be one that sets the standard for any in terms of venue, facilities, transportation, meals, logistics and organization. If the President of the USA Council Dr. Mahmoud Eboo s well as the Western USA Council Samia Rashid were reading this here is what I would say to them:
MHI mentioned 2 things at the Darbar which makes me think of the LA Darbar organization. The first is the notion of best practices to achieve results. The LA experience, to me, seemed to be the culmination of probably the lessons learned of previous Darbars though in this case the execution of the event was like a painting - truly a work of art - I can imagine the planning that has to be coordinated and the thousands of hours required to carry out this mammoth undertaking - but in the end the people of Los Angeles were empowered to deliver an unbelievable Darbar and they delivered - with flying colors - whether they gave time or money.
Secondly, the LA Darbar created a unique bond of unity for all the visitors. In many cases it felt like a reunion where families got together from different parts of the world and lifelong friendships were made at the many events during the week - so when the visitors remember the uplifting experience of LA they will remember the people of LA who made it possible - for me what I took away from LA was the fact that I am 'darn' lucky and proud to be an Ismaili - thank you Los Angeles!!!
I have heard that people often compare the London Darbar 14 years ago and the Dubai Darbar 2 years ago as being the ones to remember, though I was not at any of those, it will be very difficult to match LA for the overall experience. In the coming days we will hear of the many stories of why and I hope to share with you some of those.
If you were in LA or for that matter in any of the other US cities let me know your comments so we can share with our readers.
YAM or as they say in Los Angeles - ADIOS !!!
See The Ismaili.org for more details on MHI's US Visit