OMG. All I have to say is that my legs hurt. hahahah. We just finished our first Karma Kitchen in Dubai, and it was a downright phenomenal experience. After months of dotting so many i's and crossing so many t's, we finally arrived. And in short, I can just say that it was a massive heart surgery -- for volunteers who worked so hard, for the guests and restaurant owners and staff who took a massive leap of faith and were over the moon, for the media -- and larger Dubai -- who were happily surprised about this expansive shift in consciousness.
It was an overflowing full house, with 2 rounds of seating, that started at 7PM and closed past midnight! One of the most famous chefs in Dubai, Chef Akmal and his wife Inez who manages the place, hosted this at their restaurant 3Fils. It is one of the hippest restaurants in Dubai, reflecting the true diversity of Dubai, and they are able to thrive without serving alcohol -- which is unheard of in Dubai. Not only did Akmal and Inez gift us so many of the ingredients, they helped spread the word and handle all the reservations, and they volunteered on their only day off -- while fasting for Ramadan! Chef Akmal, his entire team and their regulars, were deeply deeply moved.
The guests went wild. We loved bombed them throughout the night with gifts from the kindness table and shouted "YOU JUST GOT LOVE" in chorus (my favorite part!) and people totally joined in, and clapped and had a blast. And this was the back of our Karma Kitchen volunteer tees:
Our designer, Mauricio (a chef and painter who is developing his graphic design skills and wanted to volunteer to serve but couldn't due a visa turn around and so gifted his design skills while hanging out in the Czech Republic for a few days), and our copy editor Samia who is the Culture Editor of super well-known online magazine Savoir Flair volunteered to craft up beautiful menus and explanations. We had a gratitude wall and left post-its with pens on each table for guests to write what they are grateful for. We served heart pins that were hand-made by "Ladies Who Labour" aka the bathroom attendants of Dubai who live in labor camps and who have recently begun stitch a heart circles. Like Smile Cards, we created "pay it forward" cards and gave them out to with heart pins to each guest at dessert. The theme of the day was "It's Cool to be Kind."
Thanks to Mauricio's tech savvy ness and his willingness to go above and beyond (we used up hours of his time). Guests who wanted to know more or wanted to volunteer got a Karma Kitchen card, with a QR code that takes them to view Designing for Generosity for greater context and ways to get engaged and reach the volunteers. We had quite a few people who signed up to volunteer.
Thanks to our super amazing volunteer Kim who is a CNN Producer (and probably the most popular woman in Dubai with her incredible energy, beautiful heart and fun sense of humor) she enrolled wonderful Will, a CNN videographer to volunteer to video the entire event (Will seemed to really enjoy filming it and we enjoyed his positive vibe). Gulf News showed up with a photographer to cover it and interviewed everyone. Thanks to our volunteer Mansi's suggestion (Mansi who also works at Nasdaq requested to do dishes and did so with a smile for six hours straight!) we started an Instagram account (which gained 49 followers overnight).
We needed Red Crescent approval to host, but we trusted and it came just hours before we were to start. A member from Islamic Affairs, who came for an inspection as a part of his job and came along with his wife and child (thanks the encouragement of my buddy Mohammad Kamal at Red Crescent who normally handles all my licensing for volunteer events), was absolutely confused-delighted-blown-away and left convinced that the concept passed their very stringent tests. His wife kept saying "I have never experienced anything like this before!" Massive massive deal.
Volunteers were, of course, the real rockstars. Rhea (data Scientist for Siemens) and Zeina (Engineer) along with Mansi (works at Nasdaq Dubai) washed dishes continuously for 6 hours and left smiling ear to ear! Beautiful determined passionate bubbly sisters Kiran (a college student at Washington University) and Zara (about to leave for University of Edinburgh in the fall) served with all their hearts. And rockstar and experienced volunteer Kim a mother of three gorgeous kids an a producer for CNN, along with enterprising Vivek founder of Nom Nom a chain of restaurants committed to feeding the unemployed complimentary lunches served and delighted all our guests. Our star volunteer was super warm, kind, and welcoming Rami (Manager of 3fils from Syria) who opened his heart to us and volunteered his time to train us each of us and prepare us for the big day by putting each of us through four hours of training each. Many guests are keen to volunteer and our volunteers particularly Mansi and Kim are excited to do another Karma Kitchen in the fall. Chef Akmal and Inez have offered their restaurant for the next Karma Kitchen. We more than covered our costs. The ripples will now be unstoppable.
This is my first volunteer initiative that my mother whole heartedly attended and she even invited her friends (I think she resists because she doesn't understand how all this is going to lead to my economic stability). I decided to love bomb her which was something I think I needed to do for a long time but didn't quite know how, so I am grateful I could that night. She was the last person to leave. And the next morning she called me excitedly and told me how much she loved it and how magical it was and how she loved how I was so me and in my element and then she asked excitedly, "So what's your next project?" to which I replied, "The universe will let me know." to which she said, "Yes of course love, now you rest up, you deserve it." I put the phone down and my heart literally smiled.
I'm reminded of that quote at our Gandhi 3.0 retreat: "In a gentle way, we can shake the world."