USA Diaries – Day 21 – And thus the final goodbye to DC!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 07-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Madison, WI, Local Time: 2302, Pakistan Time:08 August 2012, 0902

Yesterday we celebrated our last day in Washington DC and therefore it is completely safe to assume that the day was a bit emotional…. Or at least some parts of it were! The day started off with an effort to wrap up everything and to get all those lessons and lectures done that we wanted to learn about.

That meant an early start… well actually not so early from the American Standards…. It is astonishing for me to know that Americans het their day started at around 6:00 am.. and more surprizing than that is that not everyone goes to bed early. Since I have now been to a Pub Restaurant I can claim that most people are out for late hours and they enjoy their lives. They drink, they sit with friends, they joke around… more or less they try to get the most out of their lives.


So early morning start….. and as usual, we gather at the Eastern Island Statue. Now let me tell you a bit more about the Eastern Island. The Eastern Island has become this wonderful space for us where we always meet. And today was the last time that we met there!

From Eastern Island, we headed off to the Museum of American History, where we met the Curator of the Numismatics Collection, Karen. Now Karen is a wonderful person who has a strong opinion about things and she has a laugh that should melt mountains. She is very understandable of the various policies and problems that are there in our Work Community and how they are to be tackled. She was a researcher in Biology (I think) but then she switched her fields and since then she has been working with the Museum of American History.

She walked us through the Numismatics Gallery and after that visit we were forced to agree with her that the space does no justice to the million or so collection that they have. She also showed us the new space where the Gallery will be shifted, she showed us the vaults, the coins from the various regions, including the Czar Collection, and the coins issued by Catherine the Great.

But please excuse me since I have little or no interest in Coins. What was interesting for me during this trip were the comments and POVs I got to hear. It realy makes my blood boil when after seeing all of this – that we are seeing – some people (Read Pakistani’s) – can continue to close their eyes and think that what they have is the best and nothing can be better than that, that nothing can be better than what they already know. , that nothing is worth learning. I hate these sorts of people! These people should be locked up in a room and gassed!

The argument in the room also moved to how coins are usually a subject that is considered to be more of a “Man” hobby than a woman hobby. And that led to a whole new argument about the status of women in our country. There is another thing that I protested about – however, I did have to keep my tone in check. When the argument took a turn where the men in our country started praising the condition of the women and the status that they hold, I had to say something. It is not that they are wrong – it is just that this is not the whole picture. I am not going to get in this debate right now – But let’s just say that in a country where 96% of the women don’t have rights, the conditions are not well then!

I had protested once before as well. Last week there were 5 bomb blasts in Pune and that meant that our friends from Pune were worried about their friends and family back home. It was also a moment when we all felt a bit closer to each other. It was when this lady who is with us from the Lahore Museum said that “Oh in Pakistan a bomb blast is a daily routine” that I could not stay quiet anymore and I said out quite rudely and abruptly, “No they are not and especially not in the Urban Centres”. So let me explain what I meant by that! When someone gives a statement like that, it interpreted in my mind as she is making a joke of this tragedy! That the lives of people who die are not worth anything, it meant that they are so common that they have no value or worth as a tragedy anymore. So yes I protested and I am not at all sorry for that!

The second session of the first half was about Lighting and how to have suitable lighting for the Museum which is not only environment considerate but also does not damage the artefacts and remains. The lecture was delivered by Virginia who has been doing Theatre lighting for the last 22 years before moving to Museum Lighting – which she has been doing for the last 4 years now.

So after this we came back and had our lunch the last time – Turkey and Mashed Potato with Gravy! I have to say for the last meal in the Smithsonian this was a pretty good treat! After lunch, we had to have a session with Carol Butler – the amazing lady who we have been in love with since the very first day. She has this wonderful personality which is always so full of energy, and she has a wonderful mantra to keep her going day after day – which she calls as the “Registrar Mantra – which goes like this “I am cool, I am serene, I am flexible”.

We had one last tour of the various Collections within the Natural History Museum and we saw some pretty amazing stuff, like Dinosaurs Skull, Dead Squirrels, Insects and Mosquitoes!

Squirrel Bones

That is the skeleton of a Monkey



So we had our last session on how to deal with issues that we may be facing at work places, and then we had a session on Re-entry. Now I will really like to take a moment her and thank her for doing this session with us because well every experience chances you in some way or the other! Already I have experienced so much in such a little time, and I am sure that maybe it has changed me in some way or the other! I have no doubt in believing that going back to Pakistan will be an experience in its own and dealing with all those tiny little problems that seem to take a toll on our lives – the lack of Electricity, Water, Options, freedom, The variety of Choices, and so much more.

But before this it was time to become part of a cult that is Carol’s own invention – a cult that is held together by a Marble. This cult or network is spread across so many countries and people and is a reminder to us that we are all part of a bigger world. That in some way we all face the same issues and problems every single day of our lives and together we can always come up with a solution. The concept was simple – each person gets a marble as a reminder – this marble idea comes from her eccentric aunt. The very personal story goes something like this that whenever someone used to say to her aunt “Oh you have lost all your marbles”, she quickly used to retrieve one from her bag and say “No I haven’t! I have still one left”… I don’t know how I saved myself from crying.

After the re-entry was time for the Certificate Ceremony!

And then the final good byes… but what is a good bye without a final group picture… and what can be a better location that the Eastern Island.

After hugs and kisses, we came out of the Mall Entrance to find a big Screen – or more precisely “Screen on Green” sponsored by HBO. I had seen this before but I really didn’t know what it was more. Well the idea is that every week in Summer HBO puts up a big screen on the Mall and plays a Classic movie for everyone – free of cost.

And I have to say this was a wonderful experience. Americans love to picnic and despite being a Monday by 6 pm (the movie was due to start after dark – which is typically around 9 pm) the Mall was full of people. They had come directly from work, some people were saving seats for their friends, some had even bought their pets along who sat with them and enjoyed the movie and food. When the movie finally started from the middle of nowhere (for us) people got up and started to dance. The dance hardly lasted for 2 minutes but apparently is a tradition! The movie up for the night was “Psycho” and it was a truly new experience. People laughed, drank and just had fun! When the movie ended, everyone picked up their trash, stuffed it in the bins and headed for the metro.

The rest of the night was spent in packing and then just crashing on our beds, to start a new day, which will be taking us to Madison, Wisconsin.



USA Diaries – Day 16 – A Night walk on the National Mall!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 17, – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating

The day had started off with a continuation of our time with Cathy Hawks, Conservator for National Museum of Natural History. The discussion again touched the various topics like Conservation Management, Storage and Pest Control and similar such topics. It has to be said that any time with her is just not enough. She has so much that she knows and that she shares with everyone. I was however, late for my class, and the reason for that was the most simple one ever – I overslept…. I think DC life is taking its toll on me.

For lunch that day we decided to hop off to this refreshment kiosk outside of the museum. I have to say that it wasn’t one of the best thing I have had in DC… in fact, let me say It was the most expensive and bad food that I have had in DC! Actually, it was so bad that I didn’t even take a picture of it.

Moving on, we had our session with Carol Butler after lunch in which we talked about Collections Management and what it means to work with a vast collection. We talked about their care and the problems that NMNH faces with regards to such a strong collection. We talked about how a collection is only worth something when it is coming in the use of researchers and other scholars and what it means to keep collections relevant.

The second part of this session was taken up by Bill Billeck who is working in the Repatriation Office and is taking care of returning the artifacts of Native American back to them. He talked about how this process is becoming an important step in opening up a dialogue between the Native Americans and the Museum and how such a dialouge has been important in changing the image that many people have had of Archaeologists and Museums as looters who took the stuff of their lands without the permission of the local communities.


The afternoon session with Bill had to be cut short though since it was time for our meeting with Richard Kurin – The Undersecretary for Culture and Arts at the Smithsonian. The man has so much knowledge and he surprised us with his knowledge of Urdu and his amazing address to us in Urdu. He is a very knowledgeable man who shared with us many of his stories, including his time in Haiti after the devastating Earthquake hit it. He shared this remarkable story of human spirit in which the people of Haiti after losing everything, their shelter, their musical instruments, their belongings, came out on the street and they SANG! I thought it was a remarkable story which demonstrated the power of culture and of the human resolve that we have.

The man is so nice that he even gave us free copies of his book “Saving Haiti’s Heritage”!

Oh let me share some pictures of his office – located in the “Smithsonian Castle”, the interior of this place is simply amazing. His conference room has these amazing Greek tiles (replicas) all around and there are so many books that cover his table that it is insane.


For a more informal type of a conversation, we headed to a shaded place near the back of the Castle and found ourselves some benches, where we continued our discussion on Culture and its evolution and Repatriation and all other aspects of it. Carol Butler has such an amazing point of view about things and the world and it comes with an association with the Smithsonian that has continued on for almost 25 years.  The informal session ended with an agreement on when and where we are suppose to meet for our night walk at the National Mall. Time decided- 8:30 pm.

So at 8:30 pm we were waiting outside the Smithsonian Metro Station and as soon as all of us had gathered, we headed straight to our first destination – The Washington Monument. Now we had been seeing it since our first day in DC, but we haven’t had the chance to come and see it up close. So today was an opportunity – however taking pictures at this time was definitely becoming a big issue.


The second stop being the Second World War Memoiral..

And then ofcourse to the Lincoln Memorial…


We even made a stop at Vietnam Memorial but since the light were so low it was impossible to take any photographs. But I plan to go there again and take some more photographs.

By the time the trip was over and we finally made our way back, it was almost 12:30 am and therefore there was nothing open or anything except for a Bar plus Restaurant. And since we were hungry like hell, we decided to just go in there and have whatever we could find. The menu was amazing looking, and I chose for myself Grilled Cheese Sandwich, while my friends ordered Chili and Kidney Bean Omlette and Bacon Burger. I have to say that the place was so amazing, it was rustic with all these amazing pictures and posters on the walls. It was really nice! So you can enjoy the pictures, while I enjoy my sleep for the night.




USA Diaries – Day 10 – MSC, Here we come!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 years I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 10, 26-7-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 2321, Pakistan Time:27 July 2012, 0819

Today was the day when we headed back to National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) after spending 3 days at the Freer and Sackler. It was good to be back and see the always smiling face of Carol Butler. We were suppose to meet her at 9 am in front of the Constitution Avenue Entrance, but considering our lack of orientation with DC still, we stood waiting in front of the National Mall entrance for well over ten minutes before realizing that we were on the wrong side of the museum.

The discussion today was a general orientation to Smithsonian and especially to the Folk life Festival that the Smithsonian holds each and every year. The discussion was kicked off by Robert Leopold who is the Consortium for World Cultures. He talked a lot about how it is important to make things relevant, considering that the Smithsonian is an organization that is being run by the taxpayers. And therefore, when organizations such as theirs go to the Congress, they need to know and have the answers to what purpose are they serving. He also talked a lot about the many different projects with which the Smithsonian is currently involved in, like the “Our voices on the air” which brings together the many different indigenous voices on Radio on a single platform. I have to admit, by the end of it all, I had a serious crush on the man.

Robert Leopold

The second part of the discussion was led off by Diane N’Daiye who looks after the Folk life Festival. Now this is the first time that I have ever heard of the Folk life Festival, and when I say “this is the first time”, I mean since the time I have been in the US. The Folk life festival brings together the various cultures and voices from all over the world onto a single platform where people from across the borders can engage with each other. This is no doubt something very close to her heart, since she narrated her own experience about how hard it was for her to understand as a child. She shared with us her childhood memory of how in a discussion with her friends who were telling about their Thanksgiving experience, which of course, rotated around Turkey, she felt like an outsider and cried about it, since she only had Curry and Roti.

She also talked about how it is important in her job and line of work to engage with the various practisers of culture. I like that word, although I don’t think I completely agree with it. See for me, culture is not something you practice. It is something that is embedded in you. But I can understand in which context she was talking about.

The last part of the discussion revolved around question and answer session, in which I asked a few questions which were really bothering me. What I really liked about this session was the fact that these people actually encourage question, and they don’t just say “good question” for the sake of saying it. They actually listen to it and will even come up to you later on to say the same. They will never claim that they know the answer but nonetheless, there is a general understanding that until a question is asked, it can’t be answered.

After this discussion, we headed off to the Staff Canteen for Lunch, and from there we went to get out shuttle to MSC, Museum Support Center. The MSC is a storage and a research facility for the Smithsonian NMNH and some of its other institutes as well, and this place is simply amazing. The place is simply huge and I bet you can spend the next 5 years of your life in there and still not be done seeing everything. We were shown around the place by Dave Rosenthal and Jake Homiak – both of those guys are incredible; Jake Homiak is simple hilarious. We were shown around the entire facility and I am simply in awe of the place. We first toured the more simpler facilities, the photography section, conservation lab etc, before we headed to the main treasure island – the Storage Unit. Apparently, there are 4 pods, each pod being on 4 levels, and with each containing almost ten shelves in a row. People, the Smithsonian Collection is no joke. And this is just the anthropological and ethnographic collection.

Jake Homiak

Dave Rosenthal

A letter which we saw in the Paper Conservation Room written by Alexander Graham Bell.

The most interesting highlight or fact of the day: Jake shows us the Archives Room and tells us that the paper in this room will be, if stacked, will make five time the height of the National Monument. Yet… this is hardly the biggest collection in DC. In fact, this is one of the smallest Archives; he reckons that the Congress library has just their record book room as big as this. Can you even imagine? I know I the hell can’t!

After this, we were taken by the lovely lady Rae Beaubien to the Museum Conservation Institute and shown the various facilities and laboratories that they have. I have to say, they have the most dedicated people that I have every seen in my life. I loved her, and the tour that she gave us, although I do have to say, that it was a bit exhausting.

The day ended at around 4:30 pm when we again took the shuttle and headed back to our hotel. The rest of the day was pretty non-exciting, with us simply loitering around. Although I did get my laundry done today, and I must say, my clothes smell nice 🙂 Not to forget, this was my first experience with these sort of machines and the dryer and all. I liked it!

Dinner was a weird deal, with our hunger getting the best of us, and us relying simply on Mashed Potato, Noodles, Leftover Rice and Mac and Cheese.. it is as weird a combination as it can get!

USA Diaries – Day 8 of 30 – Something was in our Drinks!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 years I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 8, 25-7-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 0801, Pakistan Time:25 July 2012, 1717

The day started off as any typical day with me getting out of bed after as much delay possible. When we finally did reach our destination, we were early enough for me to walk around the National Mall. There has been an AIDS Event going on all over DC nowadays, and Smithsonian has been involved in with with its “Quilt Project”. I have already talked about this before and it is according to me one of the most amazing campaigns. These quilts can be seen at a number of locations, from community halls to Museums.

Yesterday was our second day at the Freer and Seckler Art Museum (FS). And as soon as we reached the lobby, we were escorted to our respective signed up workshops. I had signed up for the Workshop on “Social Media and Marketing” which was all bout Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and a special event that FS does every year called “Asia After Darks”. The Class was led by Amanda Minie Williamson and Amanda Peck, and two of their interns. Now as much excited I was about the workshop, there wasn’t much that I thought came out of it. It was good how they are always engaging with their audience but it wasn’t something new I felt. I would have preferred more to come out of that workshop.


After the workshop we again headed off to the Energy Department for Lunch, which was fabolous as usual, and incidentally I took more than I should have. But well, its food.

Since we had some time on our hand yesterday after lunch, we decided to explore the Museum a bit. I headed straight for the Freer Gallery, much due to my impulsive behavior which requires I start from the beginning.


Oh and who can forget the Peacock Room! It was one of the most amazing places ever. Apparently Freer had the room bought and installed in the Museum after he saw it in the house of someone.



The second workshop of the day was about ImagineAsia and how hands-on activities can be designed in relation to a certain exhibition. I have to say this was one of the most interesting approaches that I have ever seen to an exhibition. They are suppose to have this really wonderful activity this Sunday at 10 am and then again at 2pm and I am really trying hard to get in it. Lets see if I can make it or not. We ourselves for this class did these superb activities. We are given this Moraqa in which we were suppose to paste our pictures and color the detailed illustrations around it. It was brilliant fun.






Day 3 of 30

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 years I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 3, 19-7-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 2248, Pakistan Time:20th July 2012, 0747

Today was the first day of our course, which is taking place with the coordination of the Smithsonian. The day started off for me at 6: 30 am when I woke up after a 12 hour sleep – which was enough to cure any jet lag that I may have had. After that, we had a complimentary breakfast, before our in-charge took us to a local pharmacy to get our metro cards made, and then after that, we had our first metro ride. We took the metro from the Eastern Market stop all the way to the Smithsonian and then explored the National Mall a bit, before calling it a day. Afterwards ofcourse, we decided to take a walk around the block to find a place where we can have dinner. The place we stopped was a Thai Food place and I had duck – my first ever duck.

Here are some of my pictures from the day