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 19 – Free Day equals a trip to the Zoo!

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 19, 04-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 2121, Pakistan Time:05 August 2012, 0622

Today was a free day for us – Today was also the last free day we would have in DC – Today was also the third last day that we were spending in DC! So it meant that there was a long list of things that we wanted to do but time was just not on our hand. Tough choices had to be made – which museum to prefer, which other places to hit, shopping or sightseeing or just sleep? I tell you the idea of sleeping was pretty tempting, but nonetheless, I decided that Zoo was a must for me! But first – a stop at the Congress of Library! The Library is one block down from where we are staying but beside that we have not been able to actually go there! The reason has been the lack of matching our timing! The library closes off at around 4:30 pm – we don’t ever get free before that. But I am glad that I made it there today. The place is magnificent – and it is truly a tribute to the great thinkers that we have had in the last century.

The exterior of the Library or more specifically The Thomas Jefferson Building is a grand building and it proudly holds these busts of these great names – which includes Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and many more – right on top of the entrance gate.

The interior are just as grand and magnificent! The entire ceiling is covered with these magnificent panels and Cherubs and Quotations and once more these great names – oh and some of the most wonderful murals which show the evolution of knowledge.

However I did learn one thing today – It has always been told to us in our lectures that ornamentation is something that was done without any reason – that it was simply a decoration element, and something which required too much resources. That is not the case! The ornamentation are a way to add to the concept behind the building and the function which it is suppose to serve. There is such a strong rationale behind using these form for ornamentation. The usage becomes essential in creating an atmosphere that this is in fact a temple for Knowledge. For example, this Cherub on the side of the Stairs illustrates the various fields which are housed and which constitute the part of Scientific fields – One Cherub being a Physicist, another a Chemist or a Cook, or a Philosopher, etc.

The panel below illustrates the various form of Literature, with the two Cherub on the side showcasing Comedy and Tragedy and the middle one showing Drama.

The exhibition that were put up at the Library of Congress were truly amazing. One of the exhibition was about the Early America and how the Conquest and the search for new resources changed the world. There is also a Thomas Jefferson Library which is on display, but one of the best exhibition is about “The books that shaped America”.. it was nice to know that there were so many books that I had actually heard of .. and even read! I remember this one kid that was beside me who exclaimed to his parents and siblings “Oh my God, Charlotte’s Web is also here.. Can you believe it came out in 1952!!!” – I have never read that book!

It was an amazing Place!

So with much difficulty I decided that the second stop should be the National Zoo – Little did I know that this will be my last stop of the day! Why you wonder? Let me explain – I left my hotel at 9:30 am, Walked to Library of Congress, Roamed around, Got out by 11:30 am and went to the Metro, reached the Zoo at around 12:30 and then got out of the Zoo at 5:00 pm – Yes it took me a full 5 hours to see three-fourth of the Zoo! Apparently 5 hours even are not enough to see the whole Zoo! They need to make smaller Places I tell you!

Anyways, it was a delight to see the Pandas and the wonderful Outdoor Pavilions where we can see the animals in action, the Pink Pelicans, the King Vulture.. and then there were so different types of Turtles.. .I am missing my turtle a lot actually and I really need to go and meet him. I miss him.



By the end of this zoo trip, I was so dead tired that I didn’t have the strength to go anywhere and came straight to my hotel. The rest of the day was usual – we cooked and ate and now we are just talking away!

USA Diaries – Day 14 – A Butterfly sits on me!

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 13, – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating – Isn’t that good enough?

The day was quite unclear to us! But I think this has been more to do with some people feeling that the course that we are going through is irrelevant to our context! What is my own point of view about this? I think that this is an opportunity for us to broaden our horizon! This is a chance for us to go and see what the world is doing and how is it that they work. How far along the world has come and how far behind we are still. There is so much to be learned from them! But this is not a spoon feeding session! It is for us to understand how to apply all that we learn in our context. For the time being, I am just glad to be learning and seeing the world!

Well, coming back to the original topic, the day started off in the library section where we were introduced to Nathan Erwin, who is the Insect Zoo/Butterfly Pavilion Manager and who is also know taking care of the Education Centre Project. He talked on a topic which seemed and appeared to be very much close to his heart – Citizen Science or a more appropriate word, Participatory Science. He showed us this project in which the citizens designed the Coral Reef – and that too using Croquet as a medium. Of course this meant a lot of research and training with regards to the details of the Coral Reef and how they work and the way they are shaped in the underwater. He also shed light about how Scientist and Researcher have taken this new approach to take their research out on the internet and then asking people to help them identify the various species or animals or varieties. This indeed is becoming a great way to get to know so much more about what they have and aid in their research. I thought this was such a different view and approach to take in regards to Pakistan where everything is “Top Secret”, or a “Matter of National Security”. And here are these people who are so much more advanced than us, have so much material and they put it out there for all to see and discuss and help.

Nathan Erwin

Nathan discussed the Coral Reef project done through Participatory Science

The second part of the first half was taken up by Amy Bolton and Rebecca Grey (I hope I got the name right – I don’t have Rebecca’s card with me). They talked about “The Education Centre” which will become a place where kids and teenagers can come and actually handle and have hands on experience with the collection and different specimens that are in the collection. The Centre is due to be opened next year and will have all those materials in the storage which has been de-accessioned and is now available for the children to expand their vision. The vision is that they should get to know in real what Science is all about and what is consists of. They want to make them know that Science is not only in books and labs but is beyond that as well.

And then it was lunch time, where I had Cheese Pizza but I did get a chance to try the food that my friends which my friends had ordered, including Three Cheese Calzone, and Roasted Chicken and a Chicken Soup. I have to say that the variety at the Smithsonian Café is not so bad, and the food is reasonable enough as well.

Since we still had time on our hand, we headed out to different galleries, and for me the stop was Butterfly Live Pavilion. Okay, so I am not so comfortable with animals, in fact I am actually scared of them. But when I saw this big huge thing with so many butterflies flying inside, I simply could not stop myself and just bought a ticket – which was around $5. But it was truly a wonderful experience. There were so many of them in there just flying around, and I have no shame in admitting, my legs are shaking like anything and I was amazingly scared – my mom’s comment when I told her this story were something like this “For heaven’s sake, they were just butterflies, not elephants”. Ya well still! The most ironic thing then was that the most beautiful butterfly, which belonged to the Amazon Jungles and had wonderfully blue wings, came and sat on my shawl. It was amazing, and scary and wonderful, since this one had been the favourite which everyone was trying to catch a picture was. Obviously, instructions were issued to me that I cannot move and have to remain still. But after a while, I decided to move around but that butterfly didn’t move. It was like she befriended me and stayed with me for the rest of my time in there. I moved around and took photographs all while she sat on my shawl. As per Amrita and Bengali tradition, if a butterfly sits on a girl, she is bound to get married within a year….. Hmm! Well let’s begin the countdown shall we!

I also got a chance to roam around in the Gem Gallery, and a few of the treasures from there I am sharing below. The most hilarious comment I heard in there was by this guy to his wife “Hey, when you have seen one diamond, you have seen them all”. I thought it was funny! But there was some really wonderful stuff in there! I mean wow!

The Hope Diamond

The last session of the day was with Donna, who is the Volunteer Manager and with Maria – we don’t have their last names since I didn’t get their card. These two ladies form the most amazing team which I have ever seen. They are amazing and wonderful and a force to be reckoned with. They provided us with not only a background of how to interact and get volunteers but also about how the Smithsonian processes the various applications that they get. The most wonderful perspective however was from Maria. Coming from Peru, she was able to provide us with a context which was very much relatable. Her’s is a country which faces the same problems – people don’t come to the museum, think of it as an elitist story, are poor, lack of awareness. So she shared her stories, some wonderfully inspiring and thought provoking, making me once again believe in the power of change and will power. She shared a lot of other stories, which I would love to share here and I plan to do that really soon.



After the session again I decided to roam around the galleries, but had to stop in the middle since I knew that I was too tired to enjoy this experience anymore. However, I did enjoy the Human Origin Exhibition. They have traced from the very first humans who stepped on this earth to the last evolved form of the human race. The exhibition makes one real wonder, about questions like Evolution and Creation. They have covered the ground in every single way in defining the various stages and ways in which humans have evolved, from the size of the brain to the size of the human body, the change in social interactions. The exhibition is hauntingly thought provoking, and really makes one wonder, “How can anyone ever doubt Evolution?”

Anyways, so these are some more photos… I am starting to think maybe I should get a Flickr account finally, since I have too many pictures here.

So finally, the day ended, and on the way back, I decided to make a stop at the “Sweet Lobby”, but not before exploring the area a bit. I mean I have never been to that side of this neighbourhood and this was amazing.

And the cupcakes from “Sweet Lobby were simply divine! I had been craving dessert like anything. And this is what I got back! I love sweets….!

Dinner was a simple affair, with all-time favourite alo(potatos) and of course rice on the menu. I think the day was long enough!