Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Weekend Getaway

After returning from a week and a half India, I wanted to unwind with a little weekend roadtrip to Bentonville, Arkansas to check out a new exhibit, State of the Art, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. For those who know me, I am not an art museum kind of person, but this particular exhibit showcases 102 contemporary American artists that are relatively unknown, until now. I also like the idea of people around the country working to create beautiful things, even if just for themselves.
We stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel, which is connected to the museum by a series of walking trails. The hotel itself is quite nice and has a large gallery on the first floor that is open to the public 24 hours a day. The best part is that you can get a drink at the bar and walk around while looking at the pieces. I liked the suitcase bench right outside the front door.
We took a quick stroll around downtown (nothing is open on Sunday afternoon besides the Wal*Mart Museum) and got ready for dinner, which was right downstairs from our room. The Hive is a hip but relaxed restaurant with delicious and inventive cocktails (I had a pineapple and espresso concoction). They also place green, plastic penguins around the restaurant as you eat - we had one that shared cocktails and a cheese plate with us. The food was excellent - I had an Autumn salad with gingered beets, the tomato panisse and we shared the apple crumble with bourbon ice cream and caramel sauce. It was topped off with cotton candy that was served with the bill - I was too stuffed to have more than a bite.
After a yummy breakfast the next morning (a latte, fresh berries and an apricot muffin), we hiked over to the museum. The pieces ranged from whimsical pottery (upper left) to giant pinatas (upper right) to a ladder you climbed to view a miniature scene (middle left) to a giant, amazing quilt (middle right) to a floating ladder man symbolizing economic struggle (bottom right). Along the way, we had some lunch at the museum cafe (they always have such great food). I had the sweet potato soup, the kid's grilled cheese and a frosted sugar cookie. In all, it was a great way to spend a day away from home. If you're in the area, the State of the Art exhibit is open until January 19th and you should definitely check it out!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What does the goat say?

I am currently in India with new partners of my organization from Peru, Indonesia and the Philippines to show them how our programs operate. Today, we visited branch offices and borrowers who take loans for toilets, small businesses, water connections, education, health and other things through a joint-liability group structure. This means that the group members guarantee payment for each other in the instance where they cannot pay for some reason. These visits can sometimes be a challenge because they are conducted in two or three languages (depending on the local dialect).

At one point, I was asking the women what they did for work now that they were able to do so. Many of them were not able to work before they had a toilet or a water connection as they were spending large amounts of time walking and waiting for water. They were telling us about all of the different things they did -- tailoring, working in a factory, running a small shop -- and one of them mentioned that she had bought a goat to raise. Now, you may not know this about me, but I do a pretty high quality goat impression. So, I went ahead and tried it out. It was a big hit and they asked for it more than once. This small and awkward exchange allowed us to laugh together and become part of the same conversation after all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More of What It's Really Like

One of my friends asked me in an email yesterday what it was like traveling to India. I usually paraphrase for people my own experience as: loud, crowded, spicy and overwhelming at times. But that doesn’t really even begin to give an accurate picture of what it's really like for me. So, here are a few more details, in case you were curious:
  • It’s waking up in the middle of the night, sweating profusely and wondering what disease you might have contracted, only to find the hotel lost power for half the night and the a/c has been off.
  • With a 10.5 or 11.5 hour time difference from home (depending on the season), it’s being so jetlagged that you wake up wondering if the time you see is am or pm.
  • Or it’s being so jetlagged that you take cold showers two days in a row, only to realize on the third day the hot and cold are switched on the tap. (Yeah, for morning #3!)
  • It’s being considered, catered to and looked out for by everyone you encounter, except if they are on a motorcycle, driving a car or an autotaxi, then you are just a bump/target along the road.
  • It’s praying that you make it an hour after your meal is over without any major rejections by your stomach or intestines.
  • It’s connecting to strangers quickly through personal questions asked about children (God will give them they always say to me), your husband’s profession (which Brian always passes with flying colors due to the booming IT scene here), what you like most about the town you happen to be in, what your favorite foods are and when you will return for a visit.
  • It’s feeling a bit like an alien because I'm "tall", fair skinned and the only other redheads around dye their brown/black hair with henna.
  • It’s being accepted for trying to adopt any of the culture around you. People always compliment my kurta (Indian tunic) or smile and laugh encouragingly to any phrases I have learned and try to repeat in Hindi.
  • It’s surrendering yourself to what you thought you knew about a place you’d heard about your whole life. It may not have been what I expected but it certainly grows on you.
  • It's feeling humbled to see how people live and feeling fortunate for how easy it is back home.
  • It's knowing that for all you think you might know, many mysteries, stories, cultures and rituals are present that will take a lot longer to begin to understand.