June 21, 2008

Vibha in London

Our niece Vibha visited us in London. As soon as she arrived in London from Paris by Eurostar, she left her luggage at the station and saw the Ramayana exhibit at the British Library.

Vibha then dropped off her luggage at home and we went to Kew Gardens. We started at the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway, where we got an unusually high (60 foot) perspective of the gardens. Vibha also climbed up the spiral staircase in Temperate House (glass conservatory). We took a quick tour through the Marianne North (soon to be refurbished) and Shirley Sherwood Botanical (newly opened) galleries. We did not have time to go inside Kew Palace.

The next day we went to the Museum of Immigration in Spitalfields. We took a brief detour down Petticoat Lane and Spitalfields Market, where we were persuaded by some Benefit Cosmetics auditioners to try some products. After a tour through the Museum of Immigration, which is only open to the general public a few weeks each year, we grabbed lunch at Spitalfields Market.

We spent the afternoon admiring the 3500 or so jewels at the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Above is an orchid hairpin ornament (from the V&A website).

The next morning, Vibha flew home from Heathrow.

June 20, 2008

London Museum of Immigration

The simple gold letters on a worn brown suitcase ask “Why did they leave Ireland?” The suitcase itself is lined with potatoes with words scrawled on them. One says “No Food No Money.” Another says “Sad, Sick Soil.”

Primary school children created this suitcase as they imagined being one of the millions of starving Irish who had to leave their homes during the potato famine. They collaborated with artists to create displays to similarly honour the Huguenots, members of Commonwealth countries, and Somalis who had also sought asylum in London. These children themselves were mostly Bangladeshi, the latest group of immigrants to come to London and settle first in Spitalfields. In their unique way, they created the “Suitcases and Sanctuary” exhibit displayed in the London Museum of Immigration and Diversity.

As I wandered around the exhibit reading the museum curator explanations typed on plain sheets of paper, I was struck by the never-ending cycle of the immigration experience. First, an immigrant group settles on the outskirts of London to live in the worst conditions and do the work no one else will do. They are vilified by current residents for “driving down wages and stealing our jobs”. Gradually the lives of these immigrants improve, they move into better neighbourhoods, and are absorbed into the mainstream. When a new set of immigrants moves into the outskirts of London, the earlier immigrants join the local residents in condemning these immigrants for “driving down wages and stealing our jobs”.

The museum is housed in a Grade II listed building so fragile that it is only opened to the general public a few weeks each year. The story of this building starts with the master silk weaver Peter Abraham Ogier who came to London to escape religious persecution in France. He settled in Spitalfields to escape control by the London guilds that would not allow Huguenots as members. In 1719, Ogier moved his family and work into a five storey building built by Samuel Worrell. In 1869, the back garden was covered and a basement dug out below. This space served as a synagogue where the men worshipped in the main sanctuary while the women worshipped above from the ladies gallery. The coloured glass roof through which light filtered created a beautiful experience for all. The synagogue was abandoned in the late 1960s.

Suitcase photos by 24HourMuseum

June 06, 2008

Women Ready to Make a Difference

I spent a week on the Rutgers University Douglass Campus with a group of women "ready to effect social change." Nella Barkley and Sandy Parker led us through a process of analyzing life stories, developing skill cards, conducting surveys, and writing proposals (not resumes).

To ensure we continue making progress on designing the next phase of our lives and getting the results we want, we each will schedule five more coaching sessions with Nella. Unlike other programs where I could put my materials away and forget about them, I am encouraged by Nella and my classmates to continue to work the process.

We have a website where we post updates and I am in e-mail conversations with many of my classmates. Their progress, especially the little life changes that are leading to large positive life changes, keeps me hopeful and motivated.