Expand Your World

Expand Your World

Lisa Klakulak in Morocco

Lisa Klakulak in Morocco. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

There are many ways to experience another culture. At one end of the continuum is the carefully planned trip, with stays in five-star hotels and visits to sanctioned landmarks with the help of guidebooks, drivers, and translators. Then there’s the way Lisa Klakulak does it – on back roads, in remote villages, living among the locals.

Take the first approach, and you can keep your comfort zone largely intact. Do it Klakulak’s way, and you’re courting disruption. You’re risking upheaval. In fact, that’s what the 37-year-old fiber artist has in mind. “Travel turns my world upside down,” she says. And she means that in a good way.

I was struck by her nerve as we put together this issue focused on travel and museums – which are both avenues to expand our views of the world. Klakulak has always preferred travel off the beaten path – from her adolescence, when she went on Club Med trips with her father and felt more drawn to the people who cleaned their hotel rooms than to her fellow tourists.

More recently, Klakulak has traveled – alone – to Mali, Senegal, and Morocco, visiting informally with other fiber artists to learn their techniques and share her own. It has not always been easy; such immersive travel can be unsettling. Moment by moment, you feel like an alien, trying to make sense of your environment, “putting yourself in a different paradigm,” she says. “Everything is different – foods, how households are run, what is considered important.”

On top of that, there are moments of real vulnerability. In Marrakech she did some research and made contact with Peace Corps volunteers in villages she wanted to visit. Getting where she hoped to go was a gamble. She could pile in a car with strangers or find a bus going in the right direction. In any case, she didn’t speak any of the local languages. “I had to trust I would land in the right town” and that the Peace Corps volunteers would meet her when she arrived. Fortunately, she did, they did, and she connected with the artisans she wanted to meet.

What is the payoff to this sort of bold adventuring? Learning, insight, transformation. And intimate connections that Klakulak pours into her art. “In these small towns,” she says, “you are interacting with these people as artists. You become part of the family.” It’s the sort of extraordinary experience the less daring traveler would never have.

Travel, especially travel with an open mind and a stout heart, can change lives. Ariele Alasko crossed the country and came to realize that what she really wanted to do was to build furniture. Marketing consultant Sonia King saw the work of mosaic masters on trips to Europe and decided she didn’t want to use her newly minted MBA after all. Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk visited small museums on the backstreets of European cities, which inspired him to open a wholly new kind of museum in Istanbul.

The key, these stories teach us, is to manage the anxieties, big and small, that come with uncharted territory. “It’s not that I don’t have fear,” Klakulak says. But “when I recognize I have a fear, I push through it.” She has found, as have others you’ll read about in this issue, that the rewards are well worth the effort.