Goin’ to Kansas City an eye-opener of Ozlike proportions

James Naismith's original rules of 'Basket Ball' is displayed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
James Naismith's original rules of 'Basket Ball' is displayed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.

A speaking engagement recently took me to the northeast corner of Kansas. It is the area where the perfect geometric rectangle of Kansas is bitten off by Missouri. That geometric anomaly is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the region and is centered on the twin cities of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan.

The invitation to speak came from the Heartland Chapter of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America. I accepted the invitation with some reluctance, partly because I do not think I have anything profound to say and partly because I try to avoid the hassle associated with air travel.

There is also a mental block that many of us have about some parts of the United States that we don’t know and don’t care to learn about. I knew that the fictional Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz lived in Kansas. I also knew that the state can lay claim to a few famous people, such as President Dwight Eisenhower and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole.

My hosts with the physicians association were persuasive. I accepted the invitation.

The association had its start in 1976 in Dearborn, Mich. A small number of Pakistani physicians from Detroit and Toledo met to organize an ethnic and professional association. Since then, the organization has grown in influence and stature. It represents 15,000 Pakistani physicians in the United States and Canada.

Over the past 37 years, the organization has spearheaded public health and human development projects in Pakistan. It also has been active in addressing hunger and disease among the poor, and it provides career guidance to high school students.

The group’s Heartland Chapter is one of the most active. It draws members from Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

The main event was a glittering affair where a large number of Pakistani physicians and their guests from civic and political circles of the area attended. My remarks, part nostalgic for the land we left behind and part sermon on our responsibilities to our adopted land, were graciously received.

A visit to Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., was enjoyable. Developed in 1922 as an outdoor mall, the plaza is built on 55 acres of hilly terrain.

On a visit to Spain, a visionary local businessman, Jesse Clyde Nichols, had been inspired by the Moor architecture and decided to create the place with a Spanish theme.

That theme is evident in many buildings and towers, and in the abundance of fountains. Kansas City, Mo., has more fountains than the city of Rome.

I visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It is a relatively young museum, established in 1933, but it possesses a dazzling array of art from around the world that covers periods from ancient Egypt to contemporary.

Just as we in Toledo are indebted to the generosity of Edward Drummond Libbey for the Toledo Museum of Art, the residents of Kansas City, Mo., are indebted to William Rockhill Nelson, a local newspaper publisher, and Mary McAfee Atkins, a retired school teacher, for the bequests that helped build the museum.

I particularly enjoyed the sizeable collection of art from south Asia. It was interesting to see how art and ideas traveled on the fabled Silk Road that connected China and India with Europe for thousands of years.

This sparked a melding of Eastern and Western statuary traditions in Gandhara, which was a vast country comprising present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan in the first 11 centuries of the Common Era. In the Nelson-Atkins museum there were exquisite statues of Buddha wearing a toga.

I realized from my short weekend visit that there are places in this country that should not be flown over or traveled through on the way to someplace else. Many of such otherwise-skipped places can be enjoyable and enriching.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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