Clean. Beautiful. Green. These were the immediate thoughts that came to mind as we drove from Washington Dules International Airport to my hotel. A 40 minute drive. I had left Kenya at 10:15pm on Saturday, took over 18 hours, yet I arrived in Washington at 1:20pm on Sunday 🙂 Well, of course, Kenya is 7 hours ahead (8 during Daylight Savings) so I can safely say I travelled back in time.
DC by first impression is clean, that was one thing I continuously obsessed over. Obviously this is in comparison to what I am used to in my home city and not other metro areas in America. Drain pipes filled with plastic bags and bottles. Excess garbage sightings in various parts of Nairobi. Burst sewer pipes. Dusty roads during dry weather that translate to muddy roads during the rainy season. Seeing the environment here made my heart break over every single time in my life I ever saw a passenger throw a banana peel (why does it always have to be a banana) or soda bottle outside the window, a citizen carelessly throwing an airtime credit card or chewing gum wrapper, an open garbage bag left in the open and the list goes on.
Expressing the cleanliness of DC to my team mates and to the friends I made while there, they’d agree but would not forget to add that New York is almost the exact opposite. Consolation perhaps? I did not run into any lump of trash, or litter. Once or twice I would sight a street cleaning truck. Everyday on my way to work, I would see streets being swept. Once, as my team lead was escorting me to the subway, he picked up after his dog. This is generally good manners, but I know people who would ignore that, one because it’s a public bush, tree or grass, two because they assume it’s the street cleaner’s responsibility.
And as if to subconsciously prove this, I decided to wear white shoes, which is something I would have to think about before wearing back home. This day also coincidentally turned out to be the day I visited the White House and part of the monuments.
Two weeks in DC may not be enough time for me to say for sure I understand everything about it, but it has given me enough experience to write something about. Being in a completely different and diverse environment from what you are used to is something I will definitely encourage anyone to experience if they can. One of the things that is beginning to stand out to me during this trip is the diversity on earth and the beauty of it. This is obviously common knowledge but it’s one thing to know it and another to experience it. Growing up in an environment that is primarily African without much travel, you become comfortable with your culture and practices and cringe to anything that’s new or different. Moving from an area where you are the primary population to where you are among the minority also makes you see things differently.
I was not immediately mesmerized by the food, which is expected. Most of what I enjoy eating now, I would say, is an acquired taste 😀 Food is very diverse here, of course, due to the different cultures. I have had Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Spanish, Thai food and the classic American Sandwiches just to mention a few. Tacos are pretty okay, together with the tortilla chips. What stood out for me from the very beginning is bread. There is bread everywhere. Bread for break fast. Bread for lunch. Bread for dinner. Indeed, I miss that ugali I left behind last Christmas because I was full. Sugar and coffee are thing here of course. I have had more than enough sugar, I no longer sweeten my tea.
The interesting thing that made me smile was every time I asked about Kenyan food, I would be directed to an African restaurant that serves food from the West or the North or South of Africa. You know, just in case I used to eat Egyptian food when I was in nursery school 😛 I did find a Swahili Village but felt it was too soon. Comfort zone is out of bounds. Food from the East of Africa are mostly Ethiopian and Eritrean. Injera fans?
All in all, the food is different but it is great. I have eaten everything that was served aside from one. Ramen. Ramen is a Japanese cuisine that was just too much for me. I could not go past three bites. It came with chicken though and this luhya girl does not play around with chicken 🙂
Cashew Chicken (Chinese American) and Pad Thai (Thailand)
Something Taiwanese 😀 Had pasta though.
Me having my first bite of a Taiwanese dumpling.
My first take out. Pork Fried Rice (Chinese) Ordered using Seamless
Empanada (Latin America/Spanish)
Although I was here for the two weeks, most of it was spent working from 9am to around 4pm – 6pm. I had free time after that to explore. First evening I met with a really nice couple that took me out to Maketto, which is a cloth shop, a coffee shop, a restaurant and a bar all at the same time. Fascinating.
I also had a chance to visit the monuments. I was particularly excited about the Washington Monument. I loved the WWII Memorial, and all the others. I still feel like I haven’t had enough of them. Reason why I showed up there at 7am on my last day. Having studied WWII, and still studying, this was really something to me. Studying the wars will inevitably lead to studying the leaders before, during and after the war and so the Lincoln Memorial and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge were also great to see. There’s also a Titanic Memorial and the architect’s name is Gertrude 🙂 If you are a lover of history, the memorials in DC are worth it.
Statue of Abraham Lincoln (Opened in May 30, 1922)
World War II Memorial
For one of the team activities, we travelled to the state of Virginia and had an afternoon off where we played golf. Never played golf before. For some reason I had the idea that it is a sport for the rich and arrogant who spend their afternoons playing golf as they look down upon the rest. Forgive me if I am exhibiting ignorance. Thought I’d hate it, but I loved it. The Mini golf especially 🙂
For the most part, I walked. Why? I wanted to know what the streets feel like and also, so I can enter any interesting stores I spot. The longest I walked was 2 hours. I walked to and from work, which was simply a 20 minute walk. I eventually began using a taxi when temperatures hit 34 degrees. It was too hot to walk that long. The first week was a low 11 to 15 degrees. Out of the two extremes, I’d rather freezing cold than sweltering heat, so I still walked in that cold.
I used the Metro bus twice and the Metro train in the subway. I used the subway train on my own. I used the bus with company. I used Uber a number of times during the second week. Cost me an average of 6 to 8 dollars for a 20 minute walk distance.
Well, what’s shopping if it’s not at the dollar store! 😀 I have this thing where I get addicted to particular songs or things when I watch/hear them in a movie and I attach some emotion to it. That’s how my obsession with the dollar store happened. This is the video that led to the attachment, and the attachment was solidified by my sisters because we all love this video. So it became a dream even before I knew I’d be travelling to DC 😀
Aside from these, I did notice a couple of interesting things during my two week stay:
- Traffic rules are observed. Sometimes, the path may be clear but nobody crosses because the lights say pedestrians should stop. Very different compared to where I come from. I also noticed that cars would stop for me to cross, even if there wasn’t any need to, at least according to me. The road may be clear but the driver would still stop for me to cross. When I asked around, I got the answer that pedestrians have right of way. How sweet 🙂
- Sunset at this time of the season happens at 8pm. We had dinner at 7pm on Monday with the Sun still out and it was a very awkward feeling. Plus it also messed with me. When the sun finally set, an hour later it was 9pm and I was left feeling like some hours had been stolen out of my evening.
- The first time I boarded a metro bus, the bus had about 70% black people in it. It was really interesting to me. We were headed up to H Street, which is one of the neighbourhoods that faces(d) gentrification. An interesting article about this was published in The Washington Post
- This was simply an observation, and not aimed at anything. Most of the Uber drivers, food delivery guys and cashiers I encountered with were either Black, Asian, Chinese, Mexican, Arabic and not White. I ordered food 5 times, went to CVS Pharmacy 4 times, rode with Uber 6 times. Out of these, I believe only 3 were white. But this is purely observation, and may be particular to the location and stores/restaurants I chose.
- Bread! I just don’t understand. Plus vegetables are eaten raw.
- People are very nice. I once got lost during my first few days and my line wasn’t yet activated so I could not access Maps. I asked a certain lady in the streets for help and she took out her phone and we went through it together. I didn’t even know the address of my hotel off head. She was so helpful 🙂 People smile more, hold doors for each other and greet each other a lot. This was one of the things I loved.
Before I left Kenya, Michael, Program Designer for Andela’s Learning Department, who is also a globe trotter mentioned that when he travels he also wants to experience the struggle of the new place and not entirely focus on relaxing and resting. I thought about this a lot. Things have not been entirely smooth and happy, I have experienced two cases of mild racism during these two weeks, and I got lost too, which wasn’t so nice. I’m not saying some of these are acceptable, we all know the battles and struggles, I’m just saying they made up my experience.
Goodbye DC. I left a piece of me here.
Hello, New York 🙂