Saturday, April 30, 2011

American History and Embassies

On Sunday, April 24th, I met up with my cousin and we drove over to Anacostia to visit Frederick Douglass' home, Ceder Hill. The magnificent house has been preserved in great condition and contains about 80% original items. The house also has a gorgeous view of Washington below, and from the front porch, one can see the Washinton Monument and all of Capitol Hill. After Douglass' death, his second wife and his children fought over the house, due to a lack of witnesses to his will. The house ended up in a public auction, where the wife borrowed enough money from friends in order to buy the house back. She donated it later to the National Parks Service in order to keep Douglass' memory alive.  Frederick Douglass was a boss though - he taught himself to read and play the violin, he was fluent in several languages, loved reading Shakespeare, climbed the Egyptian Pyramids at age 70, was Minister to Haiti, and was a marshal of DC.  He was also a promoter of women's rights, abolition, anti-discrimination and anti-lynching.  He had an extensive library and there were always famous guests visiting the Cedar Hill home including Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, and Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, just to name a few.

After the tour, my cousin and I headed to the opposite end and over to Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, Maryland, to eat a big lunch at another branch of Kabob Bazaar.  After a nice, long lunch, we went to drive back down Massachusetts Avenue to see all of the embassies. Right next to the Turkish embassy (which has a huge statue of Ataturk in the courtyard), there is a really impressive building.  We thought it was an embassy for a Middle Eastern country, but it turned out to be a mosque.  I asked someone if we could look around outside, since we didn't have any hijab, and as we were looking around, someone else asked us if we wanted to look around inside.  I told him that we'd love to but don't have any headscarves on us.  He said that it was no problem and took us to the front office where another person lent us scarves to wear.  The inside was phenomenal.  There were beautiful tiles everywhere and it was just like being inside a Spanish Alcázar.  The tiles on the walls were a gift from the Turkish government in 1969.  We also met a Jewish woman who was visiting the mosque - she said that it was Passover week and she's tired of eating matza balls so she thought she'd see what a mosque was like.

On Monday, April 25, I went to Dupont Circle to meet up with a friend from Spain for lunch.  We grabbed burritos at this really good burrito stand and then went to the circle by the fountain to eat.  It was a beautiful day but I had to work on my essay to get it edited to publish in a journal so we walked back to Johns Hopkins SAIS building and he snuck me into the library so I could use the computers there.  I was so out of school and paper writing mode that it took me over two hours to make a few minor corrections.  I even ended up running into another person I knew in the SAIS library.

After I finished making the changes and emailed the paper along, I went back to the metro and rode out to Arlington National Cemetery.  The cemetery is huge - just gravestones after gravestones.  The grounds are beautiful and the whole place is just quiet and peaceful, which is fitting I suppose since all of those buried there experienced the exact opposite while fighting.  The juxtaposition of such a beautiful, calm place filled with hill after hill of veterans' gravestones really makes visiting the cemetery a deeply emotional experience.  On some of the gravestones, people have placed small stones and rocks which I learned marked the gravestones of Jewish soldiers.  I saw Robert E. Lee's house (it was empty inside due to extensive restorations), the Kennedy's graves (JFK, RFK, and Ted), the eternal flame, and made it to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in time to see the changing of the guard.

The tomb has the remains of a randomly selected unknown soldier from France (WWII) and the Pacific theatre (WWII), the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  In the 1980s, the remains were exhumed from the Vietnam soldier's tomb and taken to Walter Reid's pathology lab.  The soldier was identified and his body was move to Missouri according to his family's wishes.  The Vietnam tomb is empty now, but still serves as a reminder.

On April 26, my last day in DC for the spring, I slept in and went back to my organization to eat lunch with the entire office.  The office treated us to a really nice intern appreciation lunch at the nearby District Grill on K and 12th streets, inside the Sheredon Inn hotel.  From lunch, we all walked back to the office and I did a mini exit interview with the COO - I'd never done an exit interview before.  It went really well and I got a good evaluation.  I'm going to miss working with this office a lot.

After saying goodbye to everyone in the office, I went to 14 & U streets to the African American Civil War memorial and museum.  The neighborhood there is sort of like DC's version of New York City's Harlem and there is a lot of really cool history there.  The memorial has the names of 209,145 black soldiers that served in the Union army/military during the Civil War.  All the names are from actual service records in the National Archives.  The names for the Navy is harder to find than the Army because the Navy was already integrated at the time.  The names on the memorial also include over 7,000 Latino surnames.  The museum itself is pretty small but I arrived in time to sit in the museum curator delivering an excellent lecture on African American involvement during the Civil War.  Although African Americans comprised only 1% of the total U.S. population at the time, black soldiers comprised 10% of the Union Army and about 25% of the Union Navy.  The curator also let everyone hold a 151 year old musket that had been donated by a descendant of a black Union soldier.  The musket was a lot heavier than it looked and a soldier at the time was expected to load and fire it three times in one minute during combat.

After the museum, I walked back down U Street past Bohemian Tavern which used to be frequented by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington.  There is even a Duke Ellington mural on a building across the street.  I walked all the way over to Malcolm X (Meridian) Park which is one of the prettiest parks that I have been to in DC.  There are so many trees and the row houses surrounding the park along the hill are also really cool.  There is a large tiered waterfall straight down the middle of the park and I spent a fair amount of time just wandering around the park.

After a while, I wandered back down U Street to the infamous Ben's Chili Bowl for a chili cheeseburger and fries.  Ben's Chili Bowl is a black-owned diner that has been around since the 1950s and the only people that are allowed to eat there for free are Bill Cosby and the Obama family.  It reminds me a lot of Yesterdog with the food, decor, and neighborhood.  The food is amazing as well.  From U Street, I went to George Washington University's campus for my last Farsi class of the spring.  After class, I packed everything up, called my cab, and am now ready to go.


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