It wasn’t the first time that I came to the United States, it wasn’t even my first visit to Washington, DC, but this visit to the United States was a journey of firsts, some firsts too petty to mention, some more important. My first burrito is one example, the first time I listened to old music another one. First time I bought cigarettes in the States, the first American suburb, the first time I saw a Mormon Temple as well as a church of Freemasons. The first time I saw a majority African American neighborhood and the first time a police officer told me he was going to Helsinki for vacation. The first time a built-in screen in a wall of someone’s house told me how the weather is going to be the next day and the first time I realised how late we go out in Berlin, and that that’s not entirely normal. First American BBQ and my first vegetarian BBQ too. First Taco. First time I had a healthy oatmeal breakfast (I imported that habit to Berlin and am still doing it). First time I lost weight instead of gaining it in the United States because I love all the amazing stuff that you can make out of fat and simple carbohydrates. First time I paid seven Dollars for a beer. First time I took the Chinatown Bus. First time I had Ethiopian food and the first time I wished I could drink beer in public and didn’t take that for granted. But also the first time I didn’t miss Berlin. Because one thing was not a first for me – my thirst of knowledge that led me to studying American studies for my first degree, the search for answers to my many questions that draw me to this country like moths to a flame. But it is also the first time I can’t put into words the feelings I had when I walked around, saw and experienced the land of the free and its people. I am out of words but one, and it’s only the lowest common factor:
Sixteen years after my first visit to Washington, my first impression of DC as an adult was a very powerful one, one I’ll probably never forget. I left the metro station escalator and saw a sign directing me to the White House, under which around six or seven homeless people had made themselves a bed for the night. I don’t know if others agree with me or agree to disagree, but what stayed with me most were the contrasts that I saw, the ambivalence of it all, which made my journey such a rewarding experience, enriching in every possible way. Be it this first glimpse of Washington, DC that I don’t get out of my mind. Or the fact that public life in the land of the free seems more restricted than would absolutely be necessary from my point of view. Nancy Pelosi’s tasteful and quiet office where I wanted to take off my shoes to keep it tidy and the theme park for the masses in the Capitol’s basement. The massive buildings and huge museums around the National Mall and the cute little houses in the historic district of Capitol Hill. The sleek V-shaped Vietnam Memorial and the World War II memorial. The elegant Union Station and the house of columns, the national Building Museum. The White House on TV and in reality. The rich and clean buildings and surroundings of DC’s downtown and the poor or homeless people struggling to get by without a safety net. Anacostia and Georgetown. Anacostia and Greenbelt. Anacostia and Kentlands. We in Anacostia. Being in the Capital of the most powerful state of the world and personally not being able to really see and grasp it in the entirety of its material and its conveyed importance.
And that’s where I run out of words. I only have one more thing to say:
Thank you for all the firsts of my two American weeks. Thank you for my speechlessness, because it’s also very inspiring. And thank you for everything we saw off the beaten path, your openness, the conversations we had and meeting all of you.