"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

6.28.2006

in all the world

Washington. I flew into BWI yesterday afternoon. Rain. I had too much luggage to take the train, so caught the Super Shuttle into the city with three other people. Two of the guys had been on my flight from Nashville and we went to their stop first. Walter Reed. One of them asked me if I was going to a particular house in the compound, and I said, no, I'm headed to the city. He and his buddy had come up from Fort Campbell. They'd both been in Iraq, and his friend got hurt, so he had to come up for an appointment at Walter Reed. We talked about how everyone has friends who are there, or have been there, or who know somebody who know somebody who's been. I thanked them for what they do for us and they got out and we drove off in the rain to fight the traffic and I thought about Nathan and Andrew and Will over there and said a prayer.

After staying up half the night chatting with the CPP, woke up this morning (barely), and went out for coffee with Steve the Lawyer. Steve the Lawyer and his former roommate The Diplomat are battling to see who can have the worst job in their particular government agency. Steve deals with prisoner rights at a certain infamous detention facility. The Diplomat deals with human rights in Sudan. I told Steve I think the Diplomat wins simply by virtue of the fact that he has to live in Khartoum. Then again, the rest of the world doesn't hate the Diplomat. They definitely hate what Steve the Lawyer has to defend.

Seeing Steve the Lawyer is always a trip, sometimes literally. In addition to having the most expensive education of anyone I know, he's also the most well-traveled of my friends. Case in point: the Fourth of July. Some of us are cooking out, setting our neighborhoods/neighbors on fire with roman candles, and/or watching fireworks from the terrace at the Willard. Steve the Lawyer is going to Bogata. In Colombia. For the second time. For fun. So between that and the "So, how was the Congo?" conversation, it was a good time.

After that I went over to the LOC to get a researcher card to get access to the books and archives. Had to go to the Capitol South metro stop, which I hadn't been to in years. Riding up the slow, slow escalator, I was thinking about what a funny mixture of people pass through that one little metro stop, especially in the summer: sunburned tourists and their kids, youth groups and leadership campers and class trips and their exhausted sponsors, clueless interns trying to look like they know what they're doing, nervous job applicants headed to interviews, academics bound for the stacks in the Jefferson Building, along with the lobbyists and staffers and homeless guys who are there all year just trying to get by. I've lived and traveled in DC in so many of those guises: as a tourist on family vacations when I was 12 and 13, as part of a high school leadership week when I was 16, as a would-be Georgetown student at 17, as a clueless intern when I was 21 (and as a jaded and bitter intern at 23), as a nervous, dressed up interviewee for a dream job at 22, as a Responsible Adult trying to keep up with teenagers at 26, and countless times in between doing research and hanging out with friends.

And now I'm here at 28. I guess I am here as a researcher, but that doesn't explain who I am, any more than "lobbyist" describes the guys in suits rushing up the metro escalator steps while arguing on their cell phones, or than "intern" describes the hopeful nineteen-year-olds who pay crazy rent to spend a summer making copies and coffee for no pay but get to meet their heroes (and maybe a rock star along the way). We're so much more than what we look like. There's so much more to us than how we seem to strangers. And somewhere in the mix of all those years and all those identities, I'm realizing that I did figure something out. I 'm not defined by what I do, or with whom I associate, or how much I get done. In one month, I've come from one of the poorest places in the world to the doorstep of power. The trappings of accomplishments don't mean so much anymore. It's enough to just be.

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