The guide was more interesting then the destinations.
Clockwise from left (back row): Kaustubh Bhalchandra Kulkarni aka KK, (India), Shaiq Hussain (Pakistan), Mohammad Yousuf (Afghanistan), Namini Nimilamalee Wijedasa (Sri Lanka), Zainab Ibrahim (Sri Lanka), Kiran Nepal (Nepal), Rajesh Kumar Mahapatra (India), Wahidullah Amani (Afghanistan), Chelsea Strange and Kishalaya Bhattacharjee (India). Another gentleman behind Zainab is Sayed Sabir Saeed Shah (Pakistan). Pic by Dinesh Wagle
The schedule was that we, the South Asians, would be touring the city in afternoon (April 2). Some of us decided to utilize the morning and the first half of the afternoon going around the downtown on our own. We went up to places like Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial. Three Afghans, a Pakistani and two Nepalese in the city of Washington D.C. meant six folks totally new to the town, a totally different town than those of their respective home countries. At one point, I found myself running with the group while crossing the road ignoring the traffic light. “In our Afghanistan,” Josh Shahryar of Kabul Weekly who led the race on the street declared proudly. “We don’t have many traffic lights in the cities. We simply cross the streets as and when we want.” Shaiq Hussain, the Pakistani guy, instantly agreed. How could I disagree? Traffic in Kathmandu is a big mess and we have the ‘liberty’ of crossing the streets from any point at any time we prefer to.
Tourists taking photo in front of Lincoln Memorial. Pic by DW
So we all agreed with Josh and used our Third World Freedom to cross the streets of Washington D.C. Thank God (all Hindu and Muslim and Christian Gods included), cars didn’t hit us. After all, we all were from the region called Third World with more or less similar background and improvised social situation. I have seen many villagers from remote places like Jumla walking for first time on the streets of Kathmandu. They are awed by the magnitude of Kathmandu compared to their village. They behave strangely and we can see innocence in that strangeness. We were the Jumlees in D.C.
Tourists taking photo in War Memorial Pic by DW
Main attraction of the tour in the afternoon was, not the Monument or the Capitol Hill for sure, the GUIDE. A beautiful student of George Washington University, Chelsea Strange, was working as a part timer for a company that was hired by the organization that was organizing the tour on behalf of the State Department. As I said, that was her part time job. She has big dreams.
Wagle in front of Capitol Hill Pic by Kiran Nepal
The 20-year-old girl (I think I correctly remember her age) aspires to be an actress in future. She told me that she will start working for a TV series in the next few months. I was more interested in knowing about Chelsea than what she was supposed to tell us about the city. Characters and persons do matter to me while knowing about the place and a new society. Clad in white shirt and tight black trouser, Chelsea was getting attention of the folks in the group as if she was a star already. Well, she was a star! Guys wanted to have a group photo with the girl in the center! Well, not all guys, but many of us.
Wagle in Jefferson Memorial Pic by Kiran Nepal
Chelsea Strange wasn’t really a strange person for folks in the team. They soon knew that she had a boyfriend. When I told them that Chelsea had a boyfriend, some became a bit disappointed. I asked Chelsea about her personal life like where was she living and who was in family. Some interpreted that as flirting but, to be honest, my intention was to know more about the American girl who was working and studying and dreaming of being famous. After all, a reporter needed information about, about everyone including the guide. “Living in D.C. is a challenging thing,” she said. “You need to earn money. That is why I do spend some of my time doing things like this. I really enjoy doing this.”
Wagle (front) inside Lincoln Memorial. Three folks standing just below the Lincoln statue are (from left) Josh, Amani and Yousuf. Pic by Kiran Nepal
Wagle in front of Lincoln Memorial while trying to have a self photo with the camera set to self timer
Her skill of explaining things, especially the architecture and symbolic aspect of the city of D.C., was impressive. But was I least interested in such ‘guided tour’ with touristy explanations because I could find such information anywhere in the Internet. We were not looking for American history and info about the city. Someone brought out a brilliant idea. I think the person was Josh but I am not completely sure. We wanted to go the poor neighborhood of Washington D.C.!
South Asian Journalists in War Memorial, Washington D.C Pic by DW
We the people from the Third World wanted to see the poverty of the First World. So the guided tour was shortened and Chelsea took us to a nearby residential area dominated by blacks. In fact, the driver, a black man, was in charge of this new and unexpected tour because taking tourists to poor neighborhood wasn’t really the job of Chelsea. (No, someone told us, its better that you don’t venture out of the bus because they might loot you.) After hearing this warning Rajesh Kumar Mahapatra, an Indian working for Associated Press in New Delhi, became emotional and started comparing the poverty between OUR world and THEIR world. I don’t have his exact quote here but he was saying something like this: our poor don’t go on looting and misbehaving others but here it’s different. That was a nice observation and I agreed with him.
Wagle with Washington Monument on the background. Pic by Kiran Nepal
As we roamed around the neighborhood, we immediately realized that even poor in America are better off than their counterparts in our region. “I thought we were coming to the poor neighborhood,” someone in our group said. (Again it was Josh, I think.) “But I see good houses everywhere!”
Wagle in War Memorial
By the end of the tour when folks realized that Chelsea won’t be coming with us the next day, disappointment ruled. But not for long time though! Again I was together with Chelsea as I was going to see the offices of the Washington Post and she was also going via the same route. She took me near the office building. Boys kept me teasing for this part for at least a week.
“Dinesh, jara bata to bhaiya,” I still remember Shaiq Hussein, the Pakistani, saying. “Tune kaisa pataya oos chhokri ko.” [Dinesh, will you tell me brother how did you impress that girl?] Just a quick note on Shaiq. He was a bit shy and reserved guy with whom I befriended very well. A light hearted many with great sense of humor; I had great time with him cracking jokes on almost everything.
Now the end note on Chelsea. To be honest with everyone in the group, there was no such thing like impressing or trying to impress the girl. I never thought about impressing and Chelsea, I knew, was more worried about her next day than being impressed by me.