Sunday, May 17, 2009

Guest Blog: Marina, on life in D.C.

Hello everyone, here is my sister Marina's guest blog all about living in D.C. Enjoy!

When we moved to Washington, D.C., about a year and a half ago I had no idea what to expect. I had only been here once before, in high school for a leadership conference. On that trip I was shuttled around in a bus from monument to monument, event to event, and had a very limited conception of what the city was actually like. After we moved back from Beirut and Miguel came to visit a friend here for a couple weeks and had a great time, and a former roommate of ours offered to let us move in to his family's townhouse in a sub-suburb, we decided that it sounded ideal - cheap rent, tons of jobs related to the Middle East, an exciting new move!

Once we arrived - in the dead of winter - we realized that maybe our new move was not as exciting as we had told ourselves. Still adjusting to being in the U.S. after 2 amazing years away we found ourselves isolated in D.C. with no jobs, a less than ideal home life, and very few friends or acquaintances. As we began to settle in we found D.C. to be cold, not just the frigid temperatures, but the people. I guess we should have expected that one of the world's biggest seats of power would draw certain types of people - hyper-competitive, judgemental, networking, calculating. It seemed like everywhere we went out and met new people the first question out of every one's mouth was "what do you do?" And if our answers were not satisfactory, which they never were (Miguel - "I work at Kramer Books." Marina "I work at a small human rights non-profit.") the person talking would immediately turn their attention somewhere else. For two people who had always taken pride in the fact that we made friends with diverse groups of people and were able bridge a lot of gaps, this was especially harsh. We would share our frustrations with other people and the response was always the same - you just need to find a good group of friends and you'll like it here. Wah? That just means you like your friends, not that you like this city.

Usually when I move to a new place spring time is when it all turns around - the sun comes out, and I start to feel at home and comfortable with my surroundings. I remember the exact moment I had this feeling in Berkeley, and then in Beirut, but that first spring here it never happened. Part of me blames it on the fact that we live far away, or that we don't really like our jobs, or that we never have enough money. But I still have the sense that if all of those things were remedied there would still be something missing, something about the culture here that we just don't connect to. You rarely meet people from here, and when you do they are often bitter about the way people move into D.C. and use it for their own purposes and move away. You rarely see neighborhoods where people have been there for generations or old people sitting outside. And you rarely see acts of compassion between two people (I saw my first genuine act of kindness on the metro the other day when a younger man helped an older man with a cane up the stairs with his bag, not a good statistic after a year of riding the train).

But although we dream of moving away, and have started to put out some feelers in other places, we are slowly beginning to feel at least that we live here and are making the best of it. We have some good friends, and more that come into town for visits; we are becoming more familiar with neighborhoods and restaurants and bars that we like; we are enjoying spring by going for more walks and bike rides. And the other day I came close to having that moment of happiness about where I live when I went down to the National Mall to play softball and realized our field was directly in front of the Washington Monument with the White House in the immediate distance. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to look on these sights whenever I want and decided right then to be more appreciative of the unique things this city does have to offer. For the remainder of our time here, however long it is, I will try to hold onto that lesson.


Nanette said...

I was so sad when Mena told me about her struggles to find good friends in just isn't right.

Tammy said...

I think people are just intimidated by you two because you're so smart. That, or your tattoos.

Just kidding, of course! I don't see how anyone wouldn't want to be your friend!