Archives For Washington DC

mall selfie pair

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For our last day in DC, we walked from our hotel to the train station. Mtuseni’s Metro card never worked; he was always trapped at our destination and had to ask an attendant to let him out. Hahaha. He always looked so sheepish!

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U.S. Capitol building dome in Washington DC

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Saturday morning after Labor Day, the city seemed pretty quiet. Congress was impressive, though our guide zipped us through a little too quickly for my tastes. We couldn’t see the House or Senate chambers because I think they were in special session or something, probably prepping impeachment docs. 

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U.S. Congress rotunda dome inside in Washington DC

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As always, Mtuseni took photos of everything, including every giant painting in the rotunda.

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Great Fall in U.S. Congress building in Washington DC

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Paintings in the Great Hall of the rotunda of the U.S. Congress in Washington DC

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Back home this past summer, Mtuseni watched clips of John Lewis lying in state on TV. I was glad that he had the experience of being in that room… and learning about Rep. Lewis and “good trouble” and the civil rights movement. Your sense of self feels larger when you see a faraway place on TV and know you’ve been there. Maybe it will inspire him one day to help advance change in South Africa.

On the way out of the lobby in Congress I noticed a passage to the Library of Congress, so we followed it. It was not on my agenda. What a surprise… it’s stunning! I had no idea. 

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Painted vault ceiling in U.S. Library of Congress in Washington DC

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Decorated vault ceiling in Library of Congress in Washington DC

I’ll definitely come back to the Library of Congress to satisfy the closet research geek in me.

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exact man

The walls of the library are lined with quotes about knowledge. This one hit home for me.

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cong library pair

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supreme steps

It was cool to see the Supreme Court, but standing on those white marble steps on a late summer day is blinding and hot as hell!

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After the library we got lunch at the many food trucks that line the mall (and don’t do much for photographic aesthetics). Mtuseni wanted to try the rental scooters that were zipping around everywhere. I had no interest in breaking any bones, so I let him go.

I asked a woman riding one how much they were. She said 25 cents a mile. I thought, “Great, how far can he go? It’ll be like 4 or 5 bucks.” He drove off, grinning with his new toy and a little bit of freedom from me.

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mtu scooter

Freedom!

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I explored the Smithsonian Castle. It was nice to have a break from white marble, and the gardens in the back would have been perfect for a cappuccino, glass of wine, or a nap.

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Smithsonian castle in Washington DC

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smith sign

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smith dragonflies

Dragonflies in the Smithsonian Castle garden. A symbol of change and transformation, I was happy to see them.

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I walked up to the Lincoln Memorial and waited for Mtuseni to roll up. He had gone back up to Capitol Hill, then to the White House, just zipping around. He’d been in DC for a conference a few years earlier, so he liked being able to see the area again on his own. 

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Lincoln Memorial statue n Washington DC

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mtu dream space

Pretty cool for a South African kid to be standing on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

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lincoln steps pair

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Later, waiting for the world’s slowest shuttle bus to the Metro, I got an alert on the scooter app that my card had been charged. The woman on the street was wrong. It wasn’t 25 cents a mile, but 25 cents a minute! Mtuseni’s little scoot around town cost me over 30 bucks!  

Mtuseni complained about his terrible park service sandwich the whole trip — and I will forever gripe about that damn Lime scooter ride!  

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the lime

Arghhhh…. that damn scooter!

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Compared to New York, our time in DC was less hectic, with a great hotel and no parking worries. I could spend a week or more there, exploring every corner of every museum. I was sad to leave, but the next leg of our adventure awaited — the South!

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Washington Monument and reflecting pool in Washington DC

 

pair capitol back

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On our second day in DC, we hit a couple of the Smithsonians: the Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. I would have liked to see some art, but Mtuseni isn’t much for colors on canvas.

The natural history museum was okay. It felt a bit dated after the fresh, engaging exhibits of the African American Museum. The room of diamonds and other gems is pretty amazing.

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elephant in Natural History Museum Wasington DC

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Mtuseni watched a talk about genetics, spit into a test tube, and swirls of his DNA appeared. He poured it into a tiny vial and wore it on a bracelet. That was pretty cool.

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vial

Mtuseni’s DNA comes alive. Science!

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One milestone was set today: Mtuseni’s worst meal on the entire trip. Oddly, the Washington Mall area seems to lack restaurants. We didn’t want to walk to find one in the blazing heat, so we got lunch at a park service kiosk. Mtuseni got some kind of hot sandwich wrapped in paper foil…probably on the shelf for a week. I warned him, but he didn’t listen. It was awful, and he can eat just about anything. Whenever we discussed our meals on the trip, he griped about that sandwich! Hahaha.

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Planes and rockets in lobby of National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

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The air and space museum was a blast! For Mtuseni, a typical guy who is all about cars and sports, the planes and rockets and space ships fit the bill. For me — a closet space nerd (actual science, no Star Trek/Star Wars crap) — it was super cool. And it was neat to show Mtuseni the Apollo ships that my father worked on in the 1960s. It was a fun afternoon, like two boys in a candy store. 

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Missiles in lobby of National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

Mtuseni joked that all the missiles were live and that Trump was going to push the button one day. Hmmm… nothing would surprise me at this point.

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Model of Wright Brothers plane in National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC

The Wright Brothers’ first plane… flown by a model, not a person!

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mtu wright bros plane

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Neil Armstrong space suit

Neil Armstrong’s space suit. Mtuseni loved this museum. Me too! 

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We took the Metro back to Arlington and looked for someplace to have dinner. We turned a corner and saw Nando’s — a popular chain in South Africa! Mtuseni was thrilled to have a little taste of home.

Nando’s is so damn good… I’m like a super-fan. I looked later into buying a franchise for Boston. (Waaay out of my price range!) The peri-peri sauce — made from African bird’s eye chili — is crazy hot. (Mtuseni warned me to go with the medium, but I had no complaints.)

The meal more than made up for his horrible sandwich at lunch… and we walked back to our hotel full and happy and tired.

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Nando's in Arlington, Virginia

Nando’s? In America? We need some in Boston please!

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nandos menu

A familiar feeling of home in South Africa… 8,000 miles away.

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Nando's in Arlington, Virginia

Day 4 was a travel day: Cherry Hill, New Jersey to Arlington, Virginia. The GPS unexpectedly took us away from Rte 95 — and we discovered gorgeous farmland in Delaware and Maryland. (Who knew?) And some cool bridges across the Chesapeake.

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Day 5 was all about the African American Museum in DC. The museum is spectacular. We got there before it opened and stayed until it closed at 5:00; the guard was literally shooing us out. We spent so much time in the detailed history floors (and the soul food cafe for lunch) that we had to speed up a bit for the Black culture floors. We could have used a couple more hours. Plan accordingly if you go.

Powerful quotes are on the walls in large type throughout the museum.

As part of our trip, I hoped that Mtuseni would better understand America’s racial history. Over the years, we’d talked about the impacts of apartheid in South Africa — which he still suffers — and which I always express shock and disgust over. While he wasn’t completely unaware of issues here, I wanted Mtuseni to know the full story of our own mistakes.

This slave house is larger than Mtuseni’s shack in South Africa.

Though Mtuseni was born at the end of apartheid, his parents grew up in that segregation. He was surprised to see it so blatant in America.

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An old railway car with the separate facilities for Blacks and Whites.

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Emmett Till’s story always shocks and saddens me. The more things change…

Mtuseni was pretty much in his own world that day, soaking in everything, taking hundreds of photos, trying to grasp and reconcile the experiences and perspectives of Black South Africans and Black Americans. They are different in many ways.

The history section begins with the slave trade and goes up to Obama. You can’t come away unaffected.

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The culture floors are very cool, and a good break from the heavy history section. We saw much of it, but I would have liked more time to read every sign and look at every item.

I saw James Brown at a packed, dive club in Boston in 1988. Blew the roof off! Unforgettable. This is one of his fringe vests.

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Louis Armstrong's trumpet
Satchmo’s horn. Glad I’m old enough to remember hearing him on the radio and on TV.

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Ella Fitzgerald's dress
Ella Fitzgerald’s dress. My father loved Ella.

After the main history section is a reflection space with a rain column and quotes. The entire museum is all very well done.

Mtuseni has an interesting perspective on Mandela. He says while others were out on the streets fighting and dying for the cause, Mandela had it easy in jail. He doesn’t lionize him like Americans do — another example of the difference living in South Africa versus being on the outside.

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God, Let’s hope so.