A photographic journey into the capital of the World
It was the second time in less than 2-months that Jorgo and I were flying more than 5 hours per jaw. My friends back home keep posting Instagram stories on how they miss traveling by plane meanwhile, Jorgo and I were up in the air for more than 27 hours in the last 60 days. For more than half of that time, we flew from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Now we were heading back to the Atlantic.
In Washington, D.C., we met Sjuzi, who suggested a place to have not only the much-needed first coffee but also a champions breakfast. A few minutes later, Abas showed up, Erila, Mikel, Arend, Enxhi, Hixhaz, Artiona, and Dhimitër later. The Magnificent 20 started to take shape.
The quick visit to the Lincoln Memorial started with hugs but continued with catching-up conversations and taking group photographs. We were eager to talk with each other like we forgot we had kept in touch during these months.
Friday, the departure day, seemed so far.
That evening, Maggie and Denise had arranged a welcome party at the Mansion on the O & O Street Museum. This Victorian residence was designed in 1892 by Edward Clark, architect for the U.S. Capitol. The building served as a home for himself and his brother James Clark, Speaker of the House (during Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidency). This house is famous for its 72 hidden doors and hosting the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s G-men in the ‘30s.
The group had reunited with Loreta, Nesila, Rei, Ornela, Eda, Elton, Dorina, Eglina, and Mërgim. A beer, two, or whatever, for I lost count, at a nearby taproom or a Latino dance club, seemed the logical choice.
Mornings came fast. The first one, we meet Phil Bronner on the rooftop of WeWork in Pennsylvania Ave. He is the Co-Founder of Ardent Venture Partners. Phil inspired us by talking about his journey to becoming a successful investor in the states. Those mornings in D.C. are all about work and productivity. The service of thousands of Americans keeps this nation going, and this was our spirit. Every morning we had to sweat; From meetings on Leadership Audit back to Expert Talks. Another impressive guest speaker was Gregory J. Fierce, Executive Vice President at Potomac Business Services, LLC, one of the guys behind Washington’s Wharf. His story was as amazing as it was inspiring.
Yes, those mornings of work are also mornings of gratefulness. If you have followed me previously, you should already know that I advocate the giving back culture. I strongly support this behavior not only in the startup community but also in real life. If you are successful now, most probably, someone gave you a hand or advice at some point in your career, and you have to pass the baton. This is how the world keeps spinning around.
Volunteering at Mamie D. Lee Community Garden, turned out to be not just giving back, was also a session of learning. I indeed gave some of my time and brutal force to help with the everyday chores of the gardens but I also learned a few things about gardening that I can apply in my courtyard back home.
Finding all 72-doors was not the hardest part of our exploring journey. Keeping up with all the marvelous monuments of the city was the hardest one. For this, the organizers had booked a night bike trip through them. The word “astonishing” cannot describe the mighty of all those monuments we saw that night in Washington, D.C. The reflections created after the rain just increased their grandeur to our eyes.
Little did we know that the inspiration we got from the talk of Mr. Fierce was going to continue from his niece, Heather Fierce. We met Heather at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Recently renovated, it is now a place of wisdom (library), memory (the Washington, D.C. history pavilion), and humanity (the stories of the people so carefully told in the exhibition). I consider myself a well-educated person with deep knowledge and an open mind but, I should say that here, at this moment,
Yes, the safe space discussion on racism with Heather made us understand that just not being racist is being racist. It is only by being actively against racism that you can become a non-racist.
Later that night the story, and work of the late David B. Jamieson, artist, and activist, told through the touching words of his partner, Peter Stebbins, went through our hearts. Those words, often under the soft notes of the piano played by Dhimitër, introduced us to another human dimension. All words of that Thursday, October 14th, were strong and soft, colorful and monochrome, all those words said that day, keep coming to my head as a lesson I will never forget.
The Pacific is an ocean composed of water, salt, and lots of plastic. The Atlantic is also an ocean composed of water, salt, and lots of plastic. Equal, but still different. These two oceans, together hug the U.S. This concept also applies to human beings. We are all born the same. All our bodies are composed of flesh, bones, and red blood. Two kids born in different races, nationalities, or social classes, if put together, will become immediate friends. They won’t see the color of their skin; they won’t see the money in the other family account. We grow up, and our instinct urges us to belong. We form groups and stereotypes. We start being on the wrong side.
But, if we educate ourselves, we are open-minded; if our generation is at least a bit better than the previous one; there is hope. Consistently improve each new generation, each next one will be better, and Pangea will happen again. All oceans will be one.
The trip was going to an end. Friday that at the beginning seemed so far, had already stepped in.
Breakfast was all about hugs; Hugs of “adieu” to the ones leaving for Albania, and “see you soon” to the ones we plan to visit in the forthcoming months. That morning we went to the top of the Washington Monument. We tried to have a last view of the city, also see the White House, we could not visit due to COVID-19 restrictions.
On the way out, three helicopters broke the silence of that morning. Suddenly there were police sirens, troops started to move quickly.
It looked that Marine One was approaching the White House. What a shiver! My fellow and friend, Arend, quick as a western gunfighter, took out his Nikon and immortalized a picture of me with the President of the United States (inside Marine One).
After a week full of work, lessons, and discoveries, our journey had come to an end. When I first came to the U.S. I forethought of this trip as a fun week, to meet and drink with my friends. Know them better. But, oh, if it was more than that. It was a growth journey.
In all my previous writings or activity, you will never find praise for people just doing their job; but Maggie, Denise, Heather, Peter, and the people back at AADF did a great job organizing this trip. I have to admit it was not smooth but, every challenge has its learnings. For me, everything was one more brick into the building of this Internship Experience in the United States of America. An experience I hope, under the reflections in the asphalt after the rain, will look as grandeur as the monuments I saw that night in Washington, D.C.
But, the most important thing we re-learned was love, love for all human beings, something we tend to forget.
* Photos not shot by me.
Prepared: Vasken Spiru-MIP Internship Fellow 2020-2021, working at Startup Genome, San Francisco