During trips to DC in 2010/2011, I met individuals who were passionate about ending human trafficking, who were active in social change, and an international diversity that I had never lived amongst before. I would have moved to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to my immediate family but the job opportunities are very few. So, having never been to the East Coast before Peace Corps, I chose to embark on a new journey in DC as I returned to the states after living overseas since February of 2009.
When I first arrived back in the states, life was pretty complicated and overwhelming. Thankfully, there have been some really sweet people who have helped make the transition smoother. While in Pader, this photojournalist from New York came to my village to work with another organization. We became close friends over a Nile talking about the challenges of international development and the daily work, noodle dinners with sauce packets that reminded us of home, and popcorn with flavoring while watching TV shows as long as the laptop battery would stay alive. I was super excited to hear that she was coming back to the states for the holidays and since my family lives in the other Washington, I spent Christmas with her family and then went to New York for the very first time.
DC is great. Not only does my African accent come back full force when the cab driver is from Ethiopia, occasionally there are Ugandan specific events around town. Uganda’s Children Choir performed for free at the Kennedy Center with bright colors shaking at their hips. I’ve been told that I can’t dance “American” any more. Not sure if I ever could in the first place. I enjoy my East African dancing and especially when it is a dance off between friends who served in West Africa.
Events are always happening here. As long as the weather isn’t too hot or raining, with a little effort you can find free or relatively cheap activities around town which helps offset the cost of living. Open art studios, Artomatic, Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, environmental film festivals, and meet-ups. I thoroughly enjoy book discussions on issues from poverty in America to small farm agriculture, panel discussions on international issues with experts in the field, and being engaged in what is happening.
More concrete ways that I have become engaged in DC include being an active member and advocate in the meet-up group DC Stop Modern Slavery where we discuss issues such as the business side of sex trafficking, conversations with expert Kevin Bales on the correlation between the exploitation of human beings and the environment. In March, I started training and volunteering for the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. Through being part of the WIN, I volunteered for the Truth and Justice Summit in May.
Not everything has been quite so intense though. Since I sold my car back in 2009 and am now living in DC where a car isn’t a necessity, leaving the city is a bit difficult. A couple of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers drove to Indiana for a wedding and I was able to escape for a short weekend to see friends and family that I hadn’t seen since July of 2009. Two full/short days of being reminded how much I love and miss these close friends. We had an enjoyable time despite the limited time available.
Back in DC, I work with an NGO that provides informational resources on Human Trafficking. I’ve accepted that working with intense populations and intense issues is pretty much become my lifestyle over the years. I try to balance this with the happier things in life. I found it humorous when I went to a Nationals game with a mixed group of friends. A couple of the guys and I conversed about a variety of human trafficking issues including forced prostitution in the states as we watched the Nats win. This has surely become an interesting journey. I’m excited for a bit more stability and what is to come…