As I walked Georgia towards the park on Meridian Hill, we could hear the sound of the drums reverberating louder and louder embracing body and soul.
We passed a 13-basin cascade fountain at the bottom of the park, then climbed up the staircase. Once we arrived at the upper garden, we were mesmerized by an energetic group of drummers gathered loosely around a tight circle. There was a broad range of musicians with instruments of all shapes and sizes, such as cowbells, wooden sticks, gourd rattle, and egg shakers weaving West African rhythms together like an elaborate African tribal dress.
It was a kaleidoscope of drummers, dancers, acrobats, and artists. Nearby, merchants set up shop by the equestrian statue of Joan of Arc riding into battle. Hippie chicks with locs selling cannabis-infused baked goods. Yogis communed in restorative meditation. Friends and family held light conversation, listening, reflecting, collaborating, relaxing. People riding bikes, flipping skateboards, walking dogs – plenty of action to keep Georgia enthralled.
The drum circle originated during the civil rights movement in the 1960s as a celebration of black liberation. On February 12, 1965, the day that Malcolm X was assassinated, drummers joined in the park to memorialize him, and since then the kaleidoscope of drummers, dancers, jugglers, acrobats, and artists has been called the Malcolm X Park Drum Circle. Today, drumming has provided a way for Black Washingtonians to connect with African culture. And for White Washingtonians, a way to embrace the long history of the Civil Rights struggle in the city.
Sonia was happy to see Georgia, and my Pitbull Lab mix was thrilled to greet her, frantically wagging her tail and giving her bestie a long, wet, sloppy embrace.
I couldn’t help but move to the beat as I felt the rhythm of the drums reverberate down my spine “So many different people from different backgrounds and walks of life coming together on a Sunday afternoon to unite as one.”
Sonia moved fluidly, her arms emulating undulating waves of the ocean. “Absolutely…Drumming is uplifting for me. It’s great for my heart… it’s a wonderful art form. I’m in my joyous place.”
“This is why I love D.C. It’s such a diverse city effusing boundless energy.”
“Yes, and I do love going for a stroll with your mutt.” Or was it the other way around?
Georgia enjoyed taking Sonia for high-energy walks along the (National) Mall, where she always led the way, chasing squirrels and interacting with anyone that passed by. And, of course, Apollo loved interacting with others, too both but preferred to have Sonia for himself.
“Wish I could take Georgia camping to Great Falls.”
“You’re more than welcome to pick her up anytime. But Apollo might get a tad bit jealous.”
“But I live so far away in Bowie (M.D.).”
“Then you should stay at my house. I’ve got a spare room in the basement.”
“I will never live in Anacostia; it’s an art and craft desert there.”
“Maybe in the past, but the talent stream is rising. Young people are moving in droves, and there’s a big art movement afoot.”
“But isn’t it dangerous? Has anything bad ever happened to you?”
“Yes, I was mugged in 2008. I was stepping from my car when I saw a guy walking in front of my house. I gave him eye contact and said, ‘Hi.’ The next thing I know, he put a pistol behind my head and followed me inside my house where he grabbed my laptop and both my house and car keys.”
“Wow! Did he ever come back?”
“Thankfully, I never saw him again.”
“Surprised you didn’t move out?”
“Though it was unfortunate, I condemn the act, but not the person.”
“So, if you saw him again, what would you do?”
“I would say ‘Hi’ again and ask him how he’s doing. Tell him I forgive him and ask how I can help. People are building bridges in my neighborhood now and in areas east of the Anacostia River. We’re products of circumstances and history. And the same problems that exist in Anacostia apply everywhere. My community is a place where people are reaching out, and it shows the possibility of change and a beacon of hope.”
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard you say.”
“Well, I didn’t say it. I credit Arthur Magee from Belfast, Northern Ireland.”
Since we brought Georgia to Meridian Hill Park last week, it was Apollo’s turn for a night out.
April 14, 2012:
A little after 9 pm the following Friday, Sonia and I walked into a run-down building on Shannon Place S.E. called the Lightbox.
Sonia had low expectations, but she was blown away by the vibrant atmosphere upon entry. There was live music, dancing, performance art on display, a Busboys and Poets pop-up restaurant, and a tight-knit community in an old police storage warehouse. Just like in Meridian Hill Park, the beat and rhythm of the music were entertaining and stimulating.
“Lumen8, what an interesting title.”
“It’s quite symbolic. Lumen is a measure of light equal to one candle’s intensity. The number 8 represents Ward 8, the city’s poorest and most deprived ward. But phonetically, it also brings to mind ‘illuminate.’ Based on other all-night arts events throughout the country.”
Anacostia may have a bad reputation, and the residents long to shed our rugged image. Some people across the river treat us like we’re second-class citizens. But we’re no different than anyone else. We enjoy quality art and music, and on April 14, the community brought that talent across the river to Ward 8.
And Apollo, as usual, served as the friendly ambassador flying around the warehouse, uniting people together like birds of a feather.
I was on the way to the cash bar to grab some rum punch when a high-pitched shriek startled me. I turned around to see Apollo had jumped on Sonia’s friend, Warrie.
“I knew I would be hit on tonight, but I wasn’t expecting to be dive-bombed by a parrot.”
“My apologies, Apollo only picks the prettiest girls. And no offense Sonia, I think he prefers blondes.”
When I returned with the drinks, Apollo had already started to cozy up with Warrie, who was in the midst of deep conversations with Sonia.
“I moved from Virginia Beach to D.C. on a whim four years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I still remember wise words from a friend, when I said, ‘I never would’ve chosen it.’ And he said, ‘Well, it chose you.'”
Sonia took a swallow of her punch and winced “So happy you found your happy place.”
I nodded with a smile then took a big gulp — the pineapple juice and grenadine tasted so sweet and rewarding “Housing is exorbitant here, but there are great deals to be had east of the River.”
Warrie carefully nursed her drink keeping a distance from Apollo’s cunning beak. “Hopefully, Lumen8 can attract different people to cross the bridge and realize that Anacostia is not so scary after all.”
I wholeheartedly nodded in agreement. “So what do you do for a living?”
Despite her best attempts to hold him back, Apollo had managed to steal a quick kiss from her. “I’m a dental hygenist.”
“Be careful he loves to peck between your teeth for food — he works better than dental floss. And what do you like to do for fun?”
“I love attending concerts and dancing my heart out. I never feel so full of life as when I’m spinning on a dance floor.”
“Well, tonight is your lucky night. Apollo loves to bust a move. How ’bout you Sonia. What type of art do you participate in?”
“I teach yoga. I play the violin, and I enjoy belly dancing.”
“Geez. Belly dancing? What’s the appeal?”
“It’s an ancient art form that crosses many boundaries. Come to my gig next month, and you’ll see it first hand.”
Tel’ Veh, a Turkish restaurant on the cutting edge of the Mount Vernon Triangle, was popular with guests due to its exotic, Mediterranean cuisine and generous happy hour specials. The taverna was contemporary but not overdone. Unlike other restaurants closer to the Verizon Center hub, it was graced with colossal, beautifully curved windows and tall ceilings adorned by a centerpiece chandelier. Tonight the venue was filled with revelers swaying to the harmony from a Turkish guitar and a lively street drummer. Together they formed a melodic duet deriving their rich tunes from the romantic Balkan peninsular. But the acoustics and drums were not what the packed crowds came to exuberate.
The graceful Sonia was gyrating in the center of the spacious dining room, skillfully spinning while tossing her shiny veil over her voluptuous shoulders. Through her dramatic hip movements and sensuous shimmies, her sinuous flow evoked mystery and artistry.
The guests cheered enthusiastically, adoring every detail of her choreography, chanting and clapping with each hypnotic movement. After a tireless hour-long performance to the high-tempo music, Sonia could walk on water, and the crowds responded enthusiastically. Sonia graciously thanked everyone in the audience, then gestured for me to come over.
“Emir, this is Chito. He does photography and websites. He manages this cool, jazzy site that will feature your kebabs and mimosas. You guys should talk.”
Needless to say, the owner was very thankful for Sonia’s performance. She had agreed to waive her fee and only work for a large tab. And he was inclined to pay back the favor by hiring me to redesign their site. I was now starting to move beyond Chinatown and was grateful to Sonia and Suzannah for providing me with solid leads and Apollo for introducing me to new friends. I hoped there would be many more belly dancing performances in the future. I hoped there would be many more belly dancing shows in the future.