By Noralyn Dudt
BACK in 1790 when Pierre L'Enfant was at work designing what was to become the nation's capital with wide boulevards and common squares, he probably never envisioned the Washington, DC that it is today. Although he had helped George Washington's Continental Army in fighting the army of another George (the King of England) and had an inkling what the new republic would look like, he may not have foreseen nor understood the magnitude of what it would take to smoothly run a democratic republic. That this new nation would require three branches of government to check each other may not have crossed his mind. This was a rather new idea—not since the Athenians who introduced the concept of democracy around two thousand years earlier. That checks and balances would need a myriad of federal agencies to efficiently maintain the functions of government would have been unthinkable at the time: the Supreme Court, the Department of Defense; the Department of Justice; the Department of Health, Education & Welfare, the National Security Council and their subsidiary agencies, to name a few. Surely he must have had the foresight that some representation of foreign governments would descend on the nation's capital and may have even imagined how elegant the consular buildings would look. But could he foresee what Massachusetts Avenue with its high concentration of embassies, diplomatic missions and diplomatic residences would look like today? The myriads of Lobby groups along K St., the representative offices of companies and businesses from around the world, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that would spill their thousands of employees and their families from around the globe into the city's suburbs of Maryland and Virginia would indeed be mind boggling. That it has become a metropolitan area exuding power, influence and wealth might even surprise George Washington today. That the trail on which he took to this new capital on his horse would now be the George Washington Parkway that brings people from Bethesda, Rockville and McLean to their government and embassy/ international jobs. That the streets, avenues and circles that L'Enfant designed would stretch all the way to Bethesda and Rockville on Wisconsin Avenue, and to Silver Spring and beyond on Georgia and New Hampshire Avenues.
That the "whole world" had come to the Washington metropolis and made the place so culturally-diverse may have never crossed George Washington's mind is understandable. How could he have envisioned that the ideals that he and his fellowAmerican patriots were fighting for, would be what the world wanted to emulate? and that American soldiers would be sent to far-flung places to fight for the freedom of those wanting to be free? That America has turned into policing the world would now shock him to his core. ( this will be another series)
With more than 175 embassies, ambassador residences, international cultural centers and myriads of international presence, it's not unusual in our neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland to see school buses bearing their school names on their sides: Deutsche Schule (German School) Lycee Rochambeau (French School), the British School, and so forth on their sides. However, their youth numbered in the tens of thousands also attend the prestigious Montgomery County Public Schools making this school system linguistically and culturally diverse. It's also not unusual to see so many cars bearing diplomatic plates. Moreover, there is a German congregation mostly from the German Embassy and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank who worship in our Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Sundays. Other nationalities are doing the same in other churches.The whole Washington metropolitan area currently covers nearly 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kms). About half the land in the city center though is owned by the US government which pays no taxes on it. Taking all of what was mentioned into account, Washington indeed is an extraordinary city, one with multiple personalities: a working federal city, an international metropolis, a picturesque tourist destination, an unmatched treasury of the country's history and artifacts, and a cosmopolitan center that retains a neighborly small-town ambience. The role Washington plays as the capital of the United States, and to many, the Western world, often overshadows its lively local history and its complex political, economic, and social issues.
A diplomatic post in Washington, DC—according to people I have met in the diplomatic community—is the crowning jewel of their foreign service career. They get posted throughout the capital cities around the world. And then they wait in anticipation for the day when that order comes around from their home government : Next posting, Washington DC. It's a place where they want to bring their whole family especially their young children who can increase their knowledge of the English language and soak up the fascinating cultural vibes that the place has to offer. We the residents are just as excited to welcome them, make friends, and enjoy their company during the 3 years that they make Washington their home.
Noralyn Onto Dudt has been a resident in this culturally and linguistically diverse metropolitan since 1972 and her life has been enriched by the friends she had made from the many capitals of the world who made Washington their temporary home for two to three years.
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