“Weraj ale”: Columbia city
There aren’t many smart things about the smart phone. And most apps are meant to make you an asshole. However, for the curious observer, there are boundless opportunities which these hi-fi tech gadgets [which i love the sound of :-)] provides. Easy to carry, cordless Cameras that you don’t need to carry to the printers every time you need to dossier your memories is one of them. Speaking of dossiers, I’ve been thinking I should “dossier” my Seattle experiences to my readers. So it can serve as a travel-guide, history mixed with smart ass [usually a first impression, stretched out of shape]. A “honey stop the car”, as npr would have it. I’d call mine “weraj ale”, for “driver, stop the bus” is a tad too long for a title.
Columbia city, then. It is a city within a city. Surrounded by trees and housing the columbia public library and the columbia city funeral home side by side [the dead can’t read, i cleaverly thought when seeing it first, so the books gotta go]; it’s the center of contradictions. Like every neighbourhood west of Jackson street, Columbia city is known for being “black”. Its inhabitants live off beer and new port cigarettes; which they pay for using their EBT cards, $1.65 plus tax. But unlike most ghettos, it’s main attraction isn’t the golden arc of Macdonald’s burger joint. Neither does the smell of kentucky’s fried chicken draw you the map to where the poor and the obese commune. It’s black, yet places that serve beer out of bottles, and not cans, the overweight dog-walker and the white couple who always seem to enjoy each other’s company are as abundant as at, say, Queen Anne.
Once upon a time, people would tell you, Columbia city used to be the place where shit happened. Where the hassler, the prositute and the homeless lived by the rules that governed Rainier avenue. Expressions like “snitches get stiches”, were, therefore, not totally unfamiliar to most. Not anymore. It’s been cleaned, the inhabitants would tell you somehow wistfully, gone damn straight. The homeless are being evacuated, the prostitutes have become too old for the trade, and the hassler whose occassional girlfriend no longer pays for his Olde-English collects cigarette butts and offers his one good jacket [moping the floor, traking the trash out, anything] to pay for his pint. Thanks to rentless under cover cops and high-paying investors, and arty-shmarty-types [theatre groups, run-down cinema owners, anti-war and women’s right activists], the neighbourhood is becoming more white than it is black. Soon, it’s old timers worry, there won’t be a trace of the colorful characters that used to roam it’s streets, like lost souls of yore. It maybe an oxymoron, therefore, that outisde one of the raws of cafeterias bearing names of foreign food: pizza, thai, wabi sabi [and Solom Ethiopian Restaurant, where we stopped by for the Sambussa, an avid reminder of our Timket days at “Jan Meda”, where we chewed it to the last lentil before walking to the circle made around a harmonica playing young man and bashful girls that would not dance unless dragged to the middle]; you will step on this sign. “Cast of Cultures – 1999”, it reads. It then explains how the casts are meant to celebrate the diverse cultures dwelling in this city within a city.
There is the lotus buddha, two straw-hat wearing vietnamese farmers, a big woman with manly shoulders and a hair do that I can only imagine makes her a Simoane [and a bunch of wild animals representing cultures who call this part of Seattle “home”; the colorful attired Chinese dragon, a crow in flight and a proud rooster ready to do his Cocka-doodle-doo]. And then an ethiopian priest!; who doesn’t look like he would want to celebrate anything anytime soon. Infact, and if he is like every other Ethiopian that lives in neighbourhoods that aren’t swarming with abeshas, he will probably walk around with his nose in the air – the picture of [self] disgust and disapproval, calling the handicapped “ankasa”, and shaking his head solemnly when offered a free food sample.