A capital city is the municipality enjoying primary status in a state, country or province as its seat of Government. A capital is typically a city that physically encompasses the offices and meeting places of its respective government and is normally fixed by its law or constitution. The name ‘Washington, DC’ evokes a certain image in one’s mind, of power, of control, of structure, of domination. In modern history, nation states have constructed capitals for themselves, in their own image. Washington DC was founded in 1791 and named after George Washington, the first President of United States of America. The capital city was designed by a French-born American Architect named Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Washington contains the seats of US Government including the House of Representatives, Congress, Supreme Court and White House.
After an eventful week in the majestic city of New York, it was time for us to move towards the power centre of the free world. On 3rd November 2012, we boarded a bus that took us from New York City to Washington, DC. During the five hour long journey, we made a pit stop in New Jersey area for refueling and refreshment. It was a pleasant journey, which included impromptu singing sessions by some fellows and an overall merry atmosphere. We reached Washington DC in the afternoon and checked into our rooms. We stayed at a place near Thomas Circle, a major roundabout with a statue of General George Henry Thomas. Major General Thomas was one of the principal commanders in the Western Theater. The statue was erected in Thomas Circle in 1879.The statue is one of seventeen Civil War Monuments located in Washington. Across the statue, one could see the white neoclassical building of National City Christian Church, constructed in 1929-30. It is the national church of the ‘Disciples of Christ’.
Washington had a much different vibe to that of New York City. There was relative serenity, silence and it was littered with historical monuments. It had a provincial feel compared to the Metropolis of New York. There was lesser traffic, more greenery, the buildings were more exotic. Even the street pattern was totally different. After getting used to the simpler street numbers of New York, we encountered a whole new system. While New York City had five Burroughs, Washington DC was divided along geographical lines into North West (NW), North East (NE), South West (SW) and South East (SE). The axes bounding the quadrants radiate from the U.S Capitol Building. The axes also provide the basis for the naming and numbering systems. Washington DC is surrounded by the states of Virginia and Maryland. Just like Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and its neighboring city Rawalpindi, plenty of people live in Virginia but commute daily to Washington DC for work.
We got scarce time for rest as we were supposed to go for Dinner at Mr. Shuja Nawaz’s house in Virginia. After another drive of one hour, we reached the beautiful abode of Mr. Shuja and spent a quality evening with distinguished company, amazing food and serene surroundings. We had the honor to meet General James Mattis, current commander of United States Central Command. US CENTCOM is a unified combatant command, initiated in 1983 to oversee countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. We had a candid interaction with the General about issues pertaining Pakistan and major global theatres of war. I asked the General about his nickname/call sign (Chaos) and how it originated. One of the fellows asked for his view on the Iran controversy. We got brief but concise answers to most of our queries. Gen Mattis left early as he had to attend to important engagements. We were bemused by his ADC’s entrance and rendition of “General, Its Time”. It was a scene straight out of a Hollywood film.
Other notable attendees included Mr.Moeed Yusuf from US Institute of Peace, Dr Fauzia Saeed (Human Rights Activist and visiting scholar at National Endowment for Democracy), Richard Rossow (Director, South Asia at McLarty Associates), Group Captain Haseeb Piracha (Air Attaché at the Pakistan Embassy), Barbara Slavin (Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council), and people from US State Department, WWF-USA, Meridian International and World Bank. As we had spent the day of Eid ul Azha in the flight to New York, this was supposed to be our Eid Dinner, a Pakistani Tradition. Being a book-freak, I was really impressed by Mr. Shuja’s vast book collection and assorted antiques from around the world. It was a surreal evening and culminated in an impromptu birthday celebration followed by some more singing.
After a bus ride to our hotel, some of us ventured outside to find any late-night snacks. We were terrible disappointed as we didn’t find any shop open nearby. Most shops had closed by 8 p.m. It felt quite odd after a week in New York City-the city that never sleeps-to find a sleeping city.
Next morning, I accompanied two other fellows to a stroll down 14th NW Street towards the Washington Monument. We saw a colorful gathering of people at the National Mall and walked towards the area. It turned out to be a charity event to raise awareness about women cancers. As a medical practitioner and student of public health, I was overwhelmed by the scale of the event. It was titled “National Race to end Women’s Cancer 2012” and people from all parts of United States had gathered to take part in this event. There was a separate area reserved for Cancer Survivors and their families. Different sponsors including hospitals had set up small camps there to distribute flyers and information packets about the issue of Gynecological Cancers. We went to most of those camps and introduced ourselves as visitors from Pakistan. We were welcomed with open arms. I ended up talking to one of the most interesting people at the venue. His name was William R. Robinson, M.D. He is a gynecological oncologist (Specialist in dealing with cancers found in Women) by training. He, along with five other gynecological oncologists found a band in 2008, called N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease). The name is a very interesting reference to a term used in Oncology. No evidence of disease (NED) is a term that is used when examinations and tests can find no cancer in a patient who has been treated for cancer. NED is the equivalent of remission – having no signs or symptoms of cancer.
From a Pakistani perspective, this is unprecedented. We don’t have specialist doctors engaging with patients, forming rock bands in the process. This infectious spirit of volunteerism is what makes American Society much more vibrant than Pakistani Society. I had a chat with Dr Robinson about his clinical training, his duty hours, oncology and the band. The fact that hundreds of people from all across the nation had descended upon the capital to support a noble cause overwhelmed me. We acutely lack this kind of spirirt and dedication in Pakistan. I do not contend that people in Pakistan are totally apathetic. A lot of charitable work is being done in Pakistan and our only specialized Cancer Hospital is being run totally on charity, but the spririt of voluteerism is lacking. We encountered different other volunteer organizations during our visit of United States, which was a welcome sight.
To be Continued…………