When I first arrived in Washington, D.C. for my Atlas Corps Fellowship a year ago, I was looking forward to doing so many things – from attending different professional networking events to traveling and exploring the country. Then the COVID-19 pandemic invaded the world and changed all those plans. Although my Atlas Corps experience has not been a “typical” one, it has been very unique. I am still serving at my host organization from home — been doing so since March 2020 — and have not been attending any in-person professional events since then, this is nonetheless *the* year to be in the US. 2020 and 2021 are going to go down in history as years filled with unprecedented events, and I’ve got to witness them first hand.
First, two months into my fellowhship, the pandemic forced people into seclusion. The first three months of staying at home were the hardest: fear, panic, shortage of toilet paper, and adjusting to a new life confined to your room and seeing people on zoom only. I was very lucky to have amazing housemates – other Atlas Corps Fellows to while days away. In fact, these first three months were a blessing in disguise as we got to know each other better. We cooked dishes from our national cuisines together (delicious Pakistani, Zimbabwean, Russian, and Kyrgyz dinners) and enjoyed tea in the cozyness of our living room to illume the gloominess of what was happening outside our house.
Then the summer came with a series of notable events – the Black Lives Matter protests that gathered hundreds of thousands of people around the country protesting police brutality and racially motivated violence, and the 57th Commemoration of March on Washington of 1963 where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Washington, D.C. was certainly a place to take part in these events.
Finally, in a few days, on 20 January 2021, I will be watching perhaps the most unparalleled Presidential inauguration in American history. Following the storming of the United States Capitol on 6 January, the US government closed off the National Mall and much of the surrounding areas, shut down all downtown D.C. metro stations, and deployed between 15-20,000 National Guard troops to the capital in an attempt to curtail any further disruptions. Although some Americans believe this is a necessary measure, others are disheartened to see their country turning to, what they believe, a “police state” where the views of one party are the “truth” now and those who don’t agree with these views are detractors.
I am serving with Atlas Corps for another six months and look forward to seeing what the next half a year has in store for the country and for my fellowship.