Today was bitter cold and windy. The temperatures will approach 0 Fahrenheit over night with the wind-chill factor. I went out around 9pm to look for a recipient of today’s $10. With the weather so cold, I thought I would look for someone who was spending the night out in the cold. They could probably use the $10 and I could let them know about the shelters.
From a distance, I saw Peter very methodically laying some blankets down on a wooden bench. As I got closer, I could see that he was well prepared for the cold. He had on several layers and I could only see from his eyes to the tip of his nose, the rest was protected from the frigid air. The eyes, ivory with dark pupils, contrasted against the rich dark skin of his face. Peter and I talked for a while.
Originally from Sudan, I wondered how he could manage outside on a night like tonight, but he said he would be fine. This was his first night he said in the cold, the other nights he had been staying in the shelters but he said people were bothering him there so he decided to sleep outside. I urged him to consider going to a shelter, but he resisted.
Peter never fully understood what I was doing. And I never fully understood why he refused to take my $10, but he did. We continued to talk and he finally conceded that if he and I were to meet again, then he would accept my $10. I asked where he was during the day or if he would be back there to sleep again, but didn’t get a solid answer. I went on my way to look for someone else. All the while thinking about the conversation I just had. I will keep my eyes open for Peter in the coming days. After all, he and I made a promise.
Not far away, I saw someone in a cove-like area off of one of Washington’s many traffic circles. They appeared to be settling in as well. They had on so much clothing that I could not tell if it was a man or a woman until I got closer. When I got about 15 feet away, I saw that there was another person sleeping nearby, completely covered by a gray blanket.
Ayalew had his back to me, so I approached with caution as to not startle him. I called out a friendly greeting and he looked over his left shoulder. He too was very well covered. His head was almost lost in the three layers of colorful hats and hoods he had on. The 52-year-old said he has been here in DC for about a year. He is a gentle man with a warm smile. His soft words hide behind his beard. I asked him where he was from originally as I detected an accent and experienced some minor challenges understanding one another. “I am American”, he said. I would have guessed he was from the Middle East. A quick Google of the name Ayalew lead me to believe he is Ethiopian.
I speak softly so that we don’t disturb the person sleeping a few feet away. I ask my new friend if he would consider going to a shelter tonight to avoid potential frostbite. He smiles and says that he is fine. “I have so much clothes and personal items, that I prefer not to go to the shelter because I can not look after my things” he adds.
I explain the Year of Giving and ask him if he will accept my $10. He readily accepts and I hand him over two five dollar bills. He says he will use the money to buy some breakfast tomorrow morning and some more food later this week.
I am not quite ready to leave despite the pain I feel in my almost numb fingers. I am somewhat intrigued by Ayalew. Our conversation is comfortable, going back and forth like calm ocean waves reaching the shore. He tells me a little about his family and that several family members, including his mother, are living in Texas and will be coming to DC soon. He and his family hope to get a job some place in exchange for the rent of a room. In the mean time, he says he spends most of his time reading and studying.
As I started to leave, I told him about Adam’s Place, the emergency shelter that I had heard of yesterday. He smiled, but said nothing. I shook his hand and wished him a safe and warm night.
My walk home took about 10 minutes. Despite my multiple layers of clothing, my body was cold and stiff. I covered my face and picked up the pace. I am so fortunate for what I have. I take for granted the roof over my head and the “endless” supply of heat that keeps me warm inside. When I am hungry, I need only to open the refrigerator or the cupboard and I am greeted by a myriad of delicious options. Meeting and talking to Peter and Ayalew made me appreciate this. They gave me something far more valuable than $10.