Wayna’s Washington, D.C.
Visiting the city through the eyes of a local.
Wayna is an R&B/soul singer and songwriter who was born in Ethiopia and raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She worked as a writer for the Clinton White House before releasing three solo albums, garnering three Billboard-charting singles and a Grammy nomination. She currently tours as a vocalist with musical icon Stevie Wonder.
From the time I boarded my first Ethiopian Airlines flight as a toddler en route from Addis Ababa to Washington, D.C., much has changed about both me and my adoptive city. But there’s no denying that the District helped to raise me — a concept I’ve come to understand more today as I travel as a singer/songwriter and meet people who are likewise a clear product of their hometowns.
Some cities raise citizens of glamor, ever-conscious of the latest trends, the best health foods, and the least-invasive surgeries. Others raise go-getters, who seemingly count the seconds of productivity that can be squeezed in between power lunches. The D.C. area, however — with its hub of history and politics, its consciousness of culture and art, and its blend of the urban and suburban — raises residents of substance and style, of both grit and grace. We represent a big city with a small-town feel, where literally every country in the world has a house and people from all walks of life come to lead colorful lives.
Where to eat:
I like my dining-out experience to come with a side order of art, which is why Busboys and Poets is my favorite restaurant. Named after the legendary poet Langston Hughes, who once worked as a busboy, this restaurant is a progressive place for artists, activists and foodies alike, where meat-eaters and vegans can both leave full. And as a perfect complement to the meal, the restaurant’s partner bookstore, Politics and Prose, offers an eclectic collection of literature and nonfiction of every genre, as well as one of the best children’s book collections in the city. Its adjacent performance halls also boast some of the area’s best open-mic nights.
But when visiting a city that has the highest population of Ethiopians outside of Addis, you might want to experience Ethiopian cuisine. Habesha Market and Restaurant on 9th and U offers a particularly amazing take-out “gir-giro special tibs” (lamb sautéed with onion and jalapeño in a special sauce), and Dama Restaurant in Pentagon City is known for serving the best kitfo in town (though the “special shiro” is also a personal favorite).
For those wanting a sugary ending, The Sweet Lobby on 8th St. in SE — a boutique bakery owned by Trinidadian-born season winners of the Food Network TV show “Cupcake Wars” — will satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth. Coffee lovers need flock to Sidamo Coffee on H St. NE or Sankofa Cafe on Georgia Ave., the latter of which is owned by legendary filmmaker Haile Gerima (Sankofa, Teza). The café’s four-espresso-shot “dirty chai” will liven up any morning.
Where to shop:
My love of distinctive fashion with a statement has found satisfaction in one destination: the Anacostia Arts Center in SE. This might be the only place where you can buy a vintage cocktail dress and a handmade Ethiopian leather laptop case from the Zaaf Collection under the same roof. The place to go is Nubian Hueman, a boutique selling unique cultural clothing and accessories made by African designers. Right next door is Vintage and Charmed, which boasts an amazing collection of authentic vintage pieces, beautifully restored and reasonably priced. All items are hand-selected by the shop’s owner, who can spot your best fit and find at a glance.
But if upscale designer fashion is your fix, head to Georgetown, where boutiques such as Sangaree (international women’s wear), J. McLaughlin (classic American style), and Hu’s Wear (high-end fashion and footwear from lines like Alexander McQueen and Fendi) all lie within a few blocks of each other. And for those seeking a high-end look without the price tag, Rent the Runway on M St. rents out everything from designer gala gowns to cocktail party frocks. The store’s slew of unintimidating stylists will even help you find the best outfit and extravagant jewelry for any occasion, making you feel like J.Lo for a day.
While the District has no shortage of monuments,
museums and publically accessible government agencies that are themselves living history, my new favorite is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. From inspiring memorabilia, such as the headgear used by Muhammed Ali, to sobering artifacts, such as the child-sized shackles used to enslave African children in the Middle Passage, the museum offers visitors a deeper understanding of the African American experience from slavery through civil rights.
But as a mother of two young kids, museum excursions these days most often cater to my children’s interests. The National Children’s Museum at the National Harbor has become our most frequent go-to. Created for those 8 years and younger, the museum is a brick-and-mortar stimulant for childhood development. Here, kids can produce their own puppet shows, stage a fire-fighting rescue, dress up in traditional international clothes, or even do the family shopping at a mock grocery store. Children are so engaged and entertained, they forget they are learning; and they come home so exhausted, parents forget how much they spent. As a bonus, you can bookend your museum visit while at the Harbor by taking a ride on the Carousel or the Capital Wheel (a fantastic Ferris wheel overlooking the National Monument), or take a kayak out on the Potomac River before enjoying some ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s.
DC’s greatest hidden gem
Hidden in the heart of Brookland, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America presents a gorgeous oasis of spiritual history amid a breathtaking landscape. Its centerpiece is the Byzantine-inspired sanctuary that sits like a guardian angel on 42 acres of gardens, decorated by more than 1,000 roses and other exotic plants. The Rosary Portico, a stunning passageway with unforgettable architecture, surrounds the inner grounds and is adorned with plaques engraved with the lyrics of “Ave Maria” in over 200 ancient and living languages, including classical Ethiopian Ge’ez. It is a soulful experience for people of all faiths.
If you could return to D.C. for a single day, where would you insist on going?
As a musician, my sweetest experiences out on the town are usually at concerts. And while performances such as Lauryn Hill at the 9:30 Club or Stevie Wonder at the Verizon Center are unforgettable, nothing tops the intimate experience of a small venue with pristine sound and a stellar lineup. Regarded as the best live jazz venue in the city and among the best in the country, Georgetown’s Blues Alley is known to provide just that, and almost every veteran of jazz and soul has, at some point, graced its stage. Here, you may see artists like Roy Hargrove, Rachelle Ferrell, Robert Glasper and Frank McComb, as well as D.C.-based artists like myself, singer/emcee Maimouna Youssef, or harmonica extraordinaire Fred Yonnet. Arriving early usually ensures a front-row view for a truly magical show.