In the tradition of one of the greatest storytellers and historians America has ever produced, Alex Haley, I continue this series by popular demand…
It’s 2002, about a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is 4:20 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I’ve just arrived at the back side of 300 Indiana Ave. NW — better known as the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Department.
It is here that every person charged with a crime and arrested by any MPD officer is brought for a check of the FBI’s biometric database before being taken to see the judges on the first three floors of the D.C. Superior Court building down the street. “Central Cell” is how the locals refer to 300 Indiana Ave. — it is notorious.
Why I’m sitting at MPD headquarters at four in the morning is simple. I work on a truck known as the Green Bandit, a massive hydraulic pump truck. It is my duty this morning, as it is every day of the week, to clear the loading dock of all the documents left there by the District police department and Superior Court. Some of the material on the dock has also come from judges’ quarters.
All material is to be divided into three categories: small trash, bulk recycle, and one other category which I care not to mention except to give a hint: it has blue rims. All materials are to be destroyed.
I was selected for this job because I am British, ignorant, have never been arrested, and am highly educated and trustworthy.
The MPD guard leading to the loading dock is sweating beads of water. This material has been sitting on the loading dock since Friday. Initially, flammable liquids and chemicals were included on the dock, so we’re now told to open all boxes and bags before loading them in the truck.
I found a lot of this material highly curious, such as budget requests, cases from previous investigations and presidential routes. This was the norm 16 years ago. We were constantly followed to see if I was using dead drops or concealed devices.
On this particular day, I’m thinking of my son, Laosedian Onibuje. He was seven at the time and is now in the U.S. Air Force. I’m also listening to the Black president, Fela Kuti, perform a hit called “Army Arrangement” on my headphones. I’m staying at a shelter called Second and D. I’m thinking to myself the type of work I’m doing is called agbepo in Lagos, Nigeria — sh** carrier.
But it couldn’t be further from the truth. We’d spend more time at CIA headquarters, Walter Reed and various military installations than we would at the federal buildings on some days. And it was not uncommon for us to trash about $15 million worth of stuff on one trip alone. Donald Trump is right: there is massive waste in the U.S. federal government.
So, you’re probably wondering how on earth I became homeless and ended up on the Green Bandit. The truth is, this is a question I sometimes ask myself.
When I left England in 2000, after my second four-year bout of college, I came back to D.C. and moved in with a friend to split the rent. I had two good jobs, one as a salesman for the eastern region of Sprint Communications and the other as a contract teacher for Holton-Arms, the college-prep school in Maryland. I was mostly teaching the children how to use computer compilers. I also taught students from Georgetown Prep. Both schools have been in the news recently, the former was attended by Christine Blasey Ford and the latter by Brett Kavanaugh.
When Ronald Reagan said some people are homeless by choice, he made a huge mistake. People experience homelessness through tragedy, circumstance and ignorance.
It turned out the friend I was staying with had a gambling habit. Unbeknownst to me, he had not been paying our rent for nearly six months — even though I’d been giving him my portion. He couldn’t resist sports betting or the lottery.
Once, I got hit on the back of my head with the blunt end of a gun by someone I mistakenly let into our apartment who was asking for him, which led to my being robbed and my jaw being broken.
I was put on six weeks’ paid leave. By the time I got back to work, work wasn’t the same. Also, I was being introduced to a Studio 54 party lifestyle. These changes came at the same time my friend made it known he had a crush on me. This was before I became the LGBTQ advocate that I am now.
My friend had moved on because he had messed up financially and I had spurned his advances. I put my stuff in storage: computers, books from college, clothes, pots pans. At that point, I still had my green card and D.C. ID.
Those feelings of the first day of homelessness I wish on nobody. I’d rather be boiled in hot, scalding water and cut my toes and fingers off. It was the darkest and most scary moment in my whole life.
I knew nothing of case management, drug programs, housing lists. I didn’t know where to eat or to bathe, nothing. I was a foreign alien in a climate of great hostility post-9/11.
Despite all this, the real nightmare did not start until I lost my green card and my D.C. ID at a Chuck Brown concert, stolen by the locals while I was watching the show.
I ended up at the Gales School shelter — which has since been renovated and is now operated by Central Union Mission — it was my first experience of homelessness in a foreign land.
A few months later, the shelter became synonymous with the snipers, John Allen Muhammad and his buddy Malvo, who terrorized the D.C. metro area that fall, killing at least 10 people, and were spotted at the shelter.
After the Gales School shelter, I found my way to Second and D, the blue and beige checked shelter in Judiciary Square. And one day, a gentleman that I had met at our old place on Pennsylvania Ave. SE came looking for me there. His father was the biggest recycle carrier on the East Coast. And my acquaintance said, “Look, Moyo, I’m going to be taking a day off. I want you to fill in for me.”
He was on the Green Bandit and that’s how I got on the truck. How I lost my passport, birth certificate, university credentials, and my British-American teaching certificates is for a different part of the series. It still causes me extreme emotional distress. Thankfully, I did not lose my memories or my mind.
To be continued. In the next installment, I’ll be looking at how we were mistaken for intruders one day when picking up boxes at Veterans Affairs and thinking back to my early years in Africa, when my mother caught a hunter about to cook our pet monkey in a pot of pepper stew.