Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Letter from our own correspondent - Bluefield

Bluefield is a border town - a mere mile inside of West Virginia. I had looked forward to seeing it because 'Bluefield' is such a romantic name. Also, West Virginia advertises itself as 'wild and wonderful', so there must be something in that.

Sadly, however, there was not much beauty or romance in Bluefield. When you first enter the town from the south, it is all neat homes and manicured lawns and white people taking their evening walks around. It's neat and comfortable, but so over-designed and heartless.

Then, if you go towards the downtown, all of a sudden there are only black people, and the buildings are mostly boarded up. I know this is a reality even where I live, but entering an unexplored American town and seeing the same pattern is just so sad. I can't believe we allow ourselves to live in this way.

The downtown itself was not nice at all. It is full of small buildings, like these:'

And large buildings, like these:

But most of them, even the large buildings, look as though nothing is happening in them. They still carry the signs of their former industry: a bakery here, antiques once sold there. Someone has taken the time to hang flower baskets up, though:

The only thing that still seemed in business were the banks. Alright, then. That, and maybe the churches.

The downtown is perched on a hill that overlooks a steep valley. If you descend all the way, you get to a trainyard! It's got like 15 train tracks in parallel, but the Amtrak does not stop here. It's just the important freight trains ferrying their important freight. If anyone still does not understand the importance of freight and the freight trains, please watch this (15 minutes, 15 seconds in):

When we were there, a long train carrying coal was on standby. It had so many cars we couldn't see the end behind the bend. The locomotive was directly beneath  us where we stood on an entirely unsteady wood plank bridge over the valley, and tried to catch the attention of the train engineer.

It's not just us who were interested in the trains, because the hill above us was all full of what would once have been large, fancy houses, expertly built to best take in the view of the trainyard. Sadly, these homes now look as though no one has touched the faded, white frilly curtains on the windows in years. Maybe once, it meant you were a special part of society to afford a large house on the hill overlooking the valley, right next to downtown. We went around some of these houses. In one place, the road before us dropped off so sharply we couldn't even see the road, and afraid that we possibly had come to a precipice, we turned back.

Two more landmarks come to mind: one was a particularly large, brick building that took up an entire block on its own. It looked like it might once have been a boarding school maybe. Just beneath the rooftop were two frescoes: one of a man and one of a woman. They both looked knowledgeable and nurturing. That's what put me in mind of a school.

And the other landmark is the Bluefield State College. It is on the other side of the train tracks, perched on a hill. It's a small cluster of buildings, two of which are large brick blocks with window shutters painted in awful clashing ugly colors. But the hill on which they sit is all covered with long grassy strands peopled in white flowers; and they have a very pretty sign at the entrance; and behind the college runs a small lush green country road. And all around are the mountains, if you can see them past the glaring scars of the dusty town.

And the last thing I'll mention is not a landmark at all, but just the ugly highway that comes out from downtown. Block after block of ugly colors in all their forms - the garish red of MacDonald's and Burger King and the false symmetry of Long John Silver's and the eyes of the KFC grandfather presiding over this ugliness and unhealth as no grandfather ever should. 

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