Some of my friends may regard me as a very open-minded and loving person, because I often share my home with friends and strangers from all over the world. Meeting everybody without prejudices is one my ambitions, but it requires continuous self-education…
One hot and humid Sunday evening in June of last year I was standing outside of the entrance door to the founding Scientology church in Washington DC.
– Shall I enter or not, I deliberated with myself.
Earlier that day I had scribbled the address of this place in my notebook without realizing that the abbreviation LRH House in the address stood for L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the scientology religion.
Now, unusual nervousness filled my body. What did I know about scientologists? Nothing positive. The only thoughts that came into my mind were stories of brainwashing, hypnotizing and robbing vulnerable victims of their savings. One story I suddenly remembered was about a young French man, who had starved to death, because he had given all his money to the Scientology Church and got some weird idea that he should just eat garlic to purify his body.
Maybe, I should at least send a text message to my husband, who is thousands of kilometers away. In that way he would now, where I last had contact with a cell tower.
Nonsense, calm down, I commanded myself. I have lived over 60 years and nobody has so far hypnotised or brainwashed me to do anything I don’t want to do. In any case, I was going to visit Renaissance Toastmasters, and if they happen to be scientologists at the same time, being a Toastmaster is a positive feature.
I pressed the door handle and went in.
The few people who had already arrived, welcomed me cordially. More people came and when they saw me, came to me and introduced themselves. The atmosphere was friendly and I relaxed.
The meeting started with the President welcoming us all. When we came to the unprepared speeches part of the meeting I was asked to talk about good vibes. This sent a ultra short shock through my brain. Weren’t “vibes” some essential teaching in Scientology, something that they measures with a special device, I was searching in my mind while looking at the smiling, expecting faces.
After an eternity of several seconds I started speaking about something I don’t have any memory of.
After the meeting, the curator of the house wanted to give me a tour in the part of the house where Ron Hubbard had lived. It taught me many new things about the founder of the church. He had been an adventurous man, travelled and worked around the world, and before founding the church, had written many adventure and science fiction books. All that awakened my curiosity, and I decided to read the Scientology bible at some point of time.
After 10 o’clock, I realised I better head back to my Airbnb which was far away. I did not want to walk the 20 minutes to the metro station and then sit in a train in Washington DC that late at night. Therefore I asked people who still were hanging around in the kitchen, whether anybody would be driving in the direction of the Union Station. One guy from Ethiopia, said he could drive me there. I went after my backpack in the meeting room and followed him to his car.
On the way we talked a lot about Ethiopia and Somalia, where I had been travelling 30 years before. Finally we arrived at the Union Station, I thanked him and went into the station to buy a snack.
In front of the kiosk, I opened my backpack and saw to my horror that my little handbag was not there. The handbag had all my valuables: passport, cell phone, credit cards, the key to my Airbnb as well as the phone number of my Airbnb host. My heart started racing and all kinds of chaotic thoughts filled my head.
There I was in a foreign, million people city almost at the middle of night in a state of panic. Had I forgotten the handbag in the Scientology house, in the Ethiopian man’s car or somewhere else. Had somebody stolen it?
– How could I get into my Airbnb at the second floor without a key?
In my exhaustion and panic, I just walked out of the station and started walking towards the Airbnb place. Or actually I was running, because the neighbourhood between the station and my Airbnb did not feel like a safe neighborhood.
– If I was murdered or died from exhaustion, nobody would know who I was without my identity papers, I thought, totally irrationally, as if it mattered in that situation.
Finally I arrived outside of my Airbnb. No lights indoors. The doorbell did not work. I sat down and just wanted to talk with my husband. He often has a calming effect on me and knows what to do. But I had no phone. Then I remembered that I had my laptop in the backpack. Maybe I could get to my host’s wireless net outside of the building. Yes I could.
I found the phone number to the Scientology house and called over Skype. The call went to voicemail. I left a message explaining the situation and asking that if somebody heard my message, I would be grateful if they sent me a Skype message and the Ethiopian man’s phonenumber.
Next I contacted my husband over Skype. He found the number to my Airbnb host. I called the host, who came to open the door together with her husband.
There we were, sitting in their living room in Washington DC in the middle of the night. The lovely Indian lady, who had to go to her dentist job early in the morning, tried to comfort me, even though I had also lost their house key. Then a Skype message came and I was talking over Skype with the curator of the Scientology house. He had already talked with the Ethiopian man, who had found my bag in his car and was already on his way back to downtown. He just needed the precise address.
Seldom have I been so happy to see my old handbag than that night. But loosing and finding my handbag was not the greatest experience that night. I was ashamed that I had thought the worst of some people just because they had some affiliation to a religious place I did not know much about. These people had cordially welcomed me to their meeting, shown me great hospitality and when I had forgotten my handbag, they had coordinated a recovery operation out of the ordinary in the middle of the night.
3 thoughts on “Free from prejudices – I?”
And that was another of Tarja’s stories, this one also delivered orally at the StorySlam in Flagstaff where it was one of Sunday afternoon’s highlights.
Thanks Isabelle, it is so good to get feedback.
I have a friend who’s a Scientologist, or maybe I should say, I had. I haven’t talked with him in a few years, and we have not seen each other for more than 30. However, back then, our conversations revolved around books, writing, going to a coffee shop or going to the movies. And we also talked about Scientology. I would also say that our conversations about Scientology were usually generated by me. I was curious, as I am now, about religion, philosophy, culture and other ways of thinking. Ultimately, he was a good person as well as a good friend.