98118: An Afternoon in the Most Diverse Zip Code in the U.S.

by Crooked Trails co-founder Tammy Leland

I jump into my car and twenty minutes later I am at the Othello Public Market on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd and Othello in the Rainier Valley of Seattle.  It is a gorgeous, sunny day and as I pull into the parking lot, smells of fried chicken, fajitas and hot dogs stream through my open window.  A Somalian women dressed in her day-to-day guntiino (a long stretch of cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist) greets me and offers me chicken and rice and a colorful Latino women asks if I would like a hair cut.   I kindly refuse as my son and I slip inside the indoor market.

The Othello Public Market is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the cultural and economic development of micro-business owners who have immigrated to Seattle from all over the world.  I am searching for an African market that I heard exists in the 98118 zip code and although I don’t think this is it, I know I have stepped into something wonderfully interesting.

Once inside, the sights, sounds and smells bring a rush of memories of many a market I have visited around the world.  A small dark skinned boy emerges from the piles of clothes and begins playing ball with my son.  They run off in a fit of laughter joined by 2-3 other small children who are playing while their parents work.  I immediately spot a beautiful, beaded bracelet made in Guatemala.   Sold!  I can’t resist.  The market consists of everything from Chinese thigh high boots, Mexican piñatas, local produce, hot food, live chickens, a creamery, jewelry to cell phones. So far, 35 of 100 spaces have been filled and founder, Mateo Monda, hopes that once the market is at 50 percent capacity, the rest of the slots will fill more quickly.

With time to spare before the heading to Columbia City in 98118 , we go visit the Kubota Garden, a small oasis that blends Japanese garden concepts with native Northwest plants tucked between the freeway and MLK. The Kubota Gardens were acquired by the city, which is an historic landmark, in 1987 from the estate of master landscaper Fujitaro Kubota. Kubota was a horticultural pioneer when he began merging Japanese design techniques with North American materials in his display garden in 1927.  For kids, it’s a great adventure.  We wind down through twisty, turning trails, full of granite boulders, a cedar grove, a bridge over a fish pond, coming upon a sudden waterfall and encountering a group of baby rabbits.  The park attracts a diverse group of visitors from the neighborhood who also have come to stroll along the paths and take photos of their families.

Feeling hungry, we cruise to downtown Columbia City and pop into Tutta Bella for pizza.  The salads and pizza are fantastic but the big hit was the decadent, chocolate gelato.  It is nearing 7 o’clock and the streets are now packed with  music lovers who have come to walk the streets and listen to jazz, blues and world music at venues throughout the neighborhood for Beatwalk, which happens every 2nd Friday of the month between May and September.

Would you like to step into another world, right here in your backyard? Join Crooked Trails on a very special travel program to the 98118 zip code this fall!

SAVE THE DATE: Saturday, September 24, 2011
A full day of cultural immersion, exchange and exploration in Seattle’s 98118, the nation’s most diverse zip code

This is SURE to be a very popular program; online registration is now open!

Photo credit: Kids at Kubota Garden from Seattle Municipal Archives

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