I have a little rebel in me

John Oliver’s recent “last week tonight” episode reminded me of a blog idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. Let’s start with the clip that triggered this:

At the 7:07 mark, a man steps up to defend confederate statues by speaking about his family heritage at a community meeting in North Carolina. He says he always felt proud of his great grandfather’s involvement in the American civil war. His ancestor had stood up for his rights and was willing to fight and die for them. The man says it reminds him that he has “a little rebel” in him. You can tell he feels he is being robbed of this feeling now that the confederate statues are being shown in a different light.

As much as this makes me giggle, roll my eyes and shake my head, I do get it. Profoundly more so than I may care to admit, at first glance.

My own heritage is filled with adventurous globetrotters, standing for what they believed was right in the context of their time.

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My great grandfather, for example, was a preacher from the rural North of the Netherlands who travelled to the Dutch colonies (in current day Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century for what I imagine would’ve been missionary work. I know very little about him or what he did there exactly, but as a colonizing power, you can imagine we Dutchies do not have clean hands in every aspect.

I hope to be able to find out more about him and what he did, some day. I am proud to be a descendant of a man willing to venture into the unknown. I can only hope he did more good than bad for the people of Magelang.

The preacher had a son, my grandfather, who was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1915. All though I’m not sure about when exactly they returned to the Netherlands, I do know my grandfather was attending University  in the Dutch city of Delft, when  the Second World War was at its peak.

I can imagine his international upbringing made him more conscious of global issues and the miles he must have made at sea as a child traveling from Indonesia to the Netherlands, would have tempered his fear of open water. So, when faced with a possible Nazi labor deployment, he decided to flee the country by boat with two companions and his Belarussian wife, who refused to leave his side. Across the North Sea, in England, they joined our queen and the allied forces to fight fascism across the globe.

Foto+van+de+Dag++vaarkrant+2As I wrote a few years ago after my own tribute to their voyage, the so called “Engelandvaarders“, or England sailers, are an important part of Dutch WWII history and even have their own museum in the seaside town of Noordwijk to commemorate them. So yes, I am proud to be able to call myself a descendant of theirs.

At the same time, I know my grandparents chose to join the KNIL, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a military division that is not without controversy. As with my great grandfather’s deeds and position, I do not know the details of my grandparents’ role here (yet). What I do know is that following World War II, “the KNIL was used in two large military campaigns in 1947 and 1948 to re-establish Dutch control of Indonesia. The KNIL and its Ambonese auxiliaries have been accused of committing war crimes during this “police action”.”

So yes, still proud… but very conscious of the fact that the reality they were facing and that facts they were presented with at the time, must have made them feel the cause they were fighting for was a just one. If this is still the case today, now that we can zoom out and look at the end results, remains to be seen.

Next in line is my father, who was born in Indonesia in 1947 himself and has travelled the world during much of his life, doing development work in South America and the Middle East. How many people’s lives has he actually improved? How many people learnt how to fish themselves thanks to the projects he led and how many “merely” received a charity fish? How much money was wasted on corruption and how much was actually spent effectively? How many projects brought people what they really needed on the long term and how many were merely set up as short term tools in the Dutch political agenda?

So… I guess my point is, I am proud to say that I come from a lineage of adventurers and people wanting to make a difference in the world. If their cause or methods were always good, is up to debate. A debate I am willing to engage in.

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the old development worker

This post was first published in my political analysis corner, but after giving it some more thought I changed it around a bit, split the original blog in two and decided to bring the part about my dad over here, which seems more fitting…

As my father returns to Afghanistan for the so-many-eth time I can see he is tired. He is still doing the job he has done all his life; writing and evaluating development aid projects, always returning with the conclusion that it wasn’t enough; that human greed sabotaged progress once again and that people at the bottom of the food chain have stopped believing they will ever be better off.

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I got angry with him a couple of months ago, when he rambled on and on about everything that was wrong with mankind, about how all that is good and beautiful in the world is being broken down and trampled on. It takes him several weeks to come down from that cynical cloud each time he returns, which gives us very little time to actually enjoy his company before he heads out again to burden his soul and thoughts with the weight of the world.

It reminded me of when my great aunt, aged 95, lost her son and declared she no longer believed in god, if this was how he treated her and the people she loved. I felt I needed to guide her back to her faith as if this would somehow restore the balance in the world. She was the believer and I the non-believer and that is how it was meant to be.

In the case of my father, he was the one fighting for more funds for development aid and voting on the political parties that most fanatically promoted the re-distribution of wealth, whereas I stood somewhere slightly left of center, being skeptical and calling for a more inclusive system but with a critical eye on unnecessary handouts. I criticized NGO’s and their old fashioned post-colonial attitude of bringing aid and knowledge to the “poor unknowing souls in the third world”. I called my dad paternalistic and labelled him old school. He called me naive and unrealistic.

But now it seems my dad has lost his faith in the sector he has worked in for almost fifty years and that he can’t seem to let go of (or it of him). More than anything he has lost his faith in the Middle East and Afghanistan most of all. He gets so very bitter when he speaks of the endless violence, the politicians sabotaging productive decision making and the corruption that runs through every single institution. I think it is the shamelessness that accompanies it that hurts him most of all.

DSC_0175.JPGOn the one side I wish he would just retire and spend the rest of his days walking through his garden, talking to the cat and taking pictures of butterflies. On the other hand I know it would be the death of him as he is addicted to the feeling of being needed and making a difference.

Even if at the end of the day he feels hardly any progress was made on the issue at hand, he needs to give it his full 100% and maybe a little more. It’s what we love about him and at the same time it is what makes him such a difficult person to be around.

So I guess it’s up to us, the people who know him, to pick out the positive traits he has and give them new life in our thoughts and actions. Perhaps it will even help him during those moments of bitterness that will undoubtedly bubble up from time to time.

Mission Impossible – Cocoa protocol

choco protocol

Have you every heard of the Harkin-Engel protocol before? It is often referred to as the cocoa protocol. Never heard of it? Me either, even though it involves the world’s favorite snack: chocolate.

This protocol is “an international agreement aimed at ending the worst forms of child labor and forced labor in the production of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate”, according to wikipedia. The two initiators of this agreement were Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel. The protocol was signed in September 2001.

choco childlabour

In 2004 investigative journalist from the Dutch TV program “Keuringsdienst van Waarde” found out that non of the major chocolate producers were complying with the rules formulated in the agreement. As they themselves were regular chocolate consumers, they feared they might be contributing to the problem. One of the journalists, Teun van de Keuken, then ate one more chocolate bar and then turned himself in, confessing he was a knowing accessory to child slavery.

The indictment was not accepted by the court of law after which they appealed to a higher court to reconsider. This drew great media attention to their case and re-opened the discussion about slavery and especially the exploitation of children in the cacao sector. In the end, Teun van de Keuken was not convicted due to lack of evidence.

This was not the end of it though… Teun realized he couldn’t beat them, so decided he should join them instead. So that’s what he did. He started his own brand of chocolate, guaranteed to be slavery-free, and named it Tony’s Chocolonely.

Ofcourse they were sued by other chocolate companies stating they couldn’t guarantee their chocolate was 100% child labor free either. In 2007 a Dutch judge decided in favor of Tony’s Chocolonely and stated they had demonstrated sufficiently they their chocolate was indeed being produced without slavery or child labor playing a role.

And the best part is that Tony’s chocolate bars are really tasty! They started out with only milk and dark varieties but have expanded their selection in recent years, now including:

The classics:

  • melk (milk)
  • puur (dark)
  • melk hazelnoot (milk hazelnut)
  • melk noga (milk nougat)
  • melk caramel zeezout (milk caramel sea salt)

The exclusives:

  • melk coffee crunch (milk coffee crunch)
  • puur meringue kers (dark meringue cherry)
  • puur sinaasappel rozemarijn (dark orange rosemary)

Special editions:

  • melk pecan marshmallow (no translation needed)
  • melk rabarber crumble  (milk rubarb crumble)

The ones that are written in chocolate are the ones I have already tried. My favorite is the one with caramel and sea salt. I actually just opened a bar of milk pecan coco, which is a special edition from a previous month and it’s pretty darn good. Not as coconutty as I would’ve thought, but real nice. And guilt free! 😀