Farmers know their shit

My very first stereo was bought with the money I earned during a summer’s work on a potato farm. I must have been 13 or 14 years old.

I loved farm life and took great interest in everything that went on there. I learned about how to recognize specific diseases and pests. I learned about rules and regulations. I moved to “the west”, as urban Netherlands is often referred to, but still returned in the summer to spend some time on the big harvesting machines.

I went abroad and learned about methods and challenges for farmers in the tropics and ended up writing my thesis on agrarian reform in Bolivia. The farmers I worked for back home were thrilled to hear about what I had seen.

I still love farm life, but I don’t think I love it in the same way that I used to. I am not without critique and I don’t think all farmers approve of my slight change of heart. Where my allegiance lies exactly has become relevant again, now that farmers have been making headlines in the Netherlands.

As I mentioned in my most recent mind cleanup blog, October was the month that Dutch farmers stormed the political capital, the Hague, to protest new laws meant to lower the emission of certain harmful gasses, in particular nitrogen and phosphate.

Farmers feel they are being unfairly constricted in their work, while other sectors (such as the air travel industry) are not suffering the same limitations, despite being equally harmful.

Their demand for respect did not go unnoticed, as thousands and thousands of tractors from all over the country made their way to the Hague. Many were underway for more than a day (which in our tiny country is hard to imagine). As more and more gathered, traffic suffered the inevitable consequences, bringing parts of the country to an absolute standstill. They managed to catch our attention like few protests in recent years have.

As has often been the case when facing complex topics in recent years, our country was very much divided on this matter. Supporters of the farmer protests were the most visible (and audible).

A lot of the signs and banners that adorned the protesters’ tractors were related to a demand for respect and recognition for farmers’ role as the ones that produce the food we put on our plates every day.

This conservative urge to protect and preserve what we have, was fueled by a modern day fear that societies seem to be experiencing that we are losing our identity.

The fact that farmers were protesting measures to protect the environment was clearly leaving sustainability freaks a bit confused. After all, of all our nation’s professions, shouldn’t farmers be the ones to care about this the most?

Environmentalists emphasized that it was right wing politics that should be protested. In their eyes, it is precisely the conservative and liberal parties that ignore the real threats to rural life, being climate change and the wealth gap.

Left wingers concluded that people were being misled and were now angry on the basis of misinformation. This is obviously not a very easy point to make when farmers are already complaining about not being taken seriously.

Also, a lot of people just thought the sight of all the heavy agrarian machinery on the highways was pretty funny/cool. It had a bit of a festival parade feel to it and a lot of Dutch people can’t help but applaud for spectacles, no matter what the idea behind it is.

An increasingly common experience these days is that when one specific topic is being protested, deep down it is actually about something else.

In this case, the protest wasn’t solely about the new law. It was actually about rural Netherlands feeling disrespected, disregarded and misunderstood by the media, urban hipsters and big city lawmakers. The fact that leftist city dwellers based their arguments on the idea that farmers simply didn’t know the facts, didn’t help.

In the days after the protest there were some who said they felt this type of protest was actually not as charming as was being portrayed. After the massive protest on the first of October and a second one two weeks later, the big tractors started to feel as an unfair advantage during protests and quite a threatening one when combined with anger.

All though all these contrasts are not new, they are definitely sharper than before. So here I am wondering once again where my position is in all of this.

How much of my criticism is really just a leftover from puberty making me oppose anything that reminds me of my roots? The degree that I let my annoyance build up to is quite unnecessary and unproductive, but I guess it is also quite telling. At the same time, I refuse to believe it’s just pure and unbridled juvenile defiance that fuels my -eeummm- disappointment…

If I dig really deep down into the crypts of my thoughts-and-feelings-storage I guess I can say I do feel resentment towards the people “back home”. There was very little room for being different and me-at-my-most-normal never really managed to fit in the average mold.

And I guess moving to the city made me realize my attempts at being normal were really just holding me back from being abnormally awesome.

So every time I recognize a pinch of that smothering conservatism in anybody’s rhetoric I guess I can’t help but call BS…

But yeah, farmers really do produce the food we put on our plates and they really do know their shit.

Literally.

Beware of the Chinaman (and his money)!

argument shadowsThe other day I had a disagreement with one of my best friends, let’s refer to her as Annie, that lasted no more than ten minutes but has been bothering me ever since. I’m not sure if it’s fair to play the Frisian card, but after digesting my annoyance with her for a couple of days I am tended to do just that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Friesland. I spent the greatest part of my teen years there and am always happy to go back. However, it is also a very unforgiving place. Not only is the wide emptiness of its landscape overwhelming to city slickers, but it’s harshness can also be felt in its people.

The blow up
I’m sure this disagreement I had with Annie will sound incredibly silly to many of you and you wouldn’t even be wrong. But bare with me, I’ll lift it to a more abstract level further on that might (or might not) make it sound less petty. If you’re not in the mood to read about a childish disagreement between two grown women, skip ahead to the analysis, down by the Snoopy cartoon. I totally would. 😉

Anyway, it started out with us chatting about soccer, and SC Heerenveen more specifically. They haven’t been doing so well lately and on top of that the club’s board of directors is struggling with internal conflicts and childish name calling.

While I was chatting with Annie one of the members of the board, Mr Hettinga, resigned. In his announcement he said his position had been put up for discussion and he felt there was no longer enough support for him to be able to stay on. He also described threats he had received in recent days but he felt the final straw break the camel’s when angry “fans” had come to express their anger at his home and threatened his family.

I must admit, Annie is way more into the daily hustle and bustle of the club and often has more inside information than I do. She told me he was ruining the club and that if he had had his way there would have been no more Heerenveen. She said his resignation only demonstrated he had no true heart for the club and that his complaints about his safety reaffirmed he was self centered and a coward on top of that . My reaction was, “What the hell were supporters doing at his house!?”.

So how had he been damaging the club? Was he stealing money? Was he involved in some gambling scam? Was he selling off our best players with no profit for the club?

No, the issue was that he had dared speak to a Chinese company, who had shown interest in investing in the club…

Annie sent me the links of several newspaper articles to back her story up, but the more she showed me, the more I disagreed with her.

argument disagree rightI told her I was mostly disappointed in the fact that heerenveen fans were starting to behave like hooligans and that that was more damaging for the club than a guy discussing the possibilities for foreign investors.

She told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and that if Hettinga would have had his way there would have ended Heerenveen. She didn’t say “Heerenveen as we know it”. She was literally convinced the club would be wiped off the face of the planet…

I expressed my doubts about this. I told her that ruining the club was not in the interest of an investor. They want profit. I reminded her Heerenveen, like so many soccer clubs, had been struggling financially. Even though we may not like to see it that way the club is actually a business and if an investor offers to pump money into it, you would be irresponsible to NOT consider it.

When she noticed I didn’t share her hatred for mr Hettinga nor her fear for the Chinese, she made a quick attempt to change the subject. However, I wasn’t ready to let it go just yet.

And that’s when she exploded. She let all the sarcastic bile out of the bag and said something along the lines of “I guess you don’t care about the club anyway so why don’t you just hand in your membership card straight away and request a Cambuur membership card”. To understand how serious this remark is, you may want to read back the blog I wrote about the rivalry between these two clubs.

In short she was calling me a traitor…

Her reaction was so strong that it startled me. At the same time it made me giggle because it was so bloody ridiculous! I asked her, jokingly, if I should barricade my house now that I had dared disagree with her and her beloved newspaper (notorious for its crappy journalism, but I didn’t tell her that). She said maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea and might give some of those hooligans a call. We both laughed, but with clenched teeth…argument snoopy

Analysis
So…. What was this really about and why did I feel the urge to write about it here? After thinking on it for a while I decided you can boil it down to one word:

Xenophobia.

Such an ugly trait. Narrow minded and based on fear.

My friend Annie and I were raised very differently and we get along both despite and because of our differences. She is a farmer’s daughter and was the first one in her direct family to get on a plane. Her family were only OK with it because it was with me, and I understood the world. We have traveled long and far together, which is why it pains me to see I have not been able to rid her of this ridiculous fear of the unknown.

I have compared Frisians to hobbits before and I think the comparison still fits in this context. I believe it was Bilbo who wrote to his nephew:

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Frisians have a similar attitude towards traveling. It’s mostly something you hear about from those black sheep in the family that dared wander beyond the border, where you can no longer see the town’s church tower. It’s endearing, in a way. But when it translates to wariness and mistrust of all things foreign, it becomes not only annoying but also dangerous. It makes a community close up like a clam or a fearful hedgehog with its spikes all out.

It impedes them from seeing beauty in new places. And even if they saw it, half of them would never dare admit it. It gives me a nasty taste in my mouth to think that my great friend can not overcome such pettiness and I guess I am disappointed I didn’t influence her as much as I thought I did.

And at the same time… It’s what I love about her. She’s strong willed and unapolagetic and I’m pretty sure next time we meet we’ll give each other a punch and a hug and continue on as we always did, because as the Chinese say:

Chinese proverb friends 1

Thirty kms down the road

In last Saturday’s blog I briefly mentioned the rivalry between the soccer team from Leeuwarden, which is Cambuur and the team from Heerenveen, which is SC Heerenveen. I also mentioned it’s kind of complicated, but I’m going to try to explain it the best I can.

Background information
To understand some of the animosity between these two teams, you need to understand Friesland a bit. And don’t worry if you don’t totally get it, most Dutch people struggle with this province as well.

Friesland is a rural province. You know the famous Dutch cows? They’re from here. See a big black strong looking horse in a movie? It’s probably a Frisian.

People here tend to be slightly conservative. They have their own language and anthem (and this last thing is particularly important for this story) and get quite touchy about its status. Other Dutchies like making fun of them and can get to them quite easily just by calling Frisian a “dialect” instead of a language. Quite a large minority still walks on wooden shoes.

boer-op-klompenI hope you’re starting to get the picture here. They’re farmers; if not for real than surely in spirit. They’re simple people with small vocabularies, not particularly fond of strangers. Tractors are cool. A meal is not a meal without potatoes. Yes, kind of like hobbits, except the landscape is completely flat.

Heerenveen
Heerenveen is a town just barely more than a village. In the rest of the country it’s mainly known for its sport related activities. The have a sports Academy and lots of facilities for top sporters to train. The ice skating stadium here is loved by everyone with a heart for speed skating thanks to the amazing atmosphere and surprisingly good conditions for a low altitude track.

Frisianness shows its charming sides here. People are proud of their background and show this by wearing embarrassing home knitted sweaters with the Frisian flag on it. Sportmatches here are family events, where everyone knows eachother in a jiffy, if they didn’t already and Frisians and “Hollanders” mingle quite harmoniously.

Before every SC Heerenveen match, the Frisian anthem is played and sung loudly by all.

Leeuwarden
Leeuwarden is the capital of Friesland. It’s also a small town but with big city aspirations/pretensions. People from Leeuwarden don’t particularly like to be described as Frisians. Don’t ask me why, it’s beyond me, because they’re pretty much the same. Ok, maybe they don’t walk on wooden shoes, I’ll give them that…

Leeuwarders consider themselves to be open minded (they really aren’t). Sure, there’s a bigger chance a L’warder will attempt to speak some English when encountering a foreigner, but it’ll still be a pretty cold welcome, imho…

Anyhow, there’s a soccer club here in a neighborhood called Cambuur. The story goes that factory workers came to Friesland for some reason (to process milk? Really, no clue), and that they settled down in this neighborhood.

I’m not sure about what era this would have taken place or if any of this is true but what I do know is that Cambuur soccer club was founded and it’s fanbase ended up having an anti-frisian sentiment

SC Heerenveen and I

I was introduced to SC Heerenveen by one of my best friends. Her uncle worked at the stadium and knew most of the players on the team quite well. He would get tickets for the matches all the time and when his own kids couldn’t go, we would be invited. I have fond memories of these matches and my friend and I became die hard fans in the end, more than the rest of the family.

We started going to away games as much as to the ones at the home stadium and made new friends in the process. There was always an easy going atmosphere, with funny chants being invented on the spot without ever getting truly harmful or insulting to anyone (OK, maybe towards the referee once or twice) and always in good fun.

Our biggest and realest rival was FC Groningen, from the neighboring province, that had “Pride of the North” as their slogan. Obviously, we didn’t agree. The match against them was the match of the year and no matter what happened during the rest of the season, this one needed to be won in order for it to be an OK year. We would steal each others flags or decorate each other’s cars / buses in the rival’s colors and things like that. FC Groningen supporters were actually quite comparable to SC Heerenveen fans, in hindsight. A lot of ugly words, gestures and chants did go back and forth during these “Derbies of the North” but it was really all quite innocent.

Heerenveen and Cambuur

This is how it went for years, until Cambuur got promoted into the Dutch premier league after years of absence. This changed the whole ball game, literally. Cambuur doesn’t have fans, it has hooligans. Dads don’t take their kids to these games like they do in Heerenveen (and Groningen), let alone their wives and mothers. They’re all punks. For real.

Their presence in the premier league didn’t only change the game, it changed traffic too, as statements through bumper-stickers, caused middle fingers to be raised by complete strangers while waiting at a traffic light. My friend even had a guy make a throat slitting gesture to her once, just because she had a Heerenveen shawl in her car… It was weird.

To make matters worse, the current coach of Heerenveen used to be Cambuur’s coach. When the announcement was made he received threats and Cambuurders vowed they would block all roads to make sure he wouldn’t be able to leave town. Even now, some years later, it is a very delicate matter that drives the Cambuur camp into a blind rage from time to time.

The animosity is such that Leeuwarders / Cambuurders refuse to sing the anthem of Friesland as they consider it to be the anthem of Heerenveen, as it has always been sung at Heerenveen games. They even avoid the word Heerenveen all together and refer to the city and the club as DKV, which stands for Dertig Kilometer Verderop. This translates to: Thirty kilometers down the road… All I can do is roll my eyes and hope we beat them this season.

The first meeting will be on the 1st of November and the return game is on the 31st of January. All though I will not be wearing my shawl in public that day out of fear for my life from these yellow-blue lunatics, I will be crossing my fingers all the way…