Black Pete & Frisians

As I mentioned in the final sentence of my previous post, I have some pent up frustrations on the matter of Black Pete and the way my fellow countrymen are handling the debate.

And as if finding a common ground with the “regular” Dutch wasn’t complicated enough, the Frisians decided to put in their two cents as well. 

Black Pete & the Frisians

It all started last year (2017) when Sinterklaas’ arrival (de intocht van Sinterklaas) was celebrated in Dokkum.

Dokkum is a city in the northern province of Friesland. Friesland also happens to be the province that I was born in and where I lived during my high school years.

Friesland and I have bit of a complicated relationship. Don’t get me wrong; I love Friesland. I love its rural nature and its endless skies. I love the merciless winds and the darkness of the nights (if you want to see an amazing abundance of stars, go to Northern Friesland). 

“Rural” and “merciless” are words that not only apply to the landscape but also to its people. Additional terms to charecterize Frisians would be “blunt” and “stubborn as F**K”. 

Now, those last two are descriptions foreigners might use to describe the Dutch in general. But the Frisians really take it to a different level and I am quickly running out of patience for their harmful humor and narrow minds.

Also, the pride with which they carry themselves and their bullshit arguments infuriates me to no extent. Relevant for this story is also the fact that they identify themselves as “Frisians” first and “Dutch” second. The rest of the Dutch population is refered to as “Hollanders”, with which they mostly mean the people from the big city areas in North and South Holland (i.e. The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam).

But back to the intocht… 

In the build-up to the intocht in Dokkum, a peaceful protest was announced by an organization called “Kick out Zwarte Piet” (KOZP). It was approved by local officials and would take place in Dokkum but not directly on the route of the Sinterklaas procession. 

Frisians however, were having none of this “political correct nonsense from Holland” and decided to take matters into their own hands. Social media groups exploded, resulting in a large group of knuckle heads (soccer hooligans and mudrace fanatics) getting in their cars and stopping the buses on the highway (you know, to “protect the kids at the celebration”).

The Frisian rioters got out of their cars (I repeat, this all took place on a highway, where speeds up to 120 kms per hour are allowed), waving flags (mostly the Frisian one, not the Dutch one), middle fingers up and baseball bats in hand (ok, maybe not with baseball bats)…

Highway blockade in 2017, stopping Black Pete demonstrators from reaching Dokkum.

Black Pete & Jenny Douwes

As the preparations for Sinterklaas’ 2018 arrival began (this year in the less polemic city, Zaanstad), the Dutch judicial system also just happened to be rounding up the court case against the “Blokkeer Friezen” (Blockade Frisians), which is how media refers to last year’s highway hooligans. 

Quite a poor timing, if you ask me, as it meant that Frisian opinions were once again making headlines.

A woman called Jenny Douwes was particularly vocal in all of this, as she was apparently the initiator of several Facebook groups aimed at mobilizing like minded people. She was also present on the highway and has made her appearance at several talk shows on TV and Radio since then (with such infuriating results that I can’t quite get into that right now, as my computer might end up flying through the window). 

[correction dd 23-11-2018: I have now learned she was actually NOT present on the highway during the blockade]

As you can imagine, Jenny Douwes has no regrets. Any person that felt threatened during the spontaneous highway blockade is either overreacting or creating a false version of events to demonize her and her rightful cause. Jenny Douwes has a charming farmergirl accent and a pretty smile.

In the days before the Blockade Frisians’ trial, social media blew up with declarations of support for her and her cause. Crowdfunding campaigns were initiated to fund her legal battle and within no time, thousands of euros had been collected. 

Jenny Douwes waves to the crowd, with two of her most classy co-protestors

Last week, Jenny Douwes and her partners in crime were sentenced to several hundred hours of community service, which is basically a slap on the wrist (and way too lenient as far as I’m concerned). Her followers are furious (because of course,) and have started a petition to not only free her of all charges, but to reward her with a medal of honor (or rather a “ribbon”, which is something our King awards to people who have done something exceptional).

Jenny Douwes has now become a national symbol of determination and a protector of Dutch culture. And Dutch culture needs to be protected from islamic influences and politically correct Hollanders who would rather cancel Sinterklaas than insult a minority. If KOZP and the Hollanders get their way there is only one way this can end, which is obviously the implementation of Sharia law in the Netherlands. 

(sorry if the paragraph above is a bit heavy on the sarcasm scale)

The true extent of the support these anti-anti-Black-Pete activists have only become clear to me in recent weeks and it makes my heart ache.

All my childhood friends, all of their parents, my neighbors, my teachers; they all applaud the blockade. To be honest, I haven’t even really dared ask my own parents about it…

If there were such a thing as a Frisian nationality and passport, I would hand it in today.

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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.

Irak 2009 (237)

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.

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…

Trainsitting

I’m heading North.

That sounds dramatic, for some reason. Maybe because that’s what Latin Americans say when they’re fed up with their lives and decide to take their chances and go up North. To the US, that is.

That’s not where I’m going. I am going up North though. The North of Holland. That’s where my folks live and I haven’t visited for a while.

I’m in the train and was just looking out of the window… listening to music… daydreaming… thinking about when I would have time to post my Saturday blog…

How about now? Now is good. About what though? How about I just describe what I see? Sounds like you’re choosing the easy way out again, Epi Bee! Ah shucks, but it’s all I can come up with! And the alternative would be not writing at all… Enough with the internal dialogue already!

So yes, I’m in the train. These are some of the things I see around me:

image

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I’m in Heerenveen now.

image

As a Frisian born country girl, the soccer / football club from this town is the one I support in the Dutch premier League. There is one other soccer club from Friesland, Cambuur, but that’s kind of complicated and now that I come to think of it, that’s actually a really good idea for a blog of its own… But not today…

[UPDATE: wrote the blog, see here]

By the way, the bead bracelet on my backpack, in the pic above, means a lot to me. One of the artisans I worked with during my internship in Ecuador gave it to me. Another good idea for a blog!

The sun is hanging low. So beautiful… Want to take a pic but it would mean I have to pretty much stick my phone in someone else’s face… So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’m almost at my final stop.

So I’ll leave it at this for today. Kind of meager, I know. But at least I didn’t play hookie.

See you tomorrow!