Psychological home run/run home

pondering CH.gifMy daily routine has been pretty routine lately and it’s really been bothering me that this is also reflecting in my blog. I’m afraid I may be following Discovery Channel’s trend, broadcasting more and more uninteresting zombie-fodder and less thought-provoking, self-exploring opinion pieces.

The other day, though, I finally found myself staring into space, probably looking kinda dumb but feeling pretty darn philosophical. How nice it was to have those wheels turning again!

This pensive mood emerged after I re-watched an interview with a Belgian writer, Griet op de Beeck, of whom I had never heard but was captivated by from the first moment she started speaking. (Thanks again Zeef, for recommending it (and for the readers who understand Dutch here is the link to the interview in question).)

The interview is from a Dutch show called Zomergasten in which the interviewer and the guest sit at a simple table in a large room, decorated according to the wishes of the guest. Griet chose to emphasize the beauty of decay and set the stage for an evening of pretty deep psychological reflection.

Griet zomergasten.jpg

Besides setting the mood by decorating the stage, the guest also gets to choose about a dozen film fragments that are shown throughout the interview (which lasts for about three hours). The interview can therefore be partially steered by the guest and Griet seemed to have thought this all through very well.

Agrietopdebeeck.jpgll though the interview contained many many moments that blogs should be dedicated to, I decided to  focus on one specific storyline. I only sort of decided up to what extent I actually agree with Griet in the process of writing this though, so forgive me it’s not completely coherent…

You see, one of the videos that Griet had requested, was about a young boy, aged nine, who had been forced to return to Kosovo after his family’s request for asylum was denied. The whole process had taken six years. Six years in which the kid (let’s call him Vasili, I can’t recall what his name really was atm) and his sister had learnt to speak Flemish fluently, in which they had made friends and had built the foundations of who they now were.

Kosovo-565x424.jpgVasili broke into tears when he was asked to explain why he wasn’t enjoying life in Kosovo thus far. Griet felt this boy was scarred for life by the trauma of being ripped away from everything that felt safe and familiar to him. She emphasized the need for professional help and that he may otherwise never overcome this. She expressed her anger towards the deportation policies that Belgium, and pretty much every other European country for that matter (with the exception of Germany perhaps), were executing. She blamed them for ruining the life of this young boy and thousands of others who were being forced to leave.

And all though I feel Griet underestimates the resilience of a child’s mind here, it did bring back some memories of my own…

I was forced to move at the age of twelve myself and was angry and sad and yes, maybe traumatized for quite some time. By “forced” I mean, my parents decided it for me. There were no politics involved (all though people that know my parents and their marriage may beg to defer). There was no government decree hanging over our heads, nor had the country we were heading back to ever formed a threat to our existence. Even more so, the country I was leaving was a struggling development country and the one I was heading to was wealthy, clean and full of opportunities. So yes, the comparison is crooked in many ways, but I do feel I can relate to Vasili’s fate up to some degree…

At some point Vasili says something along the lines of “the kids are kind of crazy here”. A line I probably said in my first months back in Holland as well. All though, in all honesty, I remember being much less polite and using much unfriendlier adjectives to describe my new classmates. I could hardly handle their stupidity (they hadn’t seen a mountain in their LIFE and only spoke ONE language, and I probably even spoke that one better than they did as well…)

flying-dream21.jpgIn the absence of a time machine I made it my mission in life to see the Andes again ASAP and I did so every time I closed my eyes. It was the age in which internet was just barely emerging and even though my dad was quick to bring it into our home most of the people I missed so much did not have access to it yet or I had not been able to find them. I wrote notes to myself to remember the things I was afraid I would forget. I rode my bike around my former hometown in my daydreams and drew mental maps of the area in the process. I forced myself to speak Spanish to myself and grew extremely anxious when I couldn’t remember a certain word.

Even after puberty stopped throwing fuel on my anger it took me many years to be at peace with where I was. It took a while, but I am now not only aware but also willing to admit that this is a good place to be, economically, politically and socially. I am also well aware of the fact that this is an after thought that kids like Vasili won’t always be able to fall back on in their new home countries.

So what would I say to Vasili?

I would tell him he is allowed to feel angry and that venting is good. If this involves screaming and slamming doors at first, that’s fine. Putting his feelings into words at some point is crucial though, even if there is nothing more to say than “This sucks”.

I would also tell him that it will get better.

homerun.jpgSomething I may not tell him right now but that I would want him to know later on in life is that at some point he will have to move on.

And if he manages to shake off that feeling of victimhood, his burden may become a strength. The curveball that was thrown at him as a kid could be smashed out of the stadium later on in life.

A home run, if not in the literal sense than surely figuratively speaking…

Flexing for charity

A charity get together I saw today on someone’s Facebook got my all bothered, despite its good intentions. The event that was being promoted was called “Pop up yoga for the refugees”… and that’s when my inner cynic took over the wheel.

By the way, have you watched the new animation film, Inside Out? I can hardly think about my feelings anymore without envisioning some little colored creature hopping around in my head’s control center.

Anyhow, I am trying to figure out what exactly bothers me so much about this. I think it’s a combination of things.

It’s because it is an activity that was born in the far east, that has now been appropriated by western hipsters. The fact that it is something I associate with well off health freaks, constantly on the edge of a burnout, plays a roll as well. It has a lot to do with the feelings I expressed in my blog on mindfulness, about a month ago.

It’s the fact that yoga, constructive as it may be in some people’s lives, is an activity I would categorize as a hobby. It’s not a basic need one can’t live without and I can just imagine it must seem so utterly futile to the people this yoga-charity aims to support.

think-positive-1It also leans on my anti-prayer sentiment, in the sense that I think they might actually think they are doing the world a favor by thinking happy thoughts…And I hate how cynical this makes me sound because I am really such an optimistic person and I honestly make a point of cheering on positive thinkers and shooing away the pessimists, but in this case I don’t seem to be able to do that…

And for some reason the fact that they named it “pop up yoga” just gives me itchy feelings all over… Haven’t really figured that one out yet, though…

mood happyI must admit I often give people who dislike my nasty opinions the finger (but I promise I do that purely in my mind, never actually in their faces), but in this case I don’t even really like me for disapproving of such a good initiative. Times are dire and there are way to many truly bitter and fearful haters and the open-minded-gang can use all the support they can get. So my conclusion is that I really want to back this idea up for the full 100%.

So, now that I have vented my self righteous ideas here, I can mellow the cynical fellow back down and guide him into the back of my mind, where he belongs, and hand the controller back to a better version of me.

Now if you would please excuse me, I believe I have a sun salutation to practice.

Insane asylum seeking

Last week I went to a meeting about language coaches for refugees in Leiden, the town I live in. I heard that in the month of August between 70 and 80 refugees received their residence permit and were assigned a home here. This is the same amount that was granted a new home in the first 6 months of 2014.

inburgeringscursusThis rise in numbers is partially because there are more people arriving and partially because the asylum process has been streamlined so that more requests can be evaluated in a smaller amount of time. Each person that receives a residence permit must do a so called “inburgerings cursus” which boils down to a course that helps someone become a Dutch citizen. This involves a language course as well as lessons about our culture and customs. At the end of this course, every person must take (and pass) an exam.

Each new resident must attend language classes once a week and is assigned a language coach to practice with for about an hour a week on top of that. A language coach is always a volunteer that does this beside their regular job. It is therefore most common for a language coach to be assigned just one person. You can imagine that if in one month there are more than seventy new people starting their citizenship education, there is a great need for more language coaches.

During the meeting I went to last week there were about 15 new candidates. Their motives varied from wanting to do something practical to compensate for their very theoretical study at the university, to expanding their CV with something different. Some had already worked in schools and wished to find a new challenge in the education of foreigners. Others were just lonely and wished to get back in touch with society and remember what it felt like to be needed (this last part is my own interpretation).

I was quite surprised that besides me there was only one other person that said they were sick of watching the news and feeling helpless. I don’t say this to humblebrag, I promise. I have a genuine feeling of urgency to do something but with no clue about where to start. I for one am sick of feeling so powerless. Also it is just starting to feel wrong to voice my opinion about something that I only know about through the colored stories of the media. It’s time to see it for myself and to know that no matter what side I choose I will be able to look myself in the eye at the end of it.

refugee-word-cloud

But I must admit I do feel torn. Just the other day I started deleting “friends” from Facebook that have voiced opinions that I find discriminatory or unbalanced, to say the least. I am sure there are still some rotten apples in my list as not everyone voices their opinions on the web. One of the people I deleted is a girl I used to babysit. She is in her twenties now and has recently gotten married. She posted a video of refugees showing someone around the camp they were staying in, pleading for better conditions. She commented something along the lines of: “What did you expect, a five star hotel? If you don’t like it, go back home, you ungrateful a**holes!”. The fact that these people’s home may very well be reduced to rubble, went unnoticed to her.

I deleted her immediately, especially after I noticed she had re-posted it from a page that sympathizes with our very own, well known and homegrown right hand populist; Geert Wilders. It did stick with me for a while though… Especially since I did kind of agree with her… These worked up men were pointing at everything that was supposedly wrong with their conditions and showing the camera how muddy it was and how few toilets there were but in reality, it wasn’t all that bad… Sure, the weather was shitty, but who can you blame for that? It was a temporary solution for an overwhelming situation that was absolutely better than nothing. Nobody was starving neither from hunger nor cold. I only dared admit this to myself after I had deleted her from my account.

[The video in question, which I had embedded in this post on right this spot is no longer online, but since I believe we’ve all seen and heard about these type of situations I decided not to replace it. | 29-08-2016]

These men… All men… So so agitated. And for what? I hate mobs like this. They scare me. Men stirring each other up in this aimless frenzy. Running around, pumping adrenaline through their veins and some crazy idea that they will get their way if they just push hard enough. They seek out confrontation hoping it will help their plight, if only they manage to show the world something shocking. It sickens me and I find it very difficult to find sympathy for these people. I know they do not represent the majority, but it is inevitable that some problems will arise with these new citizens. And what if they’re not satisfied with what we have to offer? How much are we willing to give in to accommodate them?

Anyhow, I am now on the list of volunteers of the local refugeework organisation. I will be attending some classes of my own before I get assigned a new resident of my town, most probably from Syria and help him or her in the next step of their long journey to become a European citizen. I can’t wait to find out more and report about my experiences both to myself as to you.

refugee travel song

My grandparents were brave people. In the second world war they decided the course this Hitler guy was steering Europe down, wouldn’t do. They were in no immediate threat but were fed up with the oppression and decided to flee the country. They bought a small boat, really not designed for open seas, and set sail to England. They joined the allied forces there and fought for the future of their country and the children they would bring into this world. I am grateful for the sacrifices they were willing to make and their courage to stand up for what they believed in.

I guess in modern times we would refer to my grandparents as refugees. I will be posting a more elaborate blog about the story of my grandparents soon, but for now I leave you with a song by Cuban singer, Celia Cruz, with lyrics that apply to the thoughts my grandparents must have had at the time, as much as they do to Celia’s feelings towards the country she left behind.

In case I don’t return, I take your flag with me
regretting that my eyes, now liberated, do not see you.

Why I had to leave anybody can understand.
I thought I would return to your soil any minute

But time keeps passing by and your sun keeps crying
Your chains remain strong and I keep waiting and praying to the sky

I always felt fortunate to have been born in your arms
And eventhough I am no longer there, I left you a part of my heart

Just in case, in case I don’t return

Soon the moment will arrive that the suffering will stop
Let’s not hold any grudges, oh my lord
so we can share our feelings together

Even though time has passed I have carried your name with me
with pride and dignity all across the world and I have told  them your truth

But my land, don’t suffer anymore; my heart, don’t go to pieces
There is no evil that can last a hundred years, nor can my body

And I never wanted to abandon you, I brought you with me in every step
And with me you will stay, my love, like a flower on my lap

Just in case, in case I don’t return

If in case I don’t return, the pain will kill me
And if I don’t return to my country, I will die with the pain

If in case I don’t return, the pain will kill me
My country, beautiful land, I love you so dearly.

If in case I don’t return, the pain will kill me
My heart aches without seeing her for so long

If i case I don’t return, when I die
I want my flag to be draped upon my tomb

If in case I don’t return, I hope they bury me with music
with music of my beloved lands