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.

Odd Jobs #4

As I drove through the Hague with my mother today we passed a stately white building in the city’s diplomatic neighborhood that brought back memories of the time I had spent there as a receptionist.udink.jpg

I can’t even really recall how long I worked there all together, but I think it was just for a couple of months during two consecutive summer holidays and after that every now and then when they needed someone extra. It was a law office specialized in corporate law with, if I recall correctly, about ten lawyers and half a dozen secretaries.

My work consisted of making coffee for clients, ordering flowers for special occasions, sorting the incoming and outgoing mail and transferring phone calls. I think figuring out how the phone worked was the most complicated part of the whole job. It was great. I got a lot of studying done there, and they were fine with that as long as the few tasks I had were done correctly.

And yes, even here there were lessons to be learned.hierarchy Pyramid law.png

  • Marble entry halls are pretty but they are also cold and echoey
  • I kind of like making fancy coffee with good Italian espresso machines
  • Flowers are actually very expensive
  • So is (good) wine
  • Neither flowers nor wine are gifts that make me particularly happy.
  • Receptionists are invisible to some people
  • Lawyers are (often) full of themselves and cling to ideas of status and hierarchy to extremes that are almost funny. To me. Not to them. Never to them. Nooo.
  • All though I had to come to this same conclusion again later on in life, I had already found out during this job that I don’t enjoy having to dress “professionally”.
  • I could still pull it off though.
  • The Hague is a pretty interesting town

Nothing life changing, as you can see, but it’s still part of my life’s path, so might as well share!

Smother my spirit in privilege

A thing I have been struggling with lately is a term that has been around for years now and that I thought I understood. It’s something I have written essays about during my studies and even blogged about in a roundabout way. Looking back at all that now, I’m not sure I ever really truly checked myself properly or if I understood the full scope of it. I’m talking about white privilege.

yin-yang white-black.jpg
Perfectly in balance…

It’s been following me around all week.

I feel like such a fool to admit this but it hit me only recently that I’m not just someone on the outside looking in on a situation of inequality and racism in a distant country. I’m right there with everyone else and I can no longer say my hands are completely clean.

This does not mean I actively did wrong. I can even say that there is nothing I could or should have done differently. The only thing that was missing all this time was intent and true consciousness. So what changed? Well, a few things happened:

One of mfinger one.jpgy co-workers is adopted. Despite the fact that she is Dutch to the core, she mentioned she ALWAYS get stared at. Everywhere she goes, she gets looks. Not negatively per se, just sort of subconscious stares from people, lost in their own thoughts about her different skin color and appearance. I was surprised by this and told her I couldn’t imagine why people would do that and was sorry she felt uncomfortable at times because of this. And then it hit me and I felt like an idiot…. because I am most likely one of those staring people too…

fingers two.jpgThe other day I saw Law and Disorder in Philadelphia, an episode in the documentary series by Louis Theroux. One moment that especially moved me was the part where they apprehended a nineteen year old kid, running from the police. He was slammed to the floor by the police and mocked for saying he ran because he was afraid; and no, the fact that they yelled they were police didn’t make it less scary. They hardly gave him the opportunity to explain himself and had no sympathy whatsoever for his ordeal. He was black and walking down the street in a notorious neighborhood, therefore he was a drug dealer, a liar and a thug.

Watching white people assume only the worst about people of color makes me feel awful. Yes, I know about the statistics and how crime numbers seem to prove their higher tendency to choose the wrong path, but I can’t help but wonder about the chicken and the egg and all that… Philadelphia is a long way from home though, and it’s quite easy to turn a blind eye to the situation there or at least convince myself that it has nothing to do with me.

fingers three.jpgMy eyes are open now… Especially since, last Thursday, when I read an article by Arjen van Veelen, announcing the release of the translated version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the world. His book, written as a letter to his 14 year old son, is:

[…] a tribute to James Baldwin, who wrote The Fire Next Time about the same topic to his teenage nephew. At the same time it is a refinement in book form of “the talk”, being the conversation that black [parents] have with their children about how to behave while being stopped by the police. Coates expands the talk with the question: how do you live in a body that inspires fear in others but also experiences fear itself?

Despite our own police brutality incident in The Hague a while ago, people at the bottom of Dutch society are faced with a less imminent threat to their lives than in, say, Ferguson. Arjen van Veelen reminds us that this does not make Coates’ book any less relevant for us Dutchies to read, as we have so much more to lose.

Van Veelen describes how our prime minister became terribly upset over the riots in the Hague and showed his support for the small businessmen who’s shops had been looted. He displayed more grief for those broken windows and lost revenues than for the man who had died in police custody days earlier.

It’s precisely this deafness for the pain of the people at the bottom of the food chain that causes these festering wounds. According to Van Veelen there have been many explicit warnings from Cassandras in all shapes and sizes about the situation in The Hague, even specifically warning for a Ferguson-like situation with tired police officers with short fuses and dangerous biases.

The deafness is systemic. The people that, like Coates, were critical of the system and spoke of institutional racism have long been seen as too radical.
[…]
There is a certain eagerness to speak about racism as long as it is about the past or about America. […] Oh yes, sometimes another opinion is given a small space in the paper, but it is hardly generous – it’s the Dutch stinginess; one cookie and then close the cookie jar, you’ve had your turn. This mono-culture had physical consequences, like what we have seen the Hague. Broken windows are the opinion piece you get when the mayor and the newspaper are incapable of listening.

As an advice to Coates, who may  be visiting our country in the following months, van Veelen says:

Less people die in the Netherlands, so there is no need to fear for your life. Here, only your mind is smothered.

Come on over, mr Coates and give us some spiritual CPR!

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This blog actually started out as part of my previous blog, but it kind of got out of hand so I decided to split it in two and give my white privilege a blog of its own. I do realize it is quite a heavy topic and scrolling through my blogs of late, I see it is becoming harder to digest as a whole.

I hereby promise the next 5 blogs I write will be shorter, easier to read and lighter on the morality scale. 🙂

Next stop: piano music

Classical music is something I never totally learned to appreciate. I can’t put the right composer with the right tune and know very little about instruments. Besides the fact that it just wasn’t really included in my upbringing, it requires a certain amount of patience that I just don’t seem to have.

Every now and then when I’m making a long journey by car I may switch past a classical music station and linger for a couple of minutes, especially if it’s a hectic part of the route and the tune is chilled out. Even though I do enjoy these moments, in the end I always switch back to more mainstream channels.

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A phenomenon that has slowly been creeping into public spaces in Holland (and I’m sure elsewhere as well) are pianos. They are popping up on trainstations and I must admit I absolutely love it!

It’s really interesting to sit and watch what happens around these pianos. Not just for the musical moments that spontaneously erupt but it’s also really fascinating from a behavioral / anthropological / psychological point of view.

People stop and sit down within hearing distance, but without getting too close. Are they avoiding contact or are they merely choosing a careful approach, to not startle the musician? I can imagine the person playing must feel very self-conscious anyhow, displaying their skills in such a public space. And then after the first person has given it a try, and has played some small melody, more people often follow. It’s really all very interesting to watch. These areas become bubbles of peace in rush hour chaos.

In the Hague it is often an extra treat as the players sometimes turn out to be very talented musicians, as the academy of music is situated nearby. I made a couple of videos of dudes playing pianos there in the last couple of weeks but to my own frustration the format of the videos on my phone are not  being accepted by wordpress…. I hope to convert them later on, but luckily I did find a video of the exact piano on the Hague Central I walk past every day with a perfect illustration of what I mean:

As you see, they are all sorts of people and it just really changes the mood of the place. Isn’t it wonderful?

And somewhat related is this youtube video I’d like to share, that stole my heart a couple of years back:

And then there is the homeless guy that went viral a while back with his rendition of “Come sail away”  by Styx.

So I guess, even a classical music knucklehead as myself can learn to appreciate the genre this way. I applaud the talent of those brave enough to change the mood of such a hectic space. I thank them for this and realize now that I should show them my appreciation next time they stop me in my tracks with their nutritional music.

And I guess I owe some governmental organization a big thank you as well, for making this possible and providing our public spaces with these pianos. Bedankt!

What a difference a morning makes

Any one who has been to Holland knows it is a very organized country. Maybe even over-organized. Both the Dutch weather and landscape are quite predictable, as is our infrastructure. Every thing really works quite well all though you would never believe it if you heard my fellow countrymen complaining about the train delays every day.

In some countries they wouldn’t bother to put out an announcement about a delay unless it is several hours overdue. In Holland we organize our days up to the minute which means a 5 minute delay is a big deal.

Den Haag zonesMy job is located right in between two train stations, being The Hague Central and the Hague Holland Spoor. This means I have the luxury of being able to choose which route I take to work each morning and no delay ever really affects my plans for the day. All though I love the variety I always end up regretting it when I decide to start up my day by getting out at the central station. I’ll tell you why.

In the map provided above you can see the two stations marked in red and the area that I work in marked in green. If I choose to walk from the central station I walk through an area with a lot of high government buildings and offices. This is roughly the area marked in yellow. The shops and lunchrooms on these blocks are well adjusted to the many men and women in fancy suits that come buy for a quick coffee or more elaborate lunchmeeting. Wifi and superfoods all around…

People tend to be in a hurry here, and tight deadlines make for short fuses, I guess. When the train pulls in, people squeeze to the door and start pressing on the “open” button even before the train has come to a full stop. When the door opens the rush begins, in quite an unapologetic way. They push their way to the public-transport-check-out-scanners in a survival-of-the-fittest kind of way and then click clack click clack their shiny shoes onwards towards their desks. I imagine their is a picture of their children there to remind themselves why they do this every day and some sort of inspirational card on eye-level as motivation.

I am not often in a hurry. On the one side that is because I always get up quite early and on the other side it is because my job doesn’t require me to be in at a very specific time. I also just don’t enjoy the feeling and try to avoid it as much as possible. If fate makes it so that on some morning I end up arriving at Den Haag Centraal station it is what I consider to a bad start of my day, because even though I am not in a hurry myself, the frantic atmosphere there does get to me.

It’s hard to explain how the sound of someone walking can spike someone else’s stress levels. I don’t see the person behind me. I don’t know where they are going or anything else about them. Just the sound of high heels in this determined, short-interval kind of way makes me want to turn around and slap them…. or trip them… or maybe give them a massage and help them relax. It varies. 😉

And there’s not just that one person behind me. They’re all over the place! Some are already getting their caffeine fix (and maybe a muffin) at their favorite coffee house. Some are smoking one last cig before entering the office building. Some are on bikes or even skateboards. And in that little moment in time I am one of them. One of the tiny little insignificant ants pouring out of the ant-hill that is the station. Following the flow. Walking, going, clicking, clacking. No eye contact allowed.

And then there is the other station; Den Haag Holland Spoor, on the other side of the city center. This side of town is more of a residential area (the blue areas in the map above) and some might even consider it to be a bad neighborhood (all though it’s definitely much better than it used to be). It is an area where a lot of immigrants live and the shops and restaurants illustrate this as well. People don’t rush here. They give you their blessings when you sneeze. There might even be some eye contact and an apology when you bump into someone. Either that, or you could get stabbed… at least that’s what people tell me… But I’m hoping that only happens to people with karma issues.

As soon as I walk out of this station and cross the street I am pretty much the only person walking there. The Turkish baker is already open as are the fruit and vegetable stalls. The hair dressers (for all types of hair) are usually still closed when I walk by but the occasional one might be open for the early cabbies or what not.

Sometimes I walk past the mosque where some activity might be taking place depending on the day of the week or time of year. Then I walk through China town where smells, colors and alphabet change again. Everything is still closed. The only shoes you hear are mine. I can also choose to walk another route that takes me past a park and an urban garden area. The last part takes me past the red light district where it is always surprisingly busy…

And then I arrive at work; completely chilled out but very much awake.