Bits of Updates

Although I like to think that every small event in a day holds tremendous significance in the bigger picture of a person’s life, there are some smaller events that just don’t warrant their own blog posts. So for these smaller occasions, I have decided to lump them together as bits of an update.

My Birthday. Today is my birthday! Okay, maybe this should be more than a bit of an update. But since it’s my birthday in a new city, I don’t have too much to report, other than the fact that I’ve technically entered another year. And that feels great. It also happens to be Queen Beatrix’s birthday. She and I have more in common than she realizes.

Exploring Amsterdam and beyond. My mom and her husband met me in Amsterdam on the day I arrived. They were troopers, walking with me through all parts of the city as I tried to get my bearings and shop for essentials. We walked through the touristy areas of central amsterdam, the southern canal belt, and oost (my neighborhood). We explored Vondelpark, while socializing with plenty of happy Dutch dogs. We took a canal cruise through the city, and a bus trip down to Rotterdam, the Hague, and Delft. We walked through plenty of markets, including Dappermarkt, which is my favorite because it’s just a couple of blocks away from my apartment. We visited some great museums, including Van Gogh and Tropenmusem (tropics museum). And we ate in all types of restaurants, ranging from Ethiopian and Tibetan to falafel and frites with mayo.

Sadly, in spite of my efforts to convince them to move here, they left on Saturday morning. The weekend felt instantly lonelier.

Immigration status. I had a bit of a snafu with my immigration paperwork. The University claims they sent me an email back in December. But I never responded to it because they never sent it. Since I didn’t respond, they stopped working on my application. As a result, I haven’t been able to move quickly on opening a bank account. And everything else that requires a bank account to begin has been on hold. But no fear, I have been able to set an appointment for this week, at which time I should get all of my official numbers and things of that nature. I know I’m legit. And soon the Netherlands will know this as well.

Apartment makeover. The apartment has been painted some lovely colors, including an orangey-red in the bedroom, a golden-yellow wall in the kitchen, and sage with a dark green accent in the living room. In addition, the wonderful paint team also aggressively cleaned all of the wood in the apartment. With a smoker previously living here, the walls were horribly stained and everything was stinky. Now it all looks so fresh and so clean. I hope to have my stuff shipped relatively soon, arriving by March. With the walls looking so nice, I just need some furniture between them to make it feel like home.

The same contractor who managed the paint and cleaning will return this week to begin working on my garden. Clearing out all of the crap, filling-in and painting the fence, and turning the little pond into a fountain are the plans. It should be a great blank slate. I will work on the rest. I’m going to get a gardening for dummies book. There is always room for a new skill.

Starting school. Today/Monday/my birthday is the big day. I have an orientation for the graduate program, as well as an orientation for my language course. This will be my first chance to get a good sense of what my program is all about, as well as assess my peers. It feels like my first day of grade school. But in addition to meeting new people and trying to appear intelligent, I need to navigate the city under more pressure than I have had to so far. Over the course of the day, I will be in several buildings throughout the city. I’ve studied the map. I think I’m ready.

This won’t be my first orientation day. Last week I participated in the international students orientation. We were split into groups of about 10 or 15. I quickly realized I was one of two or three graduate students. The rest of the people in my group were undergrads, spending a semester of their junior year abroad. While this will certainly be a great experience for them, and I wish them the best of luck in everything they do, I didn’t want to spend an entire weekend with 19 year-olds. Our interests just aren’t the same. And I didn’t appreciate feeling like a Golden Girl so early on. I skipped out on the rest of that orientation.

Although I will share one priceless quote from a policeman who said a few words to the group of international students: “Never buy soft drugs off the street. Sometimes it’ll be fake. But most of the time, it’s just shit.”

Fulbright application. The good news is that I am now a finalist. There isn’t more I can say on this without feeling like I’m cursing myself with all types of bad luck. Let’s just say I’m really happy about this and everything else mentioned above.

A Walk through the Oost

I live in Amsterdam Oost, pronounced “oast,” meaning east. Before I arrived, I read a small amount about the area. From what I could make of it, there would be a few places to eat and maybe a museum or two. And since I would not be living in the heart of central Amsterdam, I gathered I would not make it into any of the cooler kid circles. But cool kids or not, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the Oost.

my block

My block is quiet. With the exception of a heavy-footed upstairs neighbor, I have yet to hear any noise at night. Yet, I’m quite close to pretty much everything I would need. Across the street there is a ‘Comfort Cafe,’ which, although I haven’t tried it yet, is exactly what I need to be across the street from me.  On the next block, a store exists for everything I can imagine needing, from the general grocery store, to a pet store, and then to a black hair products store.  At the end of that block, I’m at Dapperstraat, which hosts a market Monday-Saturday.  A couple of years ago, National Geographic voted it one of the top 10 markets in the world.  And it’s just about a block away.

shopping street (not busy on this day)

black women everywhere...sigh.

I walk another long block and I have arrived at NiNsee, an organization that I would pay money to work or volunteer or research or whatever for (I was so excited to stumble upon it).  Across the street is the entrance to Oosterpark.  Water, trees, birds, dogs, happy people.  My own personal park.  I’m in love.  After walking through the park, I discovered the Tropenmuseum (Tropics Museum).  Haven’t visited yet.  But it looks like a gem.

NiNsee Office

Oosterpark

in front of Tropenmuseum

In addition to these finds, there are a number of cafes, evening stores (read: bodega or corner store), and yes, even coffee shops.  I came home one night, ran out to the store for some water, went down the street for some herbal refreshments, and I was home again in less than five minutes.

neighbors

Again, I’m in love.  And it’s with the Oost.  Cool kids better recognize.

The Apartment’s Potential

My apartment is taking on a special pursuit – conversion from a ‘student’s two-room apartment’ to a ‘grown-up’s one-bedroom apartment.’ I’ve begun to drive myself crazy with all of the ideas for the makeover.

Before I even saw the place, the guy from the rental company told me to make myself comfortable by painting or doing what I wanted with it. They’ll be renovating all of the apartments in the next year or two. So it doesn’t really matter what I do with it.

With my creativity switch turned to “power,” I saw the place as a solid blank slate. A private entrance leads to a long hallway, which will be perfect for the ancestor wall of photos on one side, and the revolution wall of photos on the other. This hallway leads to the less than ideal tiny bathroom. But it’s all mine. And it has a sink, which the guy warned me it might not. A nice coat of paint, some shelves, and a shower curtain that stays up will suit my teeny bathroom nicely. I’ve already become more used to it without all of those things.

The next door is to the tiny bedroom. It will fit an adult-size bed, but not much else. And without one real closet, my brain has been spinning around the dilemma of storage. Where will everything go? The one closet that is full of shelves can function as a dresser if I add appropriately sized baskets. And maybe I can squeeze in a clothes rack somewhere. Not sure. But after some pretty paint in the red/orange family in there, I’m hoping the bedroom’s smallness issues will matter less.

master bedroom

 

Next is the kitchen, which is huge. A table, chairs, and a dance floor would all fit nicely. With one wall of a bright color in the gold/yellow family, along with some art, the kitchen could be one of my favorite rooms. There’s a connection for a washer & dryer (might I be so bold?). And the treadmill that I just couldn’t get rid of could go in one of the corners. Ambitious, maybe. But it’s my biggest space.

the kitchen

The kitchen has a door to my private garden, which, although it requires some love and attention, is so perfectly cute and much larger than I expected. It even has a little space for a fish pond. I picture it with a couple of chairs and an outdoor table, some of those outdoor lights, a little fountain in the pond, and a better defined fence to allow Zora to walk around freely. This is exactly the type of project that I would normally let slide, never actually getting around to doing one thing with it. But the vision is just too lovely for me to allow my laziness to overtake it.

pre-love garden

On the front end of the apartment, my living room faces the street. It’s a nice size, with a mock fireplace holding the gas heater. I see tons of potential for this room. With curtains replacing or covering the vertical blinds, the windows will look much better. A pale green paint, with a darker green over/under the mantle, will warmify the room. My large mirror, artwork, sofa, and an area rug will make it feel like a living space. In another corner, I plan to have one tall and one short bookcase, along with my tall table and 2 stool-type chairs. (This happens to be the corner in which I’m currently sleeping on the student-size single bed.). This corner has a window that looks into the kitchen. I’ll put some white lights around it, hopefully highlighting the complementing colors of the two rooms. It’ll be my own little cafe.

the living space

To prove to you that I’m serious, I’ve already spoken with a painter and negotiated a price with him. On Tuesday morning he and I will buy paint while his partner sets up. I’ve also requested new quotes for shipping my stuff from Brooklyn storage to here. While the painters work and my stuff makes the trip on a boat somehow, I’ll work on purchasing/making the things that will make it complete. I have no idea how long it will all take. But I imagine that within a month or two I will have a transformed place. Just in time for some guests to stay comfortably.

Settling In

Exhausted.

I tend to think the moving process is complete once the boxes have been placed in their new home and the movers have left. But just like any other move in the past, that is far from my current reality. I have so many things to do before I can begin to feel settled in the city and in my apartment.

Learning my way around has involved lots of walking, a bit of getting lost, and plenty of asking for help. I have collected about eight maps, guaranteeing that I will pull one out if I check in any given pocket. And I study them in bewilderment, trying to understand and remember the multi-syllabic street names as they all seem to twist, narrow, and intersect. And once I’ve determined either where I am or where I’m going, I look up to find no street sign, or perhaps there is one in the distance, posted on the side of a house in the smallest of fonts. But sure enough, I’m coming to know where to find Linnaeusstraat and how to get home from Dapperstraat, or even Overtoom, which requires two trams and a short walk.

Speaking of the trams, public transportation won’t be too bad. I’ve been on the metro, multiple trams, and at least one bus. Although the maps appeared useless at first, the system seems to be pretty straight forward. To help matters, they have a trip planner website (something like hopstop), which allows me to enter a “to” and “from” address and provides me with the recommended travel route. Considering my classes are all in very different locations, and I don’t yet have a bike, I will become quite acquainted with that website, as well as my fellow tram riders.

In addition to learning my way around, to really become comfortable, I have to establish myself with the basics. A phone, mobile or otherwise, is basic. A bank account is basic. And you can’t get more basic than food and water. I’m gradually getting there, with a temporary cell phone and some snacks and drinks in the fridge. But the lack of ease that seems to come with much of it is frustrating. The bank account, for example, can’t be opened without a visa number. I’ll need to either hear from my school on the status of my paperwork, or start the process over on my own by making an appointment at city hall. None of it can be done over the weekend. So regardless, I need to wait until Monday to inquire further. And, unfortunately, I need a bank account in order to purchase internet and cable. Although I don’t have a tv, which makes cable a lower priority, I feel like I’m shriveling inside without easy access to the internet. And with the internet, I’d be able to straighten out so many other basics with much less effort. But, alas, I’m immersed in a somewhat confusing cycle. And even if it only takes a few more days to resolve, my impatience makes it feel like it’s already been an eternity.

As for my apartment, it has a major lack of storage issue. And also a lack of furniture issue. It came equipped with a single bed, a large table, two chairs, and a bunch of junk in the kitchen that I don’t want (old glasses and silverware). I’ve made a few trips to stores that are close-by to gather some of the things that will make me comfortable but weren’t able to come with me from the States, like sheets, a pillow, cleaning supplies, and Zora’s litter box. And I’ve bought simple groceries – nothing requiring a pot, pan, large fridge or oven to prepare (yeah, there’s no oven and only a tiny fridge).

I’m adjusting to living with the basics. But let’s face it – I’m a grown-ass woman with a bad back. I want my queen-size bed with its memory foam. I want my sheets, and blankets, and artwork. I want my Cuisinart pots and pans. I want my plates and appliances. And I want my books. I can do as much shopping for practical little things here and there as I’d like it. But I’ve already faced the truth: waiting until the end of this semester to decide if I should have my stuff shipped over here won’t be necessary. I want my stuff now. My stuff will help a lot. Yeah, my stuff. That’s what I need. My stuff…

Regardless, with a tiny bed, a tiny fridge, a tiny bathroom, no bank account, and no internet, I couldn’t be happier. I’m so friggin’ happy…gradually settling in.

A Cat’s Moving Story

I adopted Zora in Oakland when she was about 5 years old. She had been in the shelter for a year and a half, going between their two sites hoping to find a home in either of them.

I found her by looking at profiles of the long-term animals on the SPCA’s website. They described her as the shelter cat, no longer focused on finding a home, but accepting that she may be a “lifer.” She now resided in the back and only occasionally stayed in the cages up front for display. Her primary job was to test out the temperament of new dogs to see how they would respond to a cat hissing at them. So she was constantly on the defense.

I went to the shelter and requested her by name. “You want to see Sweat Pea?” (her name at the time), he said somewhat in disbelief. Then with a sudden burst of excitement, he jumped up and said, “Oh! Let me get her for you!” Shortly after that, another woman joined him in his giddy excitement to introduce Sweat Pea to someone. They explained that I would need to come to the back to meet her.

She had a little bed that was perched on a dusty windowsill behind the metal shelves of food and supplies. Her food bowl and water were somewhere in the midst of the chaos, as was her litter box. Her home was the supply room. A long-hair domestic cat, with gigantic and bright green eyes, a thick coat of black, brown, and white hair, and a little bit of an attitude, she really was quite charming. I knew her name wouldn’t remain. I also knew she was coming with me.

With her name now Zora, she quickly became spoiled and happy with life in my Oakland apartment. But less than six months later, we moved to Brooklyn. The cross country flight was a big deal, forcing her to stay in her carrier for more than 10 hours. But it never crossed my mind that she wouldn’t come with me. So both she and I had to bear it (though I admit her burden to bear was much greater than mine).

Then, just a few years later, I was ready for another big move – only international this time. During the brief time in which I wasn’t too sure about which country I would move to, I researched animal immigration laws. With many countries requiring absurdly long quarantines or other challenging hoops to jump through, I understood why many people think such a move with an animal would be nearly impossible. But thankfully, the Netherlands has a pleasantly friendly animal immigration policy. As long as she had her shots and a microchip, she’d be good to go. They don’t quarantine animals here “on principle.” My kind of country.

I took her to the vet two times: first to get the shots in November, and then earlier this month to have her European Union passport/health certificate created. A few days before our departure I had to drive out to JFK to receive an official USDA stamp on her passport. Fortunately, Zora did not have to make that trip. Because just a few days later she was in a bag, on a plane, sitting under the seat in front of me, exhausted from having cried the entire way to the airport. She also pooped in her carrier three times during the drive, requiring me to change the padding multiple times before we even got on the plane. I worried she wasn’t ready to fly again.

But on the plane she settled down. As I watched my movies and enjoyed my tasty dinner, I checked on her every five minutes or so. She cried a few times. But then she started dozing off. As she accepted her fate, the entire process became much easier.

plane seat

 

Once we arrived in the Netherlands, they looked at her passport for about a minute, then told me to have a nice day. She didn’t even have to come out of her carrier to walk some sort of straight line test, which for some reason is what I imagined. There we both were, suddenly walking around the Netherlands…legally.

We stayed in a hotel the first few nights before moving into my apartment. Then with very little furniture and no heat in the apartment on the first night, Zora followed me around the place whining, seemingly chastising me for making yet another poor decision. But once she discovered the big windowsill in the kitchen that looks out onto our private garden, she began to purr and let the events of the last few days roll off her back. She was home. And hopefully she now understands that no matter where the next plane will take us, she’ll always be home with me.

window seat

It’s a long way from the Oakland SPCA, isn’t it?

Black Girl Officially Gone

That’s right. It’s official. I’m gone!

JFK to AMS

I arrived in Amsterdam early Sunday morning, before the sun rose. And after anticipating and talking about this arrival for so long, it felt surreal.

But first let me back up a bit.

Stored Stuff

Following my last day of work, I went into a more aggressive packing plan. Distinguishing between the stuff I would keep/take, keep/store, purge/donate, and purge/trash proved to be an incredible challenge. Every single item was suddenly important to me, even if I hadn’t seen much of these things in over three years. In the end, about 50 percent went to storage, 35 percent went in the trash or was given away, and 15 percent has come with me in three gigantic suitcases. All of these preparations were just barely in time for Friday, which was moving day. And just like every other moving day before it, it was long, painful, and exhausting. And yet again, I vowed never to do it again alone. Only this time I didn’t take the vow too seriously.

With everything packed away in an appropriate place, my cat and I drove to Jersey to stay with my sister for the night. I was so tired I was in a fog. Only a vague sense of excitement still lingered. I mostly just wanted to put my head on a pillow. So although this was my last night with my family and my last night in the country, I barely said goodnight before heading to bed. My cat, Zora, equally traumatized from the day’s events, passed out right alongside me.

And then came Saturday. The big day. Around the time when I was to head to the airport, Zora was nowhere to be found in my sister’s house. My nephews and I searched every room and crevice in a panic. About 15 minutes after I planned to leave, I felt a furry patch deep in the back of a dark closet. This fool had every intention of missing the flight. But I pulled her furry ass out of the closet, tossed her in her bag, and we were on our way.

The airport was smooth. After paying an unacceptable amount of money for extra luggage and Zora’s ticket, next thing I knew we were on the plane, making ourselves comfortable on the three seats we had to ourselves. Well, I had the seats. Zora was under the seat, poor thing (I’ll have to tell her story in a separate post – it’s that deep). I drank, I ate unexpectedly scrumptious veggie food, I watched the Social Network and Going the Distance, I joked with the flight attendant. It was a delightful flight. So delightful that I only got about 30 minutes of sleep.

Airplane Snacks

Arriving in Amsterdam around 7am, I was just about as exhausted as I was the night before – except this time I was working off a couple of those plane bottles of wine (oops). Immigration was easy, with barely a minute before the guy stamped my passport and sent me on my way. I met my mom and her husband in the baggage claim area. Shortly after that, we were on a shuttle, heading into the city of Amsterdam…my new home.

After more than a year of planning, overthinking, self-doubt, and anticipation, the moment has arrived. And unlike many prior anticlimatic moments of realized goals, this one was worth every minute of the past year. Every single minute.

I’ve been in Amsterdam for less than 48 hours. And much of it has been spent sleeping off the pain of the last couple of days. But so far it all seems to fit perfectly. The first day was sunny and relatively warm (somewhere in the 40s), the streets have been clean and quiet, the canals have been a welcome change of scenery, and the people have been incredibly kind.

I remind myself not to think of it as a utopia. Reality is sure to hit me one of these days. But what the hell? I can enjoy the fact that I made the right decision for awhile, right?

With that, I’ll leave you with the first Dutch word I spoke to a real live Dutch person…goedenavond!

Savings: Status Check

I figured a check-in on the savings account would make sense in light of my recent financial victimization. And fortunately, although my savings plan was disrespected and disregarded for much of the past few months, somehow I have managed to pull together a few dollars to inch up the bar on the grand total. With surgeries, moving expenses, cruel scams, and the desire to eat in restaurants competing against me, saving money certainly hasn’t been easy.

My preferred strategy has been to account for all of my expected expenses, then dump anything remaining from my paycheck into my savings account. A couple of times this has backfired.  Then I have a biweekly automatic deposit into savings. There’s also my bank’s “keep the change” feature, which rounds all of my debit card purchases up to the nearest dollar and adds that change to my savings. It’s not much. But every little bit helps.

Another piece of good news is I’m caught up on most of my expenses. So any money coming in right now goes to moving expenses and savings. I always expect a few surprises that will cost me money. But perhaps I actually have a chance to get at least halfway to my original goal.

Here’s the latest.