A journey’s end

Zora died on Saturday night. In spite of what looked like a speedy and impressive recovery from a brief and bitter battle with cancer, a sudden turn had the final say.

After staying with my friend for about three weeks, we were finally able to return to my apartment last week when the subletters moved out.  I was sure this would be exactly what Zora needed to complete her recovery.  Once she could sleep in her favorite spots and return to her routine, all normalcy and happiness would be restored.

But even though we were at home, she stopped eating her prescription food. Then she wouldn’t eat her favorite (pricier) food, even refusing her treats – which normally would be the only thing to get her to break into a jog.  So on Friday, her doctor ran some tests to reveal that her kidneys were the issue – or was it the strange thing they felt in her tummy? – or was it just an infection?  They wouldn’t be sure until Monday when her test results would be returned.  In the meantime, Zora and I were sent home with a bunch of needles and medicines that I would administer over the weekend.

But within a couple of hours of returning home, Zora was different.  She no longer seemed sick.  I could tell she was dying.

Her eyes became a bit glazed.  Alertly disoriented.  Barely blinking, she didn’t sleep for the entire night.  She stared into what seemed like another dimension.  And although she was still aware of me, she also seemed to become aware of something – someone else. She would look up, somewhat startled, as if looking at someone who entered the room.  I wondered if (or hoped) it could be my father – coming to greet her, take care of her for me.

Awake through the night, I was strangely calm.  I understood our time was ending.  I understood that the battle was lost.  I just wanted to treasure every remaining minute.

But it wasn’t until the following evening when I forced myself to let it end.  Knowing this would be the last time she would be at home, the last time she would look out of her favorite window, the last time I would place her in her travel bag, I closed the door behind me and we went to the emergency room.

They prolonged it with some more tests, poking her belly, taking blood and x-rays, and giving me some small percentage of hope that she could come back from where she was going.  But finally they told me what I already knew.

I held her in my arms.  Although she was still disoriented, she looked up at me with recognition.  She was tired. Very calm.

The doctor explained that she would receive two shots – a sedative, then the euthanasia.  As the sedative was given, she curled up to me, turning her face into my chest.  And she was gone before even the first shot was finished.  Perhaps she was relieved.  Warm and far too still in my arms, finally she was resting.

I was broken.  I am broken.

Now the burden of recovery is mine to bear.  Just as she was doing her best to adjust to losing a leg, figuring out how to navigate without being whole, I’m suddenly doing the same.  Eventually my tears will dry.   But right now my heart just aches.

Zora and I were together for almost six years (my longest relationship to date).  She made some major moves with me, remaining patient through (almost) every life change.  Jobs, friendships, and scenery have been different at every turn.  And I’ll admit that sometimes I haven’t felt at all stable – financially…well, yeah, or emotionally.  But Zora was my stability – my consistency.  In spite of our nomadic lifestyle, Zora and I had a feeling of home wherever we went together.  And when I traveled alone, including the recent sojourn to Suriname, Zora still represented home.

Some people may think these types of love and family relationships should be reserved for humans.  But no.  The love of an animal can be given and received quite deeply. And the pain of that love lost is just as deep.

Reaching the end of her journey, Zora decided I would be strong enough to handle the next steps of my journey on my own.  I’m not so sure I agree.  But I have no choice.

Rest in love, Zora.


Quiet return to Amsterdam

Some time has passed since I returned to Amsterdam.  And the dust is beginning to settle.  Or maybe it’s not dust and more a misty rain – not the weather you hoped for, but somehow still refreshing and welcome.

Before I left Suriname, I told some partial truths.  My emotional state (I only cried in front of a couple of people, don’t worry) and abrupt plans to leave required some explanation, of course.  But the actual explanation did not necessarily fit into Surinamese cultural norms.  A place where dogs never go inside and cats are mainly misunderstood street wanderers, Suriname was not as sympathetic to the needs of my ailing cat as you may have hoped or expected.

“You’re CAT?”  This was the reaction from the first two or three people to hear the true reason for my return to Amsterdam.  They had this way of emphasizing “CAT,” perhaps hoping I actually referred to my AUNT named Cat.  Or as if I had said, “I have to return to Amsterdam because my blankie got a tear.”

“Your BLANKIE?” – now that reaction I would understand.

But I didn’t appreciate the judgmental responses that implied my CAT was somehow less important than whatever I could accomplish during those remaining weeks in Suriname.  And though I may have been overly sensitive and took the reactions of people with genuinely poor hearing too personally, I decided my bleeding animal-lover heart should stand on guard.  So I  started telling others that a family member was gravely ill.  And I just needed to be in Amsterdam for her.  No one asked questions beyond that, for which I was thankful.  Because as I left it, I hadn’t lied.  I just, uhh, shaded.

And since I’ve been back, I’ve barely told anyone I’m here.  Not that it’s a secret.  It’s just easier if things remain quiet for a bit.  During this time when I was supposed to be in Suriname, accomplishing all types of magical, thesis-related research and writing, I have gone somewhat underground, off the grid, minding my own, re-grouping.  Living a comfortably homeless life until my apartment is available again (I was able to infringe on Zora’s accommodations when my lovely friend and her daughter were also willing to take me in), I have been going from the guest room to the library almost every day.  Rates of productivity may still waver.  But my focus has been brand new.  This quiet return has been good for me.

As for Zora, she’s not graceful yet.  But her recovery has been.  We’re both adjusting to her new circumstances.  And the future on 3 legs looks quite bright.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of the well-wishes that have been sent our way.  It’s helpful to know that not everyone thinks I’m a hot mess with a torn blankie and poor judgment.

As for my apartment, I move back in tomorrow.  And all I want to do is sleep in my bed for 23 hours.

As for Suriname, plenty of stories were lost in my poor time management and bad news shuffle over the last couple of months.  I just have so much more to say and do related to the subject.  And I will share, I will.  But for now, I’ve realized that the month I spent in Suriname blew some major doors off their hinges.  And the direction of this already complicated life path has shifted yet again.

As for this new path I’m on…I see sunshine ahead. Lots of it.


The unexpected

I’m sitting in a corner of the Miami airport.  And I just paid 8 bucks for internet access. It was worth it just to see Zora on skype for a few minutes.  But I can’t deny that paying so much for the internet feels like a violation of my human rights.  Maybe this is something Obama can deal with in his (optimistically presumed) second term – universal obamanet.

Anyway, I digress.

The point is that the last two weeks have been full of surprises.  And with every unexpected turn, I’m reminded that we have less control over matters than we hope we do.  Apparently plans are just for naïve chumps.  Or maybe they’re better seen as an outline of a preferred path.  But if we’re not willing to shift, adjust, or entirely scrap our plans when changed circumstances require, we lose.

Exactly a week ago, everything went according to plan.  My sister, my niece (the youngest of my sister’s brood), and I stood in my mother’s sister-in-law’s house – in Chicago – waiting to surprise my mother for her birthday.  We have lived in different cities for so long that she doesn’t expect to see us without months of advance planning.  I’m obviously all over the place – on some other continent, with little money and selfish priorities.  My sister is busy on the east coast, working nonstop, supporting her family, and raising her (abnormally attractive) children.  But this time, taking ownership of the unexpected, we decided it was time for our Mom to have her (lack of) birthday plans changed.   So when she saw us standing there, yelling “surprise!” in her face, she looked as if she was seeing ghosts with a family resemblance.  The moment was priceless.  And in an instant, we tossed her into a weekend (or a week, considering I stayed for much longer) of unexpected plans.  Once the initial shock wore off, which took about a day, she made our plans her own.

But as the Chicago surprise plans went off without a hitch, in the back of my mind I was dealing with some major unexpected events unraveling back in Amsterdam.  Backing up another 4 days, when I was still having one incredible and productive day in Suriname after another, outlined plans were finally going from blurry hopes and wishes to concrete next steps and partnerships.  But just overnight everything shifted – my focus and priorities included.

The morning after one of my best days in Suriname, I found out that Zora might be dying.  A healthy cat when I left Amsterdam (though the doctor wanted her to work on her abs), she was in good shape to stay with our friend while I hopped around the globe a bit more.  Well, certainly not as pleasant as a birthday surprise in Chicago, but cancer also gives no warning.  It just shows up – uninvited.  And rocks whatever plans you thought you had.  It took my Dad.  It took my grandmother.  It’s taken so many. And now it was threatening Zora.  I fucking hate cancer.

Zora’s unexpected health concerns immediately took priority.  She’s the only family I have in Amsterdam (people often ask: “do you have family here?”  And I almost always respond: “It’s me and my cat.”). So once I recovered from the panic, and the tears became less frequent (took the better part of a day), I had to make some decisions about where I needed to be and when.  The Chicago trip was days away, during which time Zora was having more tests and little could be done other than waiting.  So I decided to proceed with this trip.  Plus, when I found out Zora’s prognosis, I would be with my mother, which would be helpful.  But the day before leaving for Chicago, I went to the Suriname Airways office to change my Amsterdam return date.  And just like that, two months in Suriname would become one.  And this would just have to be okay.

As for Zora’s plans, she was expecting to have an easy couple of months without me all up in her face.  But when tests came back to confirm that her leg tumor was malignant and growing quickly, suddenly the only concern was saving her life.  The doctors did not want to waste any time.  And they certainly couldn’t wait for me to return to Amsterdam next week.  So yesterday, just like that, before the cancer could reach any other part of her body, they rushed to amputate her leg.

So here I am, in Miami, heading back for my final few days in Suriname.  Having just spoken to a healthy, alert, highly-medicated, three-legged Zora on skype (she’s staying with and being cared for by more than one dear friend in Amsterdam), I can finally breathe.  Unexpected events may have turned some things upside down. But just like we’ve adjusted to every shift, turn, and stumble in the past, Zora and I will adjust to her prolonged life on three legs.  And as my Mom said, Suriname will still be there when I’m ready to go back.

Thanks to all for the kind and well-wishes sent Zora’s way over the past week.  I hope she felt them.  I certainly did. I’ve also learned that Zora and I have a lot more family and love in Amsterdam than I realized.  I owe her life to my friends who have cared for her so well.

Faithfully complicated archives

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time with the team managing the archives of the Moravian church, also known as Evangelische Broeder Gemeente Suriname (E.B.G.S).  And this may be some evidence that differing belief systems need not stand in the way of best friendships.

The folks from the archives are working hard, providing a valuable service to the community.  They care about history and value its role, particularly in the lives of many Black Surinamese.  For those with ancestors who joined the Moravian church at some point in the generations since arriving in Suriname, the records can trace back quite far, making them a valuable and much-appreciated resource.   But none of us can deny that these records have some dirty roots.  And they’re associated with the German missionaries who had little or no perception of the humanity of their “saved” subjects.

My feelings about the church’s history are complicated.  Sure, they may have cosigned and perpetuated the enslavement of African people during the years of legal slavery, and maintained systems of mental slavery well after – such as through the marginalization, even criminalization, of traditional, African-influenced spiritual practices.  But those Christian missionaries kept some damn good notes.

EBGS Catalogue covering the area of Waterloo, Suriname, 1869-1890

Among enslaved converts, the records were copious.  Not only did they record the dates of baptisms and adopted Christian names, family relationships and physical descriptions were sometimes included.  For African people recently brought to Suriname, their ethnic group and area of origin were commonly recorded.   And they tracked pretty much every indiscretion of an individual that may have led to judgement or exclusion from the church.  For example, when someone attempted to escape from a plantation, the incident and the resulting punishment were recorded.  Or, every time a man (or woman) cheated on a committed partner, the occasion was written in the missionary’s notes, including names and the juicy details, in the better cases.  For although they accepted that enslaved couples could not marry legally, they expected the couples to live as close to Christian norms as the laws of Suriname would allow – like the 1 woman + 1 man rule.

So, assuming the notes are legible, and one speaks a fair amount of old German, missionary notes that pre-date the nineteenth century can provide some people with the information that so many of us just hope for.  A man who has adopted Christianity offers his African name and ethnic group of origin, along with the name of his committed, romantic partner, and his tendency to cheat with a woman from a neighboring plantation.  C’mon, that’s jackpot.

In the decades following legal slavery in Suriname, the church continued to maintain detailed records and track the lives of its followers.  And since families often stayed close-by, in the same areas for generations, they can be relatively easy to trace.  Details of births, baptisms, (now legal) marriages, and deaths can be found in these gigantic, stereotypical-looking, old books.  And because they’re frequently mentioned in comparison, I assume some of the other local churches, such as the Roman Catholics, maintain a similar level of abundance and detail in their records.  So, all things ugly still considered, I enthusiastically recommend church records to anyone who’s looking.

The notes are cold and matter-of-fact. They depict harsh realities and blurred perspectives of decency. And, most often, they turn my stomach.  But, if I could, I would read them like a Toni Morrison novel.

Please pray for Zora

Dear friends,

If you know me even just a little bit, you know that my cat, Zora, is the love of my life.  She means the world to me. And the only bad thing about being in Suriname for so long has been spending so much time away from her.

Well, the universe has dealt a blow that reminds me, once again, that when things are going well – moving in a positive direction – other forces may have plans that differ greatly.

Today I learned that my sweet Zora is very sick, with a vicious tumor on one of her legs. If test results come back favorably, the best we can hope for is that she will only have to lose that leg.  Otherwise, well, I’m not sure I’m prepared to think about the worst case scenario.  But I’m sure you can imagine.

I don’t often like to ask for help. But in this case, I’m not sure what else to do.  So if you’re reading this, I just ask that you pray, or chant, or call on your spirit guides (whatever your process entails) that Zora will be okay.  I think I can handle most things that are thrown my way.  But losing Zora right now just isn’t an option.

Thank you, friends.


Genealogy instruction leads to envy

First of all, I’m convinced that time in Suriname moves more quickly than it does in other parts of the world.  It’s impossible for me to believe or admit that I have already been here for more than three weeks.  I don’t know if it’s the busy schedule or the periodic naps/comas that I claim are sun-induced.  But whatever the cause, I’ve lost track of time.  The fact that I’ve met a ton of incredible people who have been invaluable resources for the projects I’m working on, and the fact that I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my surroundings (with the exception of some transportation woes)  may be the best and only evidence to prove to myself that I have, indeed, been here for more than a mere few days.

And today was no exception to my busy schedule.  It started with a 9 am workshop (to be honest, this hour and I had lost acquaintance when I was in Amsterdam) that I provided to several members of the Moravian church archives staff on the process of researching and building family trees.  I’ve been working with this group quite a bit recently.  They have tons of missionary archives that date back to the 17th century, many of which reveal unbelievable details about formerly enslaved Surinamese ancestors.  So not only are they a resource for my thesis research, they’ve also become a partner in a family history research project we’ll be launching next month for local young people.

The staff of the archives gets a growing number of requests each week, primarily from people in the Netherlands seeking information about their ancestors.  If these people know (or suspect) that their ancestors were members of the Moravian church, they send a note to the archives, requesting someone to comb through the books and any/everything related to the names they provide.  They are almost always heavy and challenging requests.  And charging no fee, this team always obliges – helping as many people as they possibly can.  One of the researchers walked me through her process.  And I’m just not sure their work is valued enough – particularly since the majority of the records are written in Gothic German.  (Say what?)  As a side note, today I witnessed one of the staff members having her Gothic German language lesson over skype with a woman in Germany. (Say who?)

Moravian Catalogs listing details about enslaved ancestors

So anyway, because we’re now best friends, when one of the leaders of the archives asked me to train his staff on how to create family trees, I was happy to share whatever insight he thought I had.  The reasoning is that, although the team is pulling the records and sharing them over email, they have not been included in anyone’s process of building a tree.  So the logistics of the process were unclear.

I created a little presentation about my process, focusing on my mother’s mother as an example family tree starting point.  I wrote down all of the many resources I could remember that have been helpful in my own research process.  And I mapped out a process that might be useful for others to remember when establishing the “building blocks” of a family tree.  I took the example from my grandmother through four additional generations.  In addition to my own tree, I threw in a few Suriname-specific sources that I know factor in to most research processes, such as Suriname’s 1921 census.

Yeah, so it was pretty brilliant.  And I think they were interested enough – at least enough to seem engaged and ask questions throughout.  But I’m not so sure it was helpful.  Here’s why: Suriname is way ahead of the U.S. in terms of available resources for family history researchers.  And my complicated, convoluted process seemed almost irrelevant as we talked through their options here.  For example, in the U.S., if we want to access the birth, death or marriage records of our ancestors, we first have to solve the mystery of what city/state to go to, which office in that city/state holds the records, how you make the request, if you even can make the request, and finally, how much it’s going to cost.  You can use some creative census and city directory information to find people.  But once you find one bit of new information, I’m pretty sure you’re also authorized for a private investigator’s license.

But in my training today, they asked, “why couldn’t you just go to your CBB?” The  Centraal Bureau voor Burgerzaken (Central Registration Office) is a one-stop shop for recent ancestor research.  Not sure of every detail about your great grandparents? Just go to the CBB, give them your information, and they can provide you with your family tree.  I hear it may take some days.  But still – they provide you with your family tree?  A central place where everyone registers – and your family can actually access the information? Imagine that.

And you might not even need the CBB.  Because in Suriname, every single family has what they call a “family book.” When children are born, parents receive a family book that lists the names and relevant details of the parents and grandparents.  So right there, the children have the starting point of a family tree.  And if you can access your grandmother’s family book, you’re golden.  Also in today’s training, one of the women pulled from her purse her mother’s family book.  Since her mother recently died, she holds it for sentimental reasons.  This means she also carries with her the names of her great grandparents – and something they may have also held themselves.  Practical and sentimental.

Now, the barriers of the research begin to resemble U.S. barriers once we reach the late 19th century, when records still weren’t kept consistently.  And, of course, slavery presents a frustrating challenge for any Black family researcher.  But even then, if an enslaved ancestor in Suriname fell in with some Christians, you might learn about him too – as well as that affair he had with the woman from that neighboring plantation.

So sure, it’s great to have a new perspective on approaches to this research in other countries.  But I felt a bit silly when describing how complicated and inaccessible information can be in the U.S.  And kinda jealous of the practical and sentimental advantages they have here.  No, no, make that very jealous.

A (city) love affair

I think it’s strange that we’re expected to choose one city, settle there, have all of our accounts there, and call that place “home.” Some people question the legitimacy of monogamy – one person for the whole of forever.  Now I’m questioning the legitimacy of this “home” concept.  What if I don’t want to choose just one place? What if I fall in love with multiple places?  Various places offering unique benefits, challenges, and lessons – loved differently, but equally.  That doesn’t sound so unreasonable.

Yet, it seems these expectations of location monogamy have gotten to me.  With questions like, “where are you from?” and “where is home?” invading my space on a nearly daily basis, I thought I had to choose, settle even – make a commitment and stick to it.  I figured if I can’t commit to a person, I should at least appease the public by committing to a place.  And for the last year or so, Amsterdam has been that place.  We hadn’t made anything official (beyond a temporary residency permit).  But I was pretty sure we were moving in that direction.

But now I find myself tempted to cheat.  I care for Amsterdam no less.  But as I sit on my porch in Paramaribo after midnight, sipping tea, with a warm breeze blowing through the mango tree beside me, I find myself toying with ideas of an open relationship.  Maybe I could settle in Amsterdam and have a vacation home Paramaribo.  Maybe I could split my time equally between the two cities – summer months in Amsterdam (for the winter weather) and winter months in Paramaribo (for the summer weather).  Maybe I could just make Paramaribo my home.  Oh my, this is becoming a love affair.

My feelings for Suriname began to emerge when I started working with NiNsee back in 2011 on the genealogy project.  Having done some extensive work on my own family tree, I was sensitive to the gaps and injustices that stand in the histories of those who descend from the survivors of slavery.  So the common challenges of Black family history researchers from Suriname strongly resonated.  And once I narrowed my thesis research on matters of family history and identity for Suriname’s Black population, I learned more about the country’s rich, fascinating (and oftentimes f’d up) history.  It’s made for some great reading and learning.  And now that I’m experiencing the place first-hand, the limited academic perspective has been put to shame .  It makes me so glad I came.

The passion with which so many people talk about their families and their ancestry is both heartwarming and inspiring – especially since I’ve become accustomed to that glazed over look in people’s eyes when I start to talk about genealogy research anywhere else.  And since I’ve made it a habit of sparking the conversation with just about anyone in my path (granted, my path has been paved with some bias), I’ve found myself in some incredible conversations about oral histories, spiritual practices of the past and present, and the persistent mysteries of ancestry that continue to baffle.  During one of my meetings earlier today, as the man proudly told the story of his family tree, he insisted that we stop for a moment so that he could call his mother to verify the names of her grandparents.  I hadn’t asked – he just wanted me to know.  This is what I’m talking about! The passion, the pride, the love for family and where we come from — yeah, I’m starting to feel at home.  And this isn’t even getting to the sunny (hot, hot) weather, warm and welcoming people, and tasty (usually veg-friendly) food.

Regarding the actual conversations and progress I’ve made related to the genealogy studies, as well as the project I’m developing for young people to research their Surinamese ancestry, I have lots to share in posts to come.

But before we get to that, I thought it might be helpful for you to know a bit more about this country that may turn me to place-polygamy.  Because you can feel free to admit if you don’t know much about it (like, for example, it’s not in Africa).

Location: South America – north of Brazil, between the two Guyanas (in fact, it used to be referred to as Dutch Guyana); not far above the equator. For the time zone, it’s one hour ahead of NYC, 5 hours behind the Netherlands.

Population: 550,000+. It’s super diverse, with folks from India, Indonesia, China, and (of course) African ancestry all claiming a Surinamese identity.  But I still haven’t seen many white people. (I came across a group of 3 white people today and they turned out to be peace corps volunteers from the US.)

Language: Mainly Dutch. The local language, Sranan Tongo (often just referred to as “Surinamese”) is described as a pigeon English. This is what you’ll commonly hear on the street, spoken between friends.  But when it comes to speaking to elders or in professional settings, apparently Dutch is considered most appropriate – with Sranan Tongo even considered disrespectful (issues pointing back to the everlasting and damaging effects of colonialism).

Capital city: Paramaribo. The center of the city is small, with most things clustered on a few streets. But it makes for crowds and a bustling feel, with everyone in one place at the same time. The city does go far beyond the center, which makes transportation by car, taxi, or bus pretty essential (some people ride bikes – but with the climate, I think I would pass away prior to reaching my destination).

Does that cover the basics?  I feel like I just introduced a new lover.

(Ahh, if only I could fall in love with a man as easily as I do with a city – but that’s neither here nor there…literally)

…gone till November

After a nine-hour flight, I arrived in Suriname on Monday night.  Stepping off the plane, everything felt almost surreal.  The air’s thick warmth was a stark contrast to the chilly damp I left behind in the Netherlands.  And I could count the white people in my sight with two fingers.  Clearly I had come a long way.  But the sleepy plane-haze made it difficult to remember how I got here.  I definitely did some packing, cleaning, and coordinating.  But perhaps dancing in an all too familiar routine, it was almost as if my eyes were closed.

But now, with my laptop, suitcase, and a list of new contacts in tow, I’m pretty sure I have everything I need to make my time here worthwhile – and memorable.  And with the forgetful parts of the journey behind me, I can already see the magic in what remains.

So I have traded in my adopted home in Amsterdam for a foster home in Paramaribo – the capital (and only major) city of Suriname – for the next two months, that is.  And I promise to share the details along the way.

(Thanks TH ;))

Plane tickets and pressure

It’s official that at the end of September I’ll be heading to Suriname. For two months. That means I have one month to get myself and all things related in order, then two months to tear into some serious research and writing, and altogether three months to ponder options of stability upon my return to Amsterdam.

I’m 80 percent excited.  The excitement includes the opportunity to experience a new country – a new continent, actually.  I’ve never been in the vicinity of South America.  So the visit feels overdue.  And since I’ve been discussing and reading about Suriname’s history and identity politics for months now, I’m looking forward to digesting some of it firsthand. On a more shallow level, I’m looking forward to trading the Dutch chill for some Surinamese warmth (feel free to interpret that as a commentary on patterns of weather and/or social graces).

I’m 20 percent nervous.  I considered writing “anxious” here.  But I just looked up the difference between the two words.  According to wiki answers, anxiety comes into play when you have no control over a situation that may or may not happen.  And that’s the opposite of what I have going on at the moment.  The outcomes of my time in Suriname are entirely under my control. Whether or not this trip turns out to be a trailblazing success or a complete waste of time is up to me.  I can do it right.  Or I can do it wrong.  And when I give that nervous 20 percent any attention, doing it wrong feels like a legitimate possibility.  Two months in a completely unfamiliar place, with completely unfamiliar people, under the guise of completely unsettling circumstances called academic research – I wonder if I can pull this one out of my ass.  Yeah, I think I can.  I have every reason to believe I can.  But sometimes I’m not so sure.

As this blog indicates, I have a habit of jumping around, from place to place, looking for something that feels right and pursuing my own happiness by any means necessary.  But as I approach yet another big journey, and as I watch my age increase almost as quickly as my money decreases, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve mistakenly chosen a life of instability and uncertainty.  I wonder if the simpler and more straightforward path that I’ve walked away from (more than once) would have been the better option, even if a bit less thrilling.  Could this crazy, fun, and exciting path be leading from the Netherlands to Suriname to nowhere?

Well, regardless, I have no time or patience to start over again. So to verify the validity of my somewhat questionable life choices, I need to leave Suriname with some solid research, a solid (hopefully almost finished) thesis, solid personal and professional connections, and a solid plan for launching my organization shortly thereafter.

Okay, so perhaps I’m 25 percent nervous.  And perhaps I’m placing undue pressure on the next few months.  But as I’m taking these immediate next steps quite seriously, perhaps I can be forgiven for not being 100 percent thrilled about an opportunity to do (and be) something incredible.

75 percent excited and 25 percent nervous.  Knowing myself, if not for the presence of some nervousness (and fear and anxiety and whatever else), I may not even realize this is worth doing.  So I’m not allowing the jibber jabber in my head to get the best of me.  And I’m certainly not denying the fact that I’m absolutely, positively, without a doubt 100 percent grateful for the path I’ve chosen and the life I get to live.

Everybody loves the sunshine

It’s true, right?  Sunshine is just absolutely necessary.  Even the most committed grumps must grow exhausted from the feelings brought by constant clouds and unpleasant precipitation. Even the faithful worshipers of the rain gods must hope their angels take a break for some much-needed beach or park time. Because everybody loves the sunshine, which is my point.

And then one begins life in the Netherlands.  This place is on some other -ish with all the rain and clouds and chilliness.  Days go by.  Days with no sign of the sun.  A break in the rain is a blessing.  A break in the clouds is unlikely. A break in the chill is a holiday.

So far this “summer,” high temperatures have lingered around  63 degrees (Fahrenheit –  sorry, haven’t caught up to the Celsius train yet).  It’s usually cool enough to justify a jacket and covered legs.  And you don’t question those who continue to wear those big scarfs along with their denim jackets, for that’s appropriate attire for the chillier among us.  If the day is warm enough to justify shedding a layer, it’s an absolute must to be prepared for the evening.  It will be cold, oftentimes dipping into the 40s.

Once you master the art of dressing for perpetual late-Fall, you’ll soon realize none of it really matters.  Because more often than not, the looming clouds give way to rain.  It can creep up in the middle of the night, become incredibly heavy in the morning, linger throughout the day, and only ease up a bit in the evening to gather its energy for the following day. No matter what you’re wearing or which umbrella you carry – you’re likely to get wet.  The rain is running things.

Or perhaps it’s just running me.  If I don’t have anywhere I must be, and it’s raining on the levels of torrential downpour, I’m quite likely to veto any plans of leaving my apartment.  To do what? Stand on the soaked, abandoned streets? No, thank you.  Confined to the indoors and clinging to faint memories of sunglasses and flip flops, I go all types of crazy.  Lazy, sad, unproductive, angry at the strange selection of “entertainment” on Dutch television.  You name the unimpressive emotion – I was probably experiencing it one afternoon in mid-June.

Ah, but cue the sunshine! Over the last couple of months, it’s made a few rare, yet celebrated appearances.  I usually hear rumors about it days before: “Its supposed to be really nice for a couple of days next week!”  Or, “I hear it’s going to be summer on a Thursday this year.” The expectations get me through the remaining days of chilly clouds. I play with the idea of wearing skirts and sandals.  I dust off my sunglasses and place them next to my keys.  I consider summer playlists.

And when the sunshine comes, it doesn’t disappoint.  I and every other poor, chilly soul in the Netherlands is drawn outside.  Everyone’s arms, legs, and toes enjoy some fresh air.  People ride their bikes more slowly, no longer rushed by unpleasant conditions.  Neighbors celebrate by stating the obvious, “het is warm!” And the parks are flooded with (in some cases too many) people.  Everyone smiles, as we all suddenly seem more likable.

So I’m happy to say we’re having an entire week of such wonderfulness.  That means it was nice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  And they’re saying it will last through Friday.  Say whaaat?  Temperatures in the low 80s, clear skies, and a relentlessly shining sun.  And five straights days of it?  Ooooohhh shoot!  What have we done to deserve this?!  I’ll tell you what: we suffered through endless days of cloudy misery.  And we’re going to enjoy every warm, jacket-free minute of it.

We’re back in the 60s and ushering in a few clouds this weekend – or so say the gods of the weather channel.  But it’s okay.  We know we can get through it with the memories of this delightful week, and the hopes that another few days of summer will come.  Maybe we can get some summer in August, too? I don’t think I’m asking for too much.