Register? Who, me?

Immigration matters? Uh, no thanks. Not interested.

Well, that’s been my approach pretty much the entire time I’ve been here. I was a student back in 2011. So when I moved from the U.S. to the Netherlands, the University handled everything with very little input from me. Aside from a bunch of fees and a delay when I first arrived, it was a pretty mindless process. From my residency status to my city registration, they had it covered. I received my registration details in the mail. I barely understood the purpose. And I just had to show up with my passport and smile (or not) to receive my residence permit card.

DSaxon NL Permit_front-001

For once, I was basking in the glow of privilege.* Continue reading

Keys that fit

Have you ever had trouble getting a key to turn a lock? Sometimes a key will go into the slot pretty easily, confirming you have the right one. But no matter how aggressive you are with the right turn and jiggle maneuver, the thing won’t budge.  You turn it upside down. You adjust its depth. You try other keys. But you know you have the right key – the one that won’t turn.

Then you take a second to breathe. Frustration subsides. Your grip loosens. And suddenly, as if you were imagining the countless seconds of resistance, the key finds its groove. The lock turns with ease.

keys

Continue reading

Con: not having a home

One of the major disadvantages to this quirky lifestyle I’ve created for myself is home instability.  When everything else is up in the air, not having a stable address just might be the worst part.  It’s probably the thing that would deter most people from choosing this route.  And I don’t blame them.

Occasionally I look back on some of my former apartments and try to remember what it felt like to be at home.  Places where I could have stayed for much longer.  But they rarely kept me for more than 3 years.  There was the cute, oddly-shaped Oakland  apartment with the red door.  I had a sliver of a view of Lake Merritt, a private entrance, and a back door, all of which made me think I was doing something.  In Philadelphia I had the nicest and cheapest (in retrospect) apartment, with a huge porch, two floors, a gigantic bedroom, and a view of one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants.  Forget about everything else that may have been upsetting me at those times…they were the good ‘ole days!  I had a lease, some keys, and immediate access to all of my belongings.

Today, well, not so much.   Continue reading

The Apartment

It took longer than I hoped.  And my preoccupation with it probably wasn’t healthy.  But the results of my apartment project make me very happy.  I love almost all of it now!

I promised updates.  Here are lots of photos…

The Living Room

…and now

The Kitchen


…and now


The Bedroom


…and now

The Bathroom

…and now

The Hallway

…and now


My Stuff Has Arrived

Oh, how I’ve missed all of it!  3+ months apart, but we’ve finally been reunited.  And I think this finally makes my move complete.

I wouldn’t recommend having furniture and boxes shipped for a short-term stay in another country.  And technically, I’m only supposed to be here for a year and a half.  So I was prepared (though perhaps a bit sad) to leave everything in storage for that long.  But as you may remember, shortly after I arrived, seeing the short-term potential of my apartment and long-term potential of my life here, I wanted my stuff.  Although I felt the need to justify the move constantly, I think my reasons made sense.  And now that everything is here, I’m sure I made the right decision.

The apartment surprised me with the amount of space it provided.  And with only a twin bed, a table, two chairs, and a desk lamp provided, I saw room for (almost) everything I had in storage.  Not only room – I saw the need for everything I had in storage.  I hadn’t slept on a twin-sized bed since 1998.  I believe in the importance of a couch.  And bare walls bore me.  The place may have been practical, providing the essentials for a functional student life, but it wasn’t comfortable…for a grown-up, which, as you know, is what I am – a grown-up.  So I’ve been feeling pretty uncomfortable for the past few months, waiting for my stuff to come to the rescue.

And I know it’s just stuff.  But it all means a lot to me.  As a relatively transient person, it’s not easy to feel at home anywhere.  But with the pictures, art, books, even furniture I’ve accumulated over time coming along for the ride, it feels like I’m creating a feeling of home no matter where I am.  A familiarity of a painting and a mirror can feel quite comforting.  So no matter what, I was going to see my stuff again – whether it would be in Amsterdam or upon my return to the States was initially unknown.  Getting rid of everything and ‘starting over’ in either place was never an option.

Living in Amsterdam long-term quickly became an option.  Even if it’s not forever, I feel pretty certain that I’ll want to stay for longer than my academic program will last.  And since my immigration status will allow me to stay for at least a year after finishing school, that’s at least one more year I’ll plan to be here (plenty of time to find a job and/or husband that will allow me to stay for even longer).  So why plan to leave stuff in storage for 2 or 3 years?  I may as well benefit from having it now, sparing myself the expense of purchasing things I already own, and enjoying the comforts of home.

There was the expense of it.  It was really expensive.  The price quote I received at the beginning of the process was a fraction of what I ended up spending.  Every step of the process resulted in more fees.  $250 here, 300 euros there.  I eventually stopped fighting it.  Because once my stuff was on the ship, there was no turning back.  Although I wish I could do some things differently, no sense in dwelling on it.  I’m just glad it’s here.

And my stuff is happy to be here as well.  Okay, so here’s something to know about me: I have a habit of personifying most objects around me.  Kind of in a crazy way.  So when I locked everything in that dark storage locker, I imagined everything looking around in the tight space, assessing who was missing, who was among them, and who had been chosen to go with me (too many pixar movies, perhaps).  Saddened by their rejection and imprisonment, they wondered if they had been left for good – never again to experience the joys of the life with me.  How sad is that?! (the emotion of my stuff – not the fact that I’m thinking about it)

So when the mysterious movers barged into the locker, packed them all into another truck, which led to an incredibly long boat ride, which led to a customs inspection in an unknown language in some far away land called Rotterdam, and then another truck… Happy to be together, I’m sure…but I imagine my stuff was terrified.

Everything arrived at 7:30 on Friday morning.  We all cheered – the couch, the cat, everyone.  Zora had packed away some toys and a couple of bags of catnip.  So she had some big wins in the unpacking process.  I was particularly happy to sit on the couch and sleep on the bed.  And over the past couple of days, rediscovering everything that mattered enough to me to be packed away has been quite nice.  Paintings I can’t wait to hang (as soon as I find the hammer), pots and pans, even some lotions and soaps I knew my future self would be happy to see.

So now it’s just a matter of unpacking everything and organizing in an apartment that has a serious lack of closet space.  I’m determined to do it as quickly as possible.  Everything will have a place soon.  And I’ll let you know how it turns out.  Until then, it’s a mess.

packed kitchen

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.

Black Girl Done Gone and Got Scammed

Warning: The following contains some appropriately vulgar language.

I’m not sure if this has come across in earlier posts. I’m not even sure I was clearly aware of it until earlier this happened. But I’m an idiot. If “idiot” offends you, feel free to refer to me as a dummy, foolish gal, stupid head, whatever you prefer.

Remember back when I almost got scammed when looking for an apartment in Amsterdam? Relying on online research led to nothing but mystery and heartache. I learned my lesson from that…or so I thought.

Immediately after I nailed down a place to live, which I’ll move into on February 1st, I set my sights on finding a place for my first couple of weeks in Amsterdam, during which time my Mom and her husband will be joining me. We were looking for a place with enough space for three people, ideally located in central Amsterdam. Hotels are great. But they’re pretty pricey. Especially considering that we’ll be staying for two weeks.

So, as I always do, I turned to the internet. I researched short-term rentals to find a number of websites advertising apartments throughout Europe – with most of the companies based in London. The system seemed to be that apartment owners work with agencies to rent their space out to vacationers. The agency does the leg-work, receiving a cut of the rent received by the owner. Sounds like a good idea. And it may actually happen.

I found a website with a cute place – two bedrooms, nice bathroom, centrally located. Comparing it to the other, similar websites, the prices were pretty much the same. So I was happy with this choice. I submitted an inquiry form, providing my name, email, and dates I would need the apartment. I received an email not too much later. The place was available. And after a bit of back and forth to clarify the cost, deposit, contract and payment process, I sent the deposit and 50% of the rental fee via bank wire transfer.

Receipt of payment and signed contract in hand, I checked this item off of my to-do list – until several days later when I received a message from the rental guy. He was sorry for the inconvenience, but the owner of the place changed her mind and now needed the full payment for the apartment in advance in order to hold the place for me. If I sent the remainder of the rent, it would confirm my reservation. No way. And what kind of business would be irresponsible enough the change the terms of an agreement so casually?

I told him I would take a refund. And I also wanted a refund for the $35 wire transfer fee. At the same time, I started researching other places to stay. Strangely, the website for my place was no longer working. But I found another one that also looked really good – same price. So as I was going back and forth with the first guy, I was making an arrangement to send a deposit to the second.

But now there was a problem. I couldn’t send the second deposit until I received the first deposit back. And the first guy was giving me problems. I was starting to worry. But the fog really started to lift when he told me his accounting department wanted to get the money to me as quickly as possible. And since wire transfers can take a few days, they would prefer to send it to my credit card. All I would need to do is send him my credit card information. Oh shit, goddamn motherfucking asshole.  At this point, I knew I had been scammed.  And not only that, he was trying everything he could think of to get as much money out of me as he possibly could.

So this goddamn motherfucking asshole thought I was dumb enough to pull out my credit card, send him all of my information, and expect to receive a deposit ?  I’m sure I was a perfect candidate for being »cleaned out: friendly, excited, bank account.  Yup – I guess I deserved it.

I’m thankful for one thing: the fact that I waited before sending money to scammer #2. His responses were eerily similar to scammer #1’s. And when I checked several days later, that site also no longer existed (though it had been up for a couple of weeks). So it’s clearly a thing. They’re not all necessarily the same person or working together. But they have at least established (and regulated) a clear process for scamming people.

My first action was to get in touch with my bank to see if there was even the slightest chance that they can track down the bank account I sent the money to and get it back for me.  But since people lose thousands of dollars everyday to assholes like this, my loss wasn’t likely to be an exception.  And sure enough, the bank reported back that the scammer’s account had insufficient funds to refund my money.

In spite of the crime that has clearly been committed, no one seems to care. I’ve reported it numerous times, in numerous ways, in numerous countries. No one even responds.

So there you have it. $850. Gone.