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.

 

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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.

A secret tentative plan

I tend to be secretive about my most sacred and valued hopes and dreams. I’ll quietly decide to try something days or months (or never) before telling anyone about my intentions.  The less everyone knows about what I’m doing, the less everyone will be disappointed by my inability to accomplish whatever it was that I probably shouldn’t have told them about in the first place.  And trust me: I have not accomplished plenty.

In addition to a fear of expectations, there’s also the jinx factor.  If I fill others in on a plan, the plan is then doomed to failure.  For example, after telling everyone that Savion Glover would one day be my husband – it’s almost 20 years later and well, obviously no Savion. That’s because I jinxed it.  That apartment I deemed perfection, the job I thought would guarantee happiness, or the man I was sure was him – it rarely ends up being what I said I wanted.  If I’m honest, in most cases, it ends up being something better – something I didn’t imagine for myself.  But when I set my sights on something I really, really want (like the Savion thing), I don’t want to tempt fate into finding something better – or worse, more challenging than what I actually want.  So while I try to get between points A and B, if B has any level of significance, I won’t be saying too much about it.

I started the blog when I began to realize how terrible this strategy could be.  As much as I’d like to believe it’s possible to do everything for and by myself, I know it shouldn’t always be that way.  Support and guidance can be wonderful things.  But I’ve recently fallen off the blogging thing – writing altogether, really.  And I’ve caught myself a couple of times thinking I have nothing to write about.  Nothing worth sharing.  So I’m a “black girl”and I’m “gone.” Yeah, now what?

Truth is, a lot is now.  I’ve just been backsliding into my old, secretive, suffer-in-silence ways.  As the comforts of my student life appear to be approaching an end quite quickly, a number of grown-up realities – big girl decisions – have come into play.  Money, career, home…scary-type stuff.  The stuff I was temporarily happy to set aside.  And no offence, or anything, I just didn’t feel like sharing the next steps with you.  What could your knowing offer other than a jinx on an already tenuous situation?

Yet, although I still mostly believe that, I need to get over it.  Particularly because I’m about to be getting “gone” again.  And that is what this blog is supposed to cover, as the title would suggest…

Black girl gone…to Suriname – in (about) two months for (about) two months.  I’m dragging out the fieldwork and writing process for my Master’s thesis to incorporate the research I’ll do over there in the coming semester.  So this means I will remain a student for just a bit longer.  A bit like cheating, perhaps. But you would do it too.

And while I continue with my thesis research, and as I work through the logistics of a temporary move from Europe to South America, I’m working out a business plan.  Because in 2013, I have no intentions of working for the benefit of someone else’s mission. My mission is to introduce young (and all) black people to our histories by paying tribute and learning the stories of our ancestors, beginning with their own ancestors.  And I’m really excited to turn that into a full-time gig.

It will look like a nonprofit organization, based in the U.S., with a branch office in the Netherlands (ahem).   Partnerships between schools and local genealogical societies (read: young and old) will provide young people with African ancestry in the Americas with personalized research into their family histories, enhanced by their own culturally and historically-relevant experiences and research. In the long-run, we’ll provide the young people with travel opportunities.  But at the moment, my priority is just to clarify and prove the concept.

Yeah, and that’s where I draw the sharing line.  And that just left me pretty uncomfortable.  We still have some issues to work through.

So here’s hoping I didn’t just jinx the isht out of myself. And further hoping that I can find sources of support and encouragement among you, in addition to a willingness to hold me accountable!

A story

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there is to do in order to be where, what, and who I want to be. And strangely, the feelings of anxiety have become more pronounced as the plan becomes more clear. Now that I know happiness is attainable, and it’s actually all under my control…well, it seems like a lot more pressure.  As the universe seems to declare, “sure, you can have whatever you want,” all I seem to say is, “but wait, you want me to do what first?” That looks like a whole lot of scary work ahead.

In the midst of one of my more unproductive and (somewhat) irrationally overwhelmed times, I stood on a NYC subway platform.  Transferring from the C to the A, I was headed to the airport – back to Amsterdam.  In my mind I listed the number of things I needed to get done approximately weeks ago, preoccupied by creeping self-doubt.   When I briefly returned to the present, I took inventory: suitcase, laptop bag, something’s missing.  My leather jacket. My most favorite.

That sinking feeling when you realize something is lost – some/anywhere in NYC. It hurt. I briefly attempted to acquire some sympathy from two ladies standing beside me by sadly declaring, “I just lost my jacket.” They kindly obliged with sighs and looks of pity. As I stood there with a big ‘ole suitcase and various other bags strapped to me, I had no option to go back and retrace my steps. We all knew that jacket was long gone. So I began working on getting over it. It’s just a jacket. I probably wore it too often anyway. Perhaps its replacement will bring me even more joy.

During the following (excessively) long train ride, I kept thinking of the stairway at the first train station.  Although I hadn’t been paying attention, and I had no idea the jacket had fallen, I felt strangely certain of when it must have happened.  A glimmer of hope remained with my friends who would follow me to Amsterdam just a couple of hours later.  Perhaps I could catch them in time, get them to follow the route I had taken, and maybe they would even find the jacket at the station.  A laughable long-shot. Grasping at straws might make the recovery period worse. But it’s worth a try.

I arrived at the airport about 10 minutes after my (typically timely) friends planned to leave, after anxiously watching the clock tick away on the super-duper slow air train shuttle-thing. If I missed them, it’d be over. Without a U.S. cell phone, I asked the security woman taking bags where I could find a pay phone.  I would have to go far, to the other side of the large airport area. “Or, you could just use my phone.” Seriously? “Why look for a pay phone when you could use this?” Exactly.

Several hours and an Atlantic Ocean later, as I expected, Amsterdam was cold and drizzly.  I wore only a sweatshirt that was insufficient and also seemed to regret my careless disregard of layering and, well, decency.  This discomfort marked the beginning of a new life without my leather jacket. And, considering the circumstances, I think I was coping quite well with the unexpected hardship. Too many other things are competing to cause me worry. A well-liked, but forever lost leather jacket cannot be one of them.

Two hours later, I met my jet-lagged, weary, and appropriately-dressed friends at Centraal Station.  We exchanged hugs and stories of our respective overnight flights.  Leading them to my place, it was pretty clear the glimmer of hope I had maintained was no longer.  With the intention of sparing my feelings, they didn’t even bring it up. But I needed to close the chapter. “So…you guys didn’t find the jacket, huh?”

“Oh no, sorry.” Sad faces. Agreement that it was a long-shot and reassurance that they tried.

How incredible it would have been if they had found the jacket. This would have meant a kind someone had picked it up and handed it to the station attendant. And my friends, who I narrowly caught on their way out the door, would have followed shortly after to retrieve it from likely the same attendant I had earlier asked to buzz the door open for me. And these friends also just so happened to be on their way to Amsterdam, reuniting me with the completely lost jacket in just a few short hours. How charming of a scenario that –

“Dana, we tried to pretend for as long as we could. But, we actually found your jacket.”

A bag unzipped. And emerged the forever and completely lost red, vintage, most favorite, leather jacket. My already loved friends became heroes. Heroes.

But what are the chances? The question kept coming to mind. The strong feeling about where I dropped it, the kind person who handed it in, the security lady with the cell phone, my friends and their plane, the timing, all of it seems so unlikely, even as individual scenarios.

Getting to some kind of point: I believe in signs. And this sure felt like one. As if I received some direct communication from someone or something that knows more, and perhaps knows why.  It’s a sign of what, I’m not sure. But strange things seem to happen more often these days. And I suspect that’s because I’ve finally started listening. Paying attention and listening. And with this, I’m making no exception. That leather jacket was not lost and found in vain.

Forget the doubt. Do the work. Trust the process. You’ll get what you want, dammit.

(spirit speaks to me with sass)

An anniversary, a milestone, and more to come

The one-year anniversary to mark my arrival in the Netherlands came when I was in Greece.   I sat in a cute little restaurant in Athens, avoiding returning to my temporary dorm-like residence, getting a little tipsy on wine.  At that time I attempted to write the 100th post for black girl gone.  Most of it was about the journey that brought me here – a journey that began far longer than a year ago, as evidenced by this blog alone.  But it was a ho-hum of a post, with the weepy sorrows of years long gone.  I can get plenty of that with a quick scan of old posts.  So fortunately, a dead battery and a failure to save resulted in the loss of what I had written.

Beyond acknowledgement of a challenging path, some really smart decisions, and a newly found trust in my instincts and distrust of expectations, I think my one-year anniversary and 100th post should focus on what’s next.  The year, and whatever else ahead…

1) Genealogy overload

I went almost completely dark on my personal family research well over a year ago.  And last year I picked up the projects of several others in Amsterdam, researching family histories that stem largely from Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.  But I’ve even fallen behind with them.

No more of that.  Re-opening my own research, while furthering and creating noise around the local genealogy project will be a priority.  My family research has left plenty of unanswered questions.  And the local interest and passion for family history is certainly enough for me to gain more momentum for the project in Amsterdam.   For this reason, you can expect somewhat of a shift in this blog.  Expect more family history and genealogy-related posts.  Accept it, my friends.  This will be a defining aspect of my life.  In the longer-term, I expect it to take me back to the southern states of the U.S., Salt Lake City, Cuba, and southern Africa – at least.  I expect to earn the title of genealogist.  And I can’t wait.

ancestors await...

2) Write a Master’s thesis

By August.  I want to (and I will) finish by August.  Is denial of access to one’s family history a form of social oppression?  It will be some type of a comparative study of black Dutch and black Americans, as descendants of survivors of slavery, and their perceptions of identity, as potentially impacted by a (lack of) knowledge of ancestry.  Or something like that.

study habits

3) Suriname

It’s there.  And I don’t see why I shouldn’t be.  So I’m setting my sights on creating a plan to spend a few months moving a genealogy research project forward in Suriname by the end of this year.  This will require support, funding, and a more concrete idea.  But my instincts are telling me this will be important.  So before I understand it so clearly, I’m going to work on putting a plan into place.

Suriname census

4) More traveling; more writing

I continually taunt myself with the cliché, “life is short!” But hell if it isn’t.

I enjoy traveling.  And I enjoy writing.  I need to do more of both to spend more time enjoying this too-short life.

the look of travel

5) The fellas

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, to dramatic degrees.  All resulting in very little.  Dating/not dating/white boys/no boys/single lady/ cat lady.   I’m putting all of it away.  To be honest, this is less about some level of personal growth, and more about simple boredom with the subject.  Look, folks. I’m human, okay?  Of course I notice that most of my friends are in stable relationships that are leading to marriage and/or babies.  But that doesn’t mean any of this knowledge occupies a significant amount of space in my mind.  It shouldn’t.  And it doesn’t.

This year, whatever happens with the fellas will be fine with me.  Let’s just leave it at that.

"I don't like any of these boys..."

I enjoyed last year very much.  And it looks like, more than ever, I’m in control of the year ahead.   So I think I’ll enjoy this one even more.  I hope you’ll continue to join me!

Let the Master’s Begin

As of this week, I am officially a Master’s student.  After a semester of “prep,” the University of Amsterdam has deemed me qualified to work toward a Master’s in Sociology.  Never mind the fact that the somewhat disorganized University hasn’t provided me with a new id card and my residency permit is currently in limbo (let’s all pray to the spirits that I don’t get kicked out of the country before someone figures out how to process paperwork).

Last semester felt like a valuable warm-up.  Sort of like a Taebo work-out after not lifting more than a glass of wine for the past eight years.  And now I’m getting ready for capoeira (something that I’ve always wanted to do – both in and out of metaphor).  Now I have three classes: one on social theory, another on qualitative research methodology (beginning with ethnography), and finally migration and integration (my concentration).  Anyone have any well-written, academic papers I can buy?  I kid, of course.  I’m almost positive I can handle this.

I’m not as nervous.  My apartment is furnished.  Dutch no longer sounds like complete gibberish (except when I try to speak it).  I’ve met some great new people.  And I know the differences between Weber and Durkheim.  If that doesn’t make me a future master of something, I don’t know what will.

But this is it.  I basically have nine more months before real life picks up again.  So while I’m studying this semester, and preparing to write my thesis next semester, I will be thinking and planning for the future.  A source of income, a place to live, and a way to turn the ideas in my head into something real.  After this, I’m not sure how many do-overs I’ll be granted.  So I need to make this time count.

And if you’re wondering, returning to the States (to live) is nowhere in the plan.

The Life List

Vacation in Mexico was enjoyable. It was great to be out of NYC and winter weather, even if just for a short time.

Prior to leaving for vacation, I was inspired by one of the newer reality shows on MTV (honestly, I watch most of them…but few of them actually inspire me), the Buried Life. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of white guys who travel the country in an RV, accomplishing everything they’ve previously decided they want to do before they die. Some people refer to a list of such tasks as a “bucket list” (what you want to do before you “kick the bucket”). I didn’t see the movie by that name and I’m not particularly fond of the whole bucket reference. So while I was inspired by the MTV show, I decided to create my own before-i-die list and call it a “life list.”

I put a lot of thought into my life list while I was in Mexico. And when I returned home, I actually wrote the list on paper. As we all know, once something is written on paper (in ink), it’s official. Official, but not complete. I plan to add to the list as new ideas come up. Perhaps I’ll eventually need to factor another person into these plans or I’ll simply discover brand new dreams. For now, I have 17 tasks on my life list. I figured I’d share a few:

*Meet Oprah Winfrey and respond to a question she asks me. I don’t know many people who would turn down an opportunity to meet Oprah. I thought for many years that at some point she would interview me on her show about something amazing I had accomplished. But now that she has announced this looming 2011 end date, the dream of sitting on that stage has fizzled. She simply isn’t giving me enough time to accomplish that amazing something. So instead, I am willing to settle for a brief encounter, during which she may ask me something as simple as “what time is it?” or “are you the one who slipped past my security?” As long as our meeting consists of Oprah asking me a question and expecting an answer, I will be satisfied.

*Experience genuine, authentic, romantic love. I have said “I love you” in several relationships (okay, four). I believed I was in love each time. But I also knew I was only capable of being in love to the extent that I understood what that meant. And my understanding of love has changed over time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still not sure I’ll recognize the real thing when I experience it. But I can say, with relative confidence, that I have yet to say the ever so important three words with any sort of accuracy or legitimacy. I feel confident that I will one day.

*Drive across the country (in either direction). This is just one of those classic things you have to do at least once. For all the time I spend on planes, one might think I had experienced more of this country. But my domestic travel experience is not so impressive. And since I don’t need to spend tons of time in most of those states in the middle, driving through should be sufficient. Both times I changed coasts (Philly to Oakland then Oakland to Brooklyn), I planned to drive. And both times the plan changed for practical reasons. I would prefer to make the trip under more leisurely, less stressful circumstances anyway. And although taking a vacation alone is another item on my life list, I wouldn’t want the cross country drive to be the alone vacation. I think this one would be best shared.

* Take an international vacation alone. I spend tons of time alone. And fortunately, I enjoy my own company. So that’s not a bad thing at all. But being alone under certain circumstances can become a personal challenge. Eating in a restaurant, going to the movies, buying a house. Big and small things can feel different when you experience them alone versus with another or several others. I have conquered the restaurant and movie thing many times. And I have taken tons of work trips alone that require solo hotel stays and dining. And I even spent a couple of months in Greece, visiting islands and exploring, most of the time by myself (and I was oh so happy to have visitors during that time). But I have never purchased an international flight and hotel with the intention of going on vacation for and by myself. I don’t feel the need to check this one off the list right away. I’m saving it for a time in my life when I will be seeking an opportunity to appreciate the alone time. I’m sure I’ll know that time when it comes. Hopefully the people in my life at that time will understand.

So there’s a sampling of my life list. So far I don’t have anything too off the wall. The list isn’t for shock value or to compete with other list-makers. It’s just for me. The things that will help me make the most of my time here. And since I’m a master at wasting time, I’m pleased the list is written in ink, official, and putting on the pressure.