Happy in The Hague

I’ve been living in The Hague (Den Haag) for more than 5 months now (whoa, what?!). It’s been enough time for me to experience a pleasant evolution of sentiment about my circumstances and surroundings. What started as a disappointed exodus from Amsterdam has turned into a delighted embrace of Agga (what the cool kids are calling it, apparently).

I first moved here out of necessity. A lack of affordable (and also bearable) options in Amsterdam led me to look outside of the city. And it didn’t take me long to find a cute little place in The Hague that was in a modest price range.

My newly adopted city was a mere 45 minutes by train from Amsterdam, which I convinced myself was nothing compared to my former daily commute by subway from East Flatbush, Brooklyn to lower Manhattan. I could get back and forth to Amsterdam with ease, even daily if I wanted.  And I thought I might want to. I had friends, favorite restaurants, libraries, coffee shops, and seemingly places to be in Amsterdam. In order to tolerate life in this new city, I would surely have to make frequent trips back to the only city that mattered. 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

So now what?

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked this question.  It’s a good one. And folks seem worried.  School is basically finished (actually, it’s not until this month ends. but that’s a story I’d rather not get into).  And school was my reason/pretext for moving to Amsterdam.  Without school as my gravity, I find myself suspended in an area of uncertainty. Where to go? What to do? Who to be? How to find that wealthy benefactor to support the fulfillment of my remaining dreams?  Yeah, folks are definitely worried.

But from my point of view, this is freedom at its best. The next steps are up to me – and only me.  Of course I need to feed myself, sleep under a roof (most days), and maintain basic levels of hygiene.  But outside of these responsibilities of adulthood, which sometimes can be achieved creatively, I can go almost anywhere.  This is when I finally get to dance outside of that commonly-mentioned box, which my thinking already escaped long ago.  And it’s going to be like one of those James Brown-fancy footwork-shimmy shake-wipe the sweat off my face-type of dances.

I’ve made some decisions about what I want in the coming months, years, and lifetimes.  Some I’ve known for quite some time, such as wanting to create opportunities and broaden the horizons of young Black people.  Others have evolved over time, like my belief in the impact of genealogy research.  And now, here I am, being pushed, guided, and supported right into the opportunities that will allow me to live an adult life I love.  Having suspended the fear of uncertainty, I’m happy to realize that the universe has been working in my favor (even on the days I’m not).

In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho has countless quotes that resonate.  In this instance, I think of this: “When someone makes a decision, [s]he is really diving into a strong current that will carry [her] to places [s]he had never dreamed of when [s]he first made the decision.” Yes. Yes, indeed.

So back in November, shortly after I returned to the Netherlands from Suriname, I regretted not being able to stay for the implementation of a youth ancestry research project I had designed.  I wondered how I was going to find and afford a place to stay in Amsterdam after January.  And I received an incredible offer: return to Suriname…on us (well, the plane ticket)…for as long as you’re willing to stay and work on this project.

Awwww yeah. Offer accepted.

From there, life got tougher in Amsterdam, as if the city was pushing me away.  Zora died.  The drains in my apartment started spewing other people’s poo (literally). My bike was stolen.  Money was low (well, that was nothing new – but you get the point).  I needed a break.  I was ready to go.  Not forever.  Just for a few months – say, maybe seven.

So now what?  Well, I have returned to Suriname, of course.  On Friday, the day after my birthday (not necessarily relevant – just important that you know), I began my seven-month stay.  I’ll be working on this local ancestry project.  I’ll be looking for some sustainable income. And I’ll be laying the groundwork for my very own organization that will introduce young Black people to their ancestors and new perspectives of history.  And I’ll be absorbing as much warmth as Suriname is willing to share.

Once I’m finished here in September, I plan to return to Amsterdam.  But while I continue to dance on the path outside of the box, as Coelho pointed out, next I might be carried to places I never dreamed of.  So who knows?  I’m just continuing to take this sometimes intimidating, usually nerve-wracking, always satisfying journey one step at a time.

So no more questions, please.

(just kidding. you can ask me questions. just don’t be surprised if you’re not satisfied with my answer.)

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

Settling In

Exhausted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cat’s Moving Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plane seat

 

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

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

window seat

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

Black Girl Officially Gone

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

JFK to AMS

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

But first let me back up a bit.

Stored Stuff

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

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

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

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

Airplane Snacks

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

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

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

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

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