The title of a rather cheesy song by a Swedish girl called Emilia that was a big hit somewhere in the late nineties. More than ten years down the line it still pops up in my head every now and again. In spite of being a big girl these days, it still is a big, big world too. Which I find hugely fascinating yet intimidating at occassions...



Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Worldly Wednesday – The Netherlands

The idea to write about the countries I visited isn’t mine, it’s Nina’s from worldoutsidewindow.wordpress.com. I plan to do it on a weekly basis: on Worldly Wednesday. It seems like a perfect way to reminisce about the countries I’ve been to. In spite of having spent quite a bit of time in other countries than my own I didn’t visit that many. I wouldn’t be eligible to join the Travellers’ Century Club (www.travelerscenturyclub.org), who limits her membership to those having visited at least 100 countries. The reason for not meeting up with their standards,  is I found myself going back time and time again to certain places, wanting to know more about them. There always seems a reason to return: it must take ages before you can truly say you’ve seen it all. The place that I hail from, the Netherlands, seems to be the perfect place to start; it’s where I am in this stage of my life after all.

Truth be told, I have a love hate relationship with my native country. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been longing to get away from it. Once out of it, I can’t help to feel proud of it; it doesn’t seem so bad after all. In general people are friendly, open-minded and I like the thought of living in a society where everybody is being taken care of if necessary. Though I have to admit all of that has changed a bit over the last decade or so.
While travelling, there’s always a couple of things people will come up with when they hear what country I am from. From the top of my head: 1) Football. 2) Soft Drugs 3) Amsterdam Red Light District 4) First country to legalize same-sex marriage 5) Tolerance 6) Boldness and Bluntness.
Simply too much for a single posting so I’ll pick just one; for now. Football it is.

We’re awaiting a hot summer this year. At least that’s what all football fans expect. Football (or soccer if you prefer) is a national craze. That is, at least every two years, during respectively the European and World Championship. I have to admit I’m guilty as well. It started back in 1978 where ‘we’ almost became world champions when a shot at the goal right before the end of the official playing time was deflected off the post. But almost is not for real. Life played a little joke on me in ’88 as well when I decided to boycott the tournament altogether after having watched a very uninspired first match that was lost against the USSR. At the time I was working as an au pair in Paris, living at a tiny ‘chambre de bonne’ (maids room) without a TV. It’s all pointless, that’s what I thought. Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, after having been asked where I was from, a bloke responded with a “ah, vous etes les champions hein!” What do you mean we are the champions? It was only months later that I saw the footage of the events in the week following the match. 
Orange crazy… Especially people dancing up and down on the Amsterdam house boats cheering the homecoming team, until they literally went down is an image that stuck with me. Up until this day, we never know what to expect. Results so far in the run up to the tournament in Brazil are quite promising,  but everyone in this tiny country knows the results of the Orange team can be a bit hit-and-miss.

My favourite tournament so far was 2008. I was living in Cairo at the time and that summer we watched the matches at the Dutch embassy with the Dutch community. It was incredibly nice to have a big screen at our disposal, cheer for the team together, dress up in funny orange clothes and enjoy munchies from back home. That is, up until The Big Deception...



One thing’s for sure: we’ll be living an orange coloured life this summer.

Monday, 23 December 2013

I will never be a mother


There’s been a lot of talk about motherhood lately. It started with a blogpost by Jen Martin from jenmariemartin.wordpress.com, following to an excellent article in The Telegraph (for links see below).
There’s been a lot of talk about motherhood in my life altogether, for let’s say the past twenty years or so. Now my friends as well as I passed the responsible age to get pregnant, discussions are dying down. 
For some reason barely anyone has ever commented on me not taking the big step. Conversations on the subject were merely general. So you never reproduced? Fair enough, it’s your life.
Things is, not becoming a mother was not a choice I made. It’s something that happened to me, that’s how I consider it.

Back in the days when I was a very young girl, eight to be precise, I had it all figured out. When grown up, I was going to be just like my mother. I remember it clearly: for a drawing assignment in school we had to sketch our future selves. My picture was identical to my mums. And at that age, I assumed my life was going to be similar to hers as well. However, that assumption changed pretty fast, let’s say within a little over five years when puberty kicked in.

My first proper boyfriend is the one I was together with the longest. It started when I was nineteen and it lasted for about seven years. He and I were very lovey dovey, initially. We longed for all the grown up things: our own home, car, cat and family. We spoke about it a lot, but we only had the first thing. Our love faded so we never made it to the car, cat and family.
After breaking up with him, it took the longest time until I found myself in the appropriate relationship to even think about having children with a man. I did think about motherhood though, especially from thirty onwards. It was around that time I met a lovely guy, divorced and father of a beautiful little girl.  He immediately  made it quite clear he wanted to experience parenthood once more. It made my heart beat faster for him, but not for long. If I remember well, the whole relationship lasted as long as pregnancy, which never happened.

It must have been around the same time that I started pondering about the possibility of remaining childless. Somewhere in my early thirties I encountered a woman who had skipped the stage of finding a proper relationship before taking the big leap by using a sperm donor to get herself pregnant. I considered that option for about thirty seconds: not for me. Parenthood was going to be a shared experience… or not at all, that’s what I decided.
I like to see myself as a rational person. Having children, also means having to put your own life on hold for quite a long time. It wasn’t difficult for me to see a positive note here.

There was one more ‘opportunity’: another divorcee with children from a previous relationship. Because I saw forty glinting at the horizon I asked him straight away. If I can, I would like to be a mother. Would you be the father of my children? The answer was as direct as the question: no. He explained to me that in his view, in spite of loving them dearly, his kids were the cause of his marriage to go sour. His ex had changed after she had become a mother, and not for the better.
I thought about it for a while and decided that a good relationship was more important than the fulfilment of my wish to have children. So I told him it was fine with me: but he would have to bear responsibility for birth control. And with him being a man, that never happened. We were together for three years, used a condom just once and I didn’t get pregnant. To me, that was a clear sign. And in hindsight: a blessing. Having a child together also means being stuck to that person for a big chunk of your life!

Still, I hadn’t fully accepted my fate. That happened at forty. My health issues caused for me to realize that I wasn’t in the right condition to raise a child: I had enough on my plate by getting my own life back together again. On top of that, I was depending on medication that didn’t allow me to get pregnant. The final ‘blow ‘came not long after that, though it didn’t hurt much.
For a while, I had been suffering from hefty periods. My gynaecologist suggested an early perimenopause, which I dismissed: my mother had had hers about ten years later on in life. To be on the sure side, she conducted a blood test which turned out positive. For a day or so I was horribly upset. Firstly because I felt my body was letting me down once more: the end of womanhood was in sight. It was like a heavy door left ajar slamming in my face, but to never open again.

Talking to my friends made me feel better.  I deliberately sought out the ones that were a bit older than me and one of  them managed to give me comfort. She told me she’d been through pretty much the same. In her thirties, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. In her early forties, like me, she became perimenopausal. Unlike me, she didn’t mind at all. In her view, this was a way of her body to protect her against a situation that wouldn’t be good for her. The strains of motherhood would have simply been too much.

The thought that my body was not betraying me, but protecting me made all the difference in the world. I love children. I can see why parents consider their offspring as little miracles. There was a time when I was convinced I was going to have some of my own. But life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  I will never be a mother.


Mentioned above:
*http://jenmariemartin.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/the-choice-to-remain-childless/
*http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9847642/Helen-Mirren-confronts-the-final-female-taboo.html

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas


Slowly we’re working towards the time of the year I’m always glad is kept till last: Christmas, with New Year following closely. As it seems, there’s huge amounts of people that hate it with a passion. For some reason I never cross paths with them. Every one else I know, speaks warmly about it: how great to meet up with family and friends, eat good food and give and receive presents! I am the only person I know that doesn’t like Christmas...

How that commenced, I do have a notion of it.
As a little girl, I had a favourite spot. It was the living room couch, where I loved to sit and read. Sometimes I hid my face in the cushions to pretend I was elsewhere if something had upset me. And that is exactly what explains my dislike for those days you’re meant to spend in harmony with your nearest and dearest. For me, it lacked the harmony that I absolutely adore. Please give me my peace and quiet to sleep, read, walk, watch movies or do whatever I feel like. Please don't force or pressure or force me to do things I don't want to do. 
With Christmas being Christmas, it seems there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Somewhere in the not-so-far past, I came up with the perfect solution for my 'problem'. At least, that’s what it looked like at the time. With a two weeks holiday at the end of the year, this was the perfect opportunity to go on a trip.
On the first occasion, I found a perfect destination: Egypt. A Muslim country, so only a minority celebrated. That suited me just fine. I have nothing against people celebrating, it’s just that I don’t want it to take over my life! Those two weeks were absolutely fantastic! Egypt is one of my favourite countries in the world and I even had a lovely Christmas diner with my friends.

We’re now about ten years down the line and I’m looking at the matter from a different perspective. I’m done with running and hiding. Spending thoughts on how much I dislike Christmas is simply taking up too  much energy that I don’t have to begin with. So I’ve decided to turn my thinking around. Nothing should have the power to annoy me anymore. I’m not even going to mention those things here!
Instead, I’m focusing on what is good about this time of the year. Having two weeks off work. Spending time on the projects I love and with the people I adore. The little things that come with the season: coming home to a warm house in the darkness and lighting up the room with candles. Watching lots of movies and reading books. Taking long, brisk walks when the air is cold enough to make your face tingle. Running a hot, fragrant bath.

And yes, meeting up with family and friends. After all, they are my nearest and dearest. In the course of the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing is obligatory and everything is possible if you open your mind to it. Those people are the ones I want to have close to me and spend my time with.



Photo from: http://www.denhaag.nl/en/residents/to/Ring-in-the-holidays-in-The-Hague.htm

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Running Away With The Gypsies


When I was a little girl, I liked to hide my head between the pillows of our sofa. Usually I did that when I wanted to be somewhere else and someone else. It allowed me to shut out the rest of the world, kind of like an ostrich. Thoughts such as “If only I were a big person!!” would shoot through my mind. My memories of feeling limited to be my own person are still very clear, however small I still was. The urge to go out there and discover the world my way was often nipped in the bud. At least that’s what stuck with me.

In the end I did get my adventure all right; it was just a bit in a bookish way! Looking back at my childhood, it seems to me I read my way right through it. At least once a week I frequented the local library to get a new stash. During school holidays, that would be at least every other day. My preferred choice of books as a young girl was invariably adventure books. Those were the ones I liked to get lost in. The world could stop spinning for a moment without me noticing it. It grew to be a habit of mine frowned upon by many around me, family as well as friends. If my mother was calling me to do a chore for her it would usually end in a small drama. She would call and call and call, but no response till she snatched my precious book from my hands. Family and friends sometimes called me bookish and boring. If a book had me in its grip there was no stopping me: I had to read it right to the end.

It took me a long time to figure out I had to adapt to the social rule that reading in company was not done.
By then I had hit puberty and my choice of books had shifted to reading about other peoples lives. Part of me was longing to travel to far countries, get a lover, be kissed and have sex, experiment with drugs and alcohol. The other part of me decided that all of that wasn’t for me just yet and I simply kept on reading about it. I have fond memories of me exploring those departments of the library that I wasn’t supposed to be in just yet…

Leaving home aged eighteen I was still as immature as can be. But I had big plans for myself. “My life is going to start right this minute,” is what I thought. It did in a way. I moved to another country, became an ‘independent woman’ and lost my virginity. Besides that, life still seemed quite tame to me. It wasn’t as if I was running away with the gypsies or anything. It was all quite organized.

When I moved back home after a year, I quietly and slowly settled into an adult lifestyle. Went to college, met a guy, moved in with him, had my first real job, and so on. All quiet serious stuff.
Was I happy? I really wouldn’t know, especially in hindsight. One thing’s for sure: I was displeased with what my life was evolving into. I did the one thing that I thought would make a difference and broke up with my partner. Isn’t it so that a door needs to be closed before another one opens? That’s when the waiting started. I took a risk, now I wanted my reward. That didn’t come: my life remained pretty much the same, only now I was alone.

It was alright, because I always have and always will be one for the anticipation of something new. Quite a few years passed by. Boyfriends came and went. There was always an insatiable hunger for traveling. Not to travel to new places per se – though that was nice from time to time - but to go somewhere that was totally different from home.

Until there came a point in my life where I felt everything was coming to an accumulation. I found myself in another country; lonely, broke and scared. It seemed to me the universe wanted me to move back home. As soon as I did, I got sick and I had to admit I was in the best place in the world I could be.
These days I still find myself in the situation where I want to go and run away with the gypsies every now and again, I do. There’s an itch, and that itch makes me want to scratch. To do so, I go back to my first love time and time again.
I pick up a book and start to read.


Photo from: http://www.journeyfolki.org.uk/HistoryCulture/TheEnglishGypsyVardo/TheBowTop/tabid/885/language/en-US/Default.aspx

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

On Forgiveness


A while ago I skipped my high school reunion. Life is full of choices, and what I’m going to spend my time on is one of those. What I ended up doing that specific weekend I don’t even recall, but I do remember clearly what the main reason for not wanting to go was.
It started with imagining walking into a room filled with people I haven’t seen for such a long period of time. It doesn’t really matter whether I used to like them or be friends with them or not. The reason is, it’s just too confrontational. 

Every conversation will start with one simple question: How are you?
What I will usually do when confronted with such a situation is to focus on the other person. That works like a charm! Most people seem to love it when you ask them that question and will enjoy it even more if you elaborate on it. That’s suits me just fine! But it does happen that people genuinely want to know and expect an answer to that question: How are you?

Sometimes I just can’t be bothered and I will play it the easy way. A casual ‘yeah, good’ will do. Truth is most people won’t ask you any further questions. Some will, and then the answer will mostly be: ‘Aah, can’t complain. Not good, not bad’. Since I’m very much aware of the power of words I express gratitude. ‘In fact, when I think of it I’m very lucky. After all, I could have been so much worse off. I could easily have been dead as well!’ Truth be told, that's exactly the way I think I should feel. 
In reality, it’s not the case at all. After all, my life has become so much more complicated through no fault of my own. This is the point where I must be careful not to start wallowing around in self pity. I know I should be grateful but my words are often hollow. In fact, I still carry around a lot of anger.

Ofcourse I am happy to be still alive.  I survived a cerebral haemorrhage without  too much consequences. I can walk, I can talk. You can even look at me and wonder how it’s possible such a thing has happened to me without you being able to notice from the outside.  But life has become so much more complicated. Fundamentally, I am a happy person but I’ve got a great deal more troubles. Sometimes I feel like I lost my innocence at a  late age: only now life has showed me its true colours!

First thing I did was work very hard.  Much harder then before. Working like a dog while hoping in vain I would one day wake up feeling like nothing had ever happened. Needless to say that never happened. In fact I wasn’t really working, I was putting up a figh instead. A fight with reality. I simply had to work so hard to keep up with tasks I had no trouble with before.
It was then that I realized I felt like my body had betrayed me. It left me feeling stuck.  Stuck with a life that wasn’t supposed to be mine, almost like a favourite pair of clothes that has gotten out of shape. Stuck with a body that didn’t respond in the way I was used to or wanted it to. Stuck with a life that didn’t fit me anymore, almost like a pair of knickers that have become out of shape.
Then I started meditation. I have been doing quite a lot of that. My Monkey Mind kept on jumping out of my reach, so it took me a while until I had it under control. And still…

Nowadays, I meditate for Forgiveness. My body and I, we need to forgive one another. My body needs forgiveness for changing when I wasn’t ready for it at all. And I want it  for being unable to accept the change and adapt to it.. 
From now onward, I won’t fight anymore for what I have no power over.  From now on, I’ll only fight to grow.
Until then, I can’t wait for the day that I can truly be grateful for the experience. An experience that allowed me to grow.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Place To Call Home

For as long I’ve known, I’ve been a bit of a vagabond. Not in the sense of a tramp; I like to have a roof above my head and preferably a nice one if I can help it! Don’t call me spoiled, but I do appreciate some comfort. Like a soft warm bed, a good shower and some personal space. A place like that can be found anywhere, at least that’s what I like to think. In my own home, I have created it for myself. When away it doesn’t seem to take much effort either.

Nevertheless there’s more than meets the eye. A variety of countries I visited gave me a sense of belonging soon after I set foot on their soil. Like I could live there, or I would want to! Or at least that I wanted to return, perhaps time and time again… Egypt was – and perhaps is – such a place. First time I visited I was quite sure it wouldn’t be long till my next visit. That was indeed the case: it took less than 3 months. In fact, I did go back a couple of times within less than a year and ended up moving there by the end of it. Call it Kismet, but casually I had applied for a job in Cairo and before I knew it, it was handed to me on a silver plate..  

Moving to a country that is so fundamentally different to the one where you’re from can’t be easy, yet I had that sense of belonging. It could take me off guard at the strangest moments. One of my favourite was when driving back home from work on that awful Ring Road. We would get stuck in traffic on an almost daily basis, which would allow me with plenty of time to look around and soak in everything I saw. Rural migrants risking their lives trying to cross over as if they were still back home, unfinished buildings by the roadside (because living next to a highway is posh!), bilingual signs with funny spelling ‘mistakes’ in English, a thick layer of dust everywhere and palm trees. Palm trees! It would never fail to hit me with a small, sharp pang. Oh my god, I’m living in a country with palm trees!! It would take me home with a sense of gratitude.


 Yet I left again. Home is more than being contented with the place you are living in.  It is also the people and what it is you do there. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, so after a small detour I found myself back in the country that I had so eagerly left a few years before that. Just to make myself clear: the place I didn’t want to live in anymore. I vowed it would only be for a short while, I was now too much of a cosmopolitan to get stuck there! But once more life played a trick on me and before long I had to acknowledge this was going to be where I was going to spend many years to come. It didn’t take long before I could accept my fate. This was my old home, where I grew up and spent the vast majority of my life. And last but not least: the people that I had loved for such a long time were close to me when I needed them most.


The other day I was struck with that sense of belonging once again. Oddly enough, I was in the region where I was born and raised. At the tender age of eighteen, I had pretty much ran away, out into the world. I have always loved its flatness, its emptiness with only distant rows of trees and scattered farms for variation. Even the greyness of the water and the sky would put my mind at ease, bringing me back to the days where I had just left and still felt the urge to visit on a regular basis.

Last time around something upset me. Driving around with my beloved I enjoyed pointing out all of these places from a more and more distant past. I was entertaining myself with the thought how I had escaped the ugliness of all the cheap modern buildings. A lot of distinct land marks had disappeared over time. That’s when it hit me: the place from my childhood is slowly fading away. This place looks nothing like home anymore..

photos from:
* http://www.ptank.com/blog/tag/cairo/
* http://www.omroepzeeland.nl/nieuws/2013-05-08/430306/bluswater-wetteren-mogelijk-over-dagen-pas-westerschelde#.UpR8bWS1W68