Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blurring contrasts

So what happened exactly the past month? I must say, even I don't know exactly - or don't remember, or don't believe. A little bit more than a month ago I was still in Lebanon, negotiating tariffs with taxi-drivers, drinking arak, smoking arkile (hooka), walking through Beirut from coast to club, swimming in the Medditeranean sea, dealing with power outages, eating the best hummus, lebneh (kind of yoghurt) and saj (flat bread), learning new things and meeting new people every day. I had gotten used to the new shiny offices and the old demolished buildings with bullet holes, the humongous hummers and the riding wrecks, the talks about political coalitions and religious mistrust, the soldiers on the streets and the weapons people have at home, the beautiful sea and the ugly cities, the pious priests and the vicious followers, the animosity towards Israel and the skepticism towards Arab countries - and all that within a few square kilometers. It makes you indifferent, in a way, and it forces you to conquer your own living space among all those different social, religious, political and professional forces. I felt like I could finally plant my flag in my humble piece of territory in Beirut.
And then, I got on a plane, visited Istanbul for one day, and found myself back in the Netherlands. The flat, structured, well-organized, consociational (polder-model-governed) Netherlands. The contrast couldn't have been bigger. The trains ride on time (there are trains, to start with), what you see is what you get, prices are predictable, energy, water and gas are in ample supply and I know my way around in the streets, the neighborhoods and the cities. It was great to be back, but it was hard to leave Lebanon. I had met so many great people there and had gotten to a point where I could honestly say they were my friends - and now I had to leave. Of course, I knew it in advance, and in a way, Lebanon isn't a place for outsiders, so maybe it was just time for me to leave, but I wish I could take all the great things with me - or go back some day. Regardless, I will cherish the memories and think back about my time there with great joy.
That time already seemed like ages ago during my tour through the Netherlands. In order to meet as many friends and family-members as possible in the 12 days I had, I visited Beerze (my homevillage), Den Bosch (to see my grandparents), Utrecht, Leiden (my university-town) and of course Amsterdam. And in the meanwhile I also went to Hardenberg (where I went to high-school), Ommen (to visit my grandmother) and Rotterdam. It was great to see everybody again - and to share these topographical aspects of my history with Chloe. I loved the countryside around Beerze and Hardenberg - the forest, the down-to-earth and friendly people, the quiet, the space, the skies. It was great to go back to the canals and historical buildings in Utrecht and Amsterdam. I feasted on the multicultural influences from Surinam, Indonesia, China and the Middle East eating great, cheap meals in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Leiden. And of course I took a walk down memory lane visiting my former house-mates in Leiden and drinking with my former fellow students in the bars I used to frequent back in the days (that is, a little more than a year ago). We did a lot of great things in the Netherlands, including walks, bike-rides and sailing and canoeing in the beautiful Dutch natural and urban environment - but I think it was mainly the normal things - the beers with friends, the dinners with family and the coffee with grandparents, that made it special.
And then, I got on a plane, watched some movies and found myself going through the homeland-security at Washington Dulles airport and riding the bus back to Columbia Heights. The time in the Netherlands was more like a holiday. Which was a strange experience: going on holiday in the country you grew up in. Now, in DC, I was back home - the place where I live, study and work. I had one weekend to get back to reality, and then classes and internship started. I was back home, I was forced back into the busy routine and the Lebanese contrasts faded into a blur. But it's a blur I hold dear.


At 6:54 PM, Blogger Aike said...

"Which was a strange experience: going on holiday in the country you grew up in."

Indeed! :)


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