The Passion Dutch Style

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When you’ve lived in a country long enough–even if you tend to live in a bubble or under a rock–eventually local cultural phenomena infiltrate your consciousness. As Easter approached this year, I had one of those moments where something that had vaguely hovered on the periphery a few years in a row suddenly punctured my little bubble and made it’s way in: The Passion–a live Christian rock opera of sorts combined with a silent march that occurs each year on Holy Thursday and is broadcast live on TV.

How did I find out about it? Through my church? No. Through my Dutch husband or friends? No. Actually, it occurred while I was reading a rather heart-wrenching New York Times article on my iPhone while waiting for my son to finish his guitar lesson. It was about a U.S. soldier who was imprisoned while suffering from PTSD. When I saw an advertisement pop up, I actually clicked on the ad as a means of postponing my knowledge of this one young soldier’s fate.

The advert took me to an article about The Passion 2017 that would be broadcast live that evening on television. You could virtually “join” the march online. My mind reached into its memory banks and excitedly announced that this “Passion performance” was something I’d come across before. Coincidentally, we had just resolved a technical issue with our television, which means I had access to TV once again. I put it on my digital agenda and hog tied my son into watching it with me.

To be honest, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of contemporary versions of Bible stories, but that night, I gave my critic a rest and settled into the couch to watch the live performance. I wasn’t alone. According to NOS news, 44 percent of all viewers who were watching television at that time were watching The Passion along with me! That equates to almost 2 million people. Another 16,000 were participating live in Leeuwaarden.

Considering The Netherlands has a population of approximately 17 million, that’s more than 10% of the nation! Almost twice as many people were tuned into The Passion as those tuned into the quarter finals of the European League soccer match between Ajax and Schalke. And the Dutch LOVE their soccer.

Jesus was played by Dwight Dissels, a tall, dark and handsome singer with an amazing voice.

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Photo: NRC.NL

A striking red-haired woman named Elske DeWall played Mary and she sang in Frisian, a language spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands. This was also quite fitting considering the concert was held in Leeuwarden, which falls within this province. Omri Tindal, a young man from Rotterdam with a rich musical career and fantastic hair, played Peter.

The entire performance was in Dutch (Frisian part was subtitled in Dutch), which meant that it was also like a musical Dutch lesson for me. Although many people say I’m close to fluent, I still can’t read the NRC newspaper without looking up at least 10 words per article. But the words used in this broadcast were completely within my grasp.

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Taken from the web (can’t find source. Sorry)

 

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(Taken from a blog, but can’t find source again! Sorry)

The cast was diverse, talented, energetic. I Enjoyed the entire performance and felt like I’d learned something that night about how the expression of religion doesn’t need to be confined to a church. I don’t view these sort of performances as a means of converting anyone, but it can certainly make an important religious story accessible to a broader segment of the population, and make it fresh to those who have heard it before. Well done folks!

Pornographic Chickens & War


The internet is life changing. Even though I live abroad, I can see my friend’s children growing up through Facebook (or at least get little glimpses), I can ‘meet’ bloggers from Chile, Canada and the United Arab Emirates and find groups of people with similar interests.  I can look up things on Wikipedia, read from multiple news sources, write my congressperson, take courses if I want and see chicken porn.

Yeah. Those last two words are pretty much a conversation stopper. I’ve known for years that there is a dark side to the internet; that wars can be funded online, terrorist actions planned and a whole lot of other bad stuff. But knowing it’s out there doesn’t mean I come across it. But violent chicken porn?

One innocent YouTube video of how to round up chickens was followed by another that started out as strange and soon spiraled into the equivalent of a Caucasian man promoting violent rape, using a chicken carcass as the surrogate woman. I won’t give the title, because I don’t want to give this seriously sick person any more attention than his video has already received (the hits are in the millions).

That’s bad enough. But worse is that it was right there in the middle of perfectly innocent videos and unless flagged, would not be blocked by parental controls such as “guided access” or “restrictions.” I flagged the video and asked friends to flag it as well. Perhaps it’s now blocked through parental control apps, but how many more of these sorts of retina burning images are out there? And who’s going to protect ME from them?

This is nothing compared to images of Syrian children, women and men dying from chemical weapon attacks or Egyptians in church on Palm Sunday being blown to pieces by a terrorist attack. These images will always be with me, but these awful deaths captured on film at least bring the world to tears and world leaders to action.

Do I wish I hadn’t seen these images? The part of me that wants to deny the darkness within our species would have preferred not to see this. But the part of me that knows reporters are risking their lives to get the news to us and that wants war crimes and terrorism to come to an end somehow believes that our collective knowledge of such suffering will be a catalyst for change. I unfortunately don’t have any links to support this, but I believe if we all write our governments and tell them that we find these acts unacceptable, we might add pressure to be the change toward peace.  One can at least hope this is the case.

These atrocious videos that promote rape on the home front are the types of things we, as a civil society, can certainly fight.

You can take action by flagging inappropriate content on YouTube, to save others from being exposed to this crap. Click here for YouTube’s instructions.

Here are some articles on setting up safety features:

Setting up restrictions on your iPad, iPhone, etcetera.
Setting up safety mode on YouTube.

I plan to continue being a member of the digital world, reading blogs, watching YouTube videos on topics of interest, writing books and blogs, participating in social media channels and watching the news. But I also plan to be more vigilant and do my part to flag inappropriate content and using the internet for connection and positivity.

Ostriches don’t actually hide their heads in the sand. Neither should we.

 

He Got me at Ambulatory, but What about Gimcrack?

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When we were first dating, my husband used complex English words, some of which I, as a native English speaker, didn’t even know.

Consider the word “ambulatory”, which means to the ability to walk about (thus not bedridden). I don’t know how ambulatory came up, but he correctly guessed the meaning at a time when I was struggling to come up with one. I think that might have been when I began to fall for the tall, smart Dutchman.

He’s a smart one, but it also has to do with the European education system and perspective. My husband attended “Gymnasium,” which is the equivalent of high school for university-bound students. Latin and Greek are part of the curriculum offered at this level, and many words in the English language have Latin or Greek roots. Due to the education he received as a teenager, he knew that the Latin word “ambulare” means “to walk or move about.” Thus ambulatory was a logical step in his reasoning. So he basically charmed me in my early thirties utilizing his high school education. (Just to clarify, he’s my same age, so this is not a cougar story of cradle robbing).

His knowledge of language also has to do with location.

Growing up in the west coast of the U.S., I could travel for two weeks straight across America and not encounter any other languages besides English and some occasional Spanish. In The Netherlands, you only need to travel for a few hours to reach another country with different laws, a different language, and it’s own set of cultural norms.Political-Map-of-Germany.png

If you live in a large Dutch city, you can have this same experience walking down the street. On any given day, I can hear Moroccan, Turkish, Spanish, Iranian, French, Arabic and other languages just by the common activity of walking my child to school.

My son’s school alone is filled with students from over 40 different countries of origin, yet it is a Dutch school. The children are discouraged from speaking other languages on the playground or in the classroom. Yet all of those kids have parents, who just like me, when they come home or leave the school, most likely speak to their children in their mother tongue.

The Netherlands is a small country, and with such a diversity of cultures just past the border, or within its borders, it only makes sense that multiple language acquisition is the norm.

As a lingua franca, English has a special place in this process of language acquisition. They start teaching English as a second language in school around the age of 8 or 9 years old.

When you live abroad long enough, you tend to learn the local language. I spend a good deal of my day speaking Dutch. Although it’s exciting to be able to communicate in Dutch, it also has a downside. As my brain acquires more and more Dutch, my English is surely but slowly eroding. That’s why I seek out other native-English speaking expats. It’s also why I signed up for Miriam-Webster’s Word of The Day newsletter.

Each day, I receive a new word in my inbox with a definition, examples of usage and the history of the word. Most of the time I know the word, and get a shot of native language confidence as I say to myself “already knew that!” But this morning a word showed up that upon first encounter, made me flicker my eyebrows: Gimcrack.

Before I even opened the email, I was forming definitions in my head: Gimcrack: 1) That unfortunate view one is exposed to when a plumber bends over to fix a sink, or 2) A person at a gym doing squats and accidentally displaying a portion of their buttocks, commonly known as crack.

To my relief, both of my definitions were wrong. Here is the correct definition:

Gimcrack (pronounced Jim krak): A showy object of little use or value: gewgaw.

Say what? Gewgaw? It’s a knickknack or in other words, a kickshaw or a tchotchke. Where do we come up with all of these words?

Try using Gimcrack in a sentence. It will either impress the socks off someone or earn you a misguided punch in the arm.

Screenshot 2017-04-04 18.11.22

Life Cycling

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Have you ever had one of those days where you feel as if that voodoo guy in Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom has just reached in and pulled your heart from your chest, exposing it to the world for all its vulnerability and capabilities?

Today was one of those days. I got to keep my heart in the end, ripped and sore from the emotional work out, but with the chance of healing and being stronger.

It started with a visit to my French friend Fanny to meet her just over 2 week-old baby. Although I visited with Fanny when she was pregnant, this was the first time I saw her as a mom, that baby in her arms. I had forgotten how tiny little humans could be.

When she offered for me to hold her, I scooped her up, supporting her little wobbly neck, cuddling her to me. She was so light, so vulnerable, so fresh to the world with that new baby smell that speaks of a purity we can never quite reclaim.

“Her existence changes the world,” I said. “Not only has she dramatically changed your lives by coming into it, but she will say and do things in her lifetime that will change the world.”

“Yes. I totally agree,” my friend responded. We weren’t trying to be profound. Our exchange was in a way just pointing out the obvious. But sometimes it’s the most obvious things that can be revelatory.

I love holding babies, but today, this had an extra layer of significance.  I was celebrating the start of this small baby girl’s life, but in a few short hours, I would be attending a funeral of a friend who died at 42 years young.

As I prepared to attend the funeral, I thought of my friend Mart, how he wasn’t here on the planet anymore. His body remains, but he left Saturday, departing for the heavens. For once, I can write this with certainty. Not necessarily my own, but his. He was a lawyer with an analytical mind, but also a Christian. In the last few months of his life, his thoughts on God, on Jesus, gained clarity.

I have attended a half dozen funerals at our church in the last five years, but he was by far the youngest within our community to pass away. If you are one to think of and idealize your own funeral, this might have been the picture in your mind. The church, which can hold approximately 400 people, was completely full.  Beautiful music was played, the flowers spoke of honor and celebration, the children were called forward to light candles. We heard  inspiring, heart-opening and tear invoking stories of his life and beliefs recalled through his family members, wife, fraternity brothers, colleagues.

A common theme was his faith. At a time that many might raise their fist in the air at God and shake it with anger, his faith solidified, became crystal clear and simple. He knew he was going to God.

After the church service, the attendees cycled, caught a tram or drove to the Dutch cemetery, where our friend was lowered into “his final resting place.” Yet that is also a bit of an untruth; the vessel that held him has been lowered into the ground, but he has flown away.

That gravestone will represent a place to honor his memory, but he will live on in all of those who loved him and knew him.

As the day comes to a close, I think of his wife, mother, brother, sister, cousins, nieces and nephews, friends, colleagues. Those left behind. My thoughts focus most on his wife, a good friend of mine, and what this transition into a new phase of her life, without her beloved by her side, will be like. As I wrote that last sentence, a thought came shooting through me; ‘but she’s not alone. He is there with her in spirit. And she is surrounded by those who love her.’ 

So very true, yet my heart still hurts for her. This is the stuff that connects us to the life cycle and makes us aware of just how precious the gift of life is.

 

 

Good night Guineas

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We have two adorable guinea pigs. The first is an albino escape artist we acquired by accident. Our relatively large garden was used for outside activities during an Earth Day Festival in 2015 held at the neighboring church.

A woman who owns a small farm brought a dozen guinea pigs and created a mini petting zoo that Saturday. Three or four days later, my husband was looking out the window and a little blur of white caught his eye among the lush green of the garden.

“We have a rat in the garden,” he erroneously concluded. Our garden is the pooping ground of local neighborhood cats and visible from the sky should a bird of prey be flying overhead. Yet one little guinea pig had somehow survived all by herself in our garden for three days.

When we informed the farmer of the little Houdini in our garden, she asked if we wanted to keep her.

Our first reaction was “no,” but my son, who had spent most of Earth Day petting these lovable little creatures, had other plans.

He turned into a regular little salesman, promising the world to us if we would only keep the guinea pig. We explained all of the responsibilities that come with owning a pet. My husband made it clear he would not be taking on any of said responsibilities. My son listened to all of it and then looked us in the eye, as he stated his vows of guinea ownership.

“I promise I will feed it, clean the cage, pet her daily and love her.”

We shook on it.

At first, he took his oath seriously. He fed her, helped with cleaning the cage, petted her regularly, named her.

Oitje (pronounced O-Chee) made it into school “share and tell” reports, was a recurring subject in the stream of digital photos and those first few months, he only needed to be reminded once in a while to feed her.

But guineas aren’t exactly the most ideal house pet for a kid. They don’t greet you at the door in a rush of excitement, like a dog, or beg you for attention. They don’t jump on your lap like a cat and chase their tales. That would be a tall order, considering guineas don’t have tails.

In other words, all of the attention is a bit one-sided. You have to reach into that cage as they cower at your outstretched hand and swoop them up. You have to conduct mini guinea pig therapy sessions to calm them down. Eventually, they purr like a cat, and they are cute and cuddly, but . . . .her life seemed a bit sad.

We went online to see if our guinea might be depressed. Research indicated that guinea pigs are social creatures and live  much longer, happier and healthier lives if they are in the company of other guineas.

A trip to the same farm resulted in guinea pig number two. In contrast to Oitje’s smooth, straight and white fur, and bulging red eyes, Coco was a black and tan with luscious wet black eyes you might encounter in a Disney movie. The pads of her feet even had a dark color.

Unlike Oitje, Coco was a nervous wreck. She didn’t like to be held nearly as much, would run like you were a hawk with talons if you even got near the cage. But she had her own winning qualities. Coco was a verbal little creature. She squeaked in the morning to remind you that she and her cage mate also needed a square meal to start off the day.

Two guineas meant investment in a larger cage, which dominated our tiny living room. It also meant twice the amount of pooping and peeing, more frequent cage cleaning, more food.

After the initial excitement wore off, I seemed to have inherited most of the responsibilities. I know the drill from my own childhood. You beg your parents for a pet, promise them the world. You get the pet and you are so excited! But as all the responsibilities set in, you realize these creatures require a lot more of your time then you had initially thought.

Wouldn’t it be better for them to be with a family who was more interested in them? This debate went on for a good six months. Finally, we came to a conclusion. Yes, Coco and Oitje deserved a more exciting life, with people who were willing to put in the time. And, we wanted that rectangle of prime living room real estate back!

We listed them in a Facebook for-sale group and within a few days, we had our first appointment.

Last night, a lovely young couple who had just purchased their first home came by our house to see them.

“We want an animal presence in our home,” the young man explained. Not a cat or a dog,  but a starter animal to go along with the starter home, I interpreted.

The young woman held each guinea pig and I saw instant love on her face that was so familiar. My son had looked at them that way when he first held them.

“Yes. We’d love to have them.”

While my husband packed up the food and bedding supplies, my son started explaining what they liked for breakfast, when they get their dry food, that they like their hay in the late afternoon.

We secretly watched through the window as the taxi came to pick up the young couple with cage, food, and two lovely guinea pigs packed in a perforated cardboard box for their trip to their new home.

“Good night guineas.”

This morning, when I was slicing apples for my son’s lunch, there was something missing. I didn’t hear that high pitched fluting of Coco: “Breakfast! Breakfast! Don’t forget about me!”

Tears streaked down my cheeks. My son came to me and asked what was wrong.

“No Coco whistling.”

He gave me a comforting hug and stood there with me in the new silence. There are far greater challenges over which to shed tears, but saying goodbye is never easy.

“They’ll be happy in their new home,” he consoled.

Wishing you a happy stage in your next journey little ones.

 

Sarah Turner from Bend, OR Coming to Europe!

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I have this close friend Sarah Turner* from The States who keeps saying she wants to come visit me in Europe. Sarah’s a high school counselor in Bend, Oregon. She’s totally into hiking and running, has been happily married for over a decade, is close with all of her siblings, enjoys her job. In other words, she has a great life.

But then her husband cheated on her with one of her best friends who happens to be the wife of her husband’s boss. It’s a total cluster f*&k, as you can imagine, not to mention humiliating. So there she is, 36 years old, suddenly divorced, betrayed by not only her best friend, but her husband (I never really liked that guy to be honest). Did I mention that her mom passed away not long ago? I’ve been worried about her because these are big, disruptive life changes all at once.

X003Most of our communication about all of this has been through email and PMs on Facebook. But she called me up at 4:00 in the morning (forgot the time change) to tell me something totally out of character; she left her job and has just embarked on a solo-trip through Northern Europe to rediscover herself! At the end of her trip, she plans to visit The Netherlands for some appointment she has scheduled in Amsterdam, and will have time to visit me in The Hague!

I’m really impressed. It’s pretty gutsy to travel all by yourself through Europe; especially for a woman who’s never left the continental U.S. and has a hard time picking up foreign languages. As I recall, she’s also a bit afraid of the dark and she became a vegan a couple of years ago. Hmmm. Not sure how traveling in Europe will work out for a vegan. That’s got to be hard.

I’d love to introduce Sarah to some of my single friends, because she really is quite a catch. But it’s obviously too soon. I wouldn’t say she’s in a man-hating phase, but more like she just needs to be totally on her own and remember what it’s like to be an individual.

I hope Sarah doesn’t mind me sharing all of this personal stuff on my blog.

Want to get the full scoop on Sarah Turner, then you might want to click here. I understand you can read quite a few intimate details about her.

Nadja Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot visits The Hague

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Last week my British friend invited me to see Nadja Tolokonnikova speak at Border Kitchen. Nadja reached international fame in 2012 when she and her feminist Pussy Riot bandmates were arrested on charges of “hooliganism” when they gave a spontaneous performance at a Moscow cathedral.

She served two years in a Russian prison for her act of hooliganism. During her sentence, she worked 17-hour days sewing uniforms. But that’s not what she wanted to talk about with the interviewer and audience at Paard van Troje. She wanted to talk about starting a revolution. I could almost hear  a punk version of Tracy Chapman’s famous song playing in the background. Yet at the same time, Nadja’s approach to starting a revolution is much more in your face.

When she first started speaking, I was put off. She dropped the F bomb like a rapper, she didn’t always answer the interviewers questions and she made a lot of generalizations. It didn’t seem to be a matter of stage fright. On the contrary, she seemed quite relaxed and content to digress from the topic if she so desired. I thought I was in for a long, awkward evening at the hands of an anarchist.

I soon realized it wasn’t her who was undergoing a bout of awkwardness; it was me. I was in an adjustment period. Nadja’s presence and her way of thinking were foreign to me. As I let go of whatever preconceived notions I might have had, she emerged before me as a true revolutionista, or in this case a  революционер.

She wasn’t interested in being in the spotlight for the spotlight’s sake. She didn’t care about fame. She knew that she was risking her life just about every time she partook in acts of rebellion in Russia. But she just chose not to think about it. No point. We all die. And better to live your life fully engaged and stand up for what you believe in, then living in fear. Not exactly her words, but that was the sentiment she conveyed.

The more she talked, the more I realized that Nadja is a unique brand of brilliant. She is strong, optimistic, driven, detached. When she talked about celebrities and politicians she’s met from Madonna to Obama, I didn’t get the idea she was name dropping. It was more like telling it as it is.

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Here is my attempt to summarize some of the best insights I received from her talk. These are not her exact words, and could very well misrepresent what she said. But they are my attempt to recall from memory what she said over a week ago.

  1. On Trump. Yes he’s an ugly fascist pig, but it’s a good thing to have that ugliness out in the open where we can all see it. He’s in your face and you can’t ignore him and his ugly attacks on women, the environment, muslims and immigrants. These policies are not hidden and happening behind doors. You are fully confronted with what he’s doing right out in the open. The question remains, what are you going to do about it? (Start a revolution, perhaps?) We can all do something, no matter who we are. We can all take action and stand up for what we believe in. You can see Pussy Riot’s Make America Great Again Trump video here (not for those under 18, or with delicate temperaments).
  2. On communicating with ‘the other.’ When she spent time in prison, she met people with whom she would have never come into contact in her life outside bars: pro-Putin Russians and other people who had completely different opinions than her on almost everything. But they all became friends. How? Surprisingly, she referenced  Acts Chapter 2 of The Bible, to explain her approach to communicating with those who don’t agree with you.
    Acts discusses people speaking in tongues during Pentecost and suddenly being able to understand each other. I don’t think it was about all of these people suddenly speaking Polish and French and all of these different languages. I think it was about people actually being open to ‘the other’ and listening with their heart to one another, being willing to step inside their shoes and see the world from their perspective. That’s what I tried to do in prison. I walked in their shoes. And from there, we could communicate and understand one another. Damn. Nadja has a good point.
  3. On humor: I was one of a half dozen Americans in the audience who raised my hand to ask a question. I notice that I often seek out humor as a way of dealing with the disaster that is Trump. (Think Borowitz report from The New Yorker, or most Late Night shows). Afterwards, I feel a release of pressure, but also a release of the desire to take action. Does humor make us passive?
    Nadja’s answer to my question was also a relief. Here’s my summary of her response. I have activist friends who think humor detracts from activism. But I believe that we do need humor. In fact, humor makes life better, both in and out of prison. It’s hard to listen to people who are serious all of the time. Humor is a way of connecting and taking a serious problem and making it approachable. In other words, humor is a valid tool in starting a conversation and a platform for taking action.

I should probably also mention that Nadja Tolokonnikova wasn’t just there to talk. She has authored a book called: How to Make a Revolution. She’s also started a prison reform project and a media website, Mediazona, with the idea of keeping the world informed about human rights abuses in Russian prisons and calling for prison reform.

“I’m just a damned Russian peasant,” she said as she finished up her presentation to thunderous applause. She might very well be a damned Russian peasant, but she’s a damned impressive Russian peasant, fueling the fires of a revolution in her wake.

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Compost and Marches

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Today, while I was at a composting workshop, women all over the world were participating in Women’s Marches, standing up against racism, sexism, all sorts of isms, speaking out for our health, our equality and forming connections to forge a new beginning. I would have liked to be marching with you, but I had a previous commitment. Yet, I think the compost workshop and the Women’s Marches have something in common: Both are addressing the garbage out there and are figuring out what we can make of it.

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Women’s March Amsterdam. Photo: www.nbcnewyork.com

Composting takes time. All of those bad apples (corrupt politicians), rotten tomatoes (evil corporations), banana peels (unethical policies and laws) and lemons (need I go on?) need to be broken down to size, mixed in with leaves, hay (common sense) and earth (a dose of reality) and given time to just sit, stew and rot a little further.

You could just leave that garbage all on it’s own for a year and it would eventually break down of its own volition (impeachable actions, poor performance and caught in the act of breaking the law), or you can poke it with a fork (put on the pressure), turn it over (make them accountable), expose its underbelly (self explanatory) and all the heat and gases building up in there and the process of break down and transformation speeds up.

Women of the world and all others who support us, through our combined efforts, patience and collective work, we will transform that waste into a thick and nourishing soil in which to plant new seeds and grow new crops. Together, we can turn garbage into gold.