Thursday, July 16, 2009

Home sweet Home

My 'To Do in Holland' list was getting longer and longer in the past few weeks. Buy 'drop' (salty liquorice, which we Dutch consider a delicacy while the rest of the world finds it gross), renew my insurance, buy Dutch-language books for Soleine, get a new bank card, go for medical checks, buy souvenirs for housekeeper and my neighbors. I am counting down the days. Three more nights and we're flying...home! For six weeks, wow, that is the longest home leave we have ever had.

Only now Soleine realizes that the Netherlands is actually another country, far away. The country where Opa and Oma are living, where little children ride bicycles, where people walk on sidewalks and where Sinterklaas (sort of cousin of Santa Claus) arrives. For me it is the country where my family and friends live. And where I enjoy the luxury of having choice: the countless restaurants, book shops, toy shops, shops where you can buy leather shoes in stead of plastic sandals and good yet cheap wine in any supermarket! But most of all I look forward to seeing my parents, my brothers and sisters and friends. As the youngest of six, I get along with all of them, and although I only see them about once a year, I am probably the one who has the most contact with all of them. Everyone is always busy busy busy...

For Soleine I find it very important that she stays in touch with her Dutch and French speaking cousins and that she can be with Papy and Mamy. She still confounds Belgium and Holland but she is as excited as I am. Yet, although we have a nice apartment in Belgium, I do not really consider it home. And to be honest, after a few weeks I am usually ready to go back, because it does feel like being a visitor. In English they say Home is where the heart is. For me, it is more Home is where my life is.

So will I be happy to go back to Belmopan after six weeks? I will let you know!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The American Way

I have named my blog Dutch in Belize but sometimes I feel I am the only Dutch person in Belize. I know this is not true, and tomorrow I am meeting with a guy called Joop, so he is definitely Dutch. Occasionally I get to speak my language (Dutch) with Paul, Michel’s Belgian colleague or with Elsie Alpuche who immigrated to Belize ten years ago, but I haven’t met any other Dutchies here, nor Germans or French for that matter. There are very few Europeans, apart from some Brits, but they don’t really consider themselves Europeans. While in Asia and Africa there’s a lot of European influence, here I can clearly feel the American impact. How?

Firstly there is the particular preference for all things large. Fridges, cars, behinds…if you can afford it… get a big one. Secondly, there is the accent. Soleine learned her first English in Sri Lanka, When she was thirsty she would ask for ‘wo-teh’ while now she says ‘wah-der’. She also says ‘awesome’ and ‘you guys’. Then there are miles, ounces, cups, yards, inches, feet, 110 volts and thin plugs with tiny pins.

Our house came with some convenient gadgets which I consider American:

  • a spacious walk-in closet (fantastic),
  • a Jacuzzi in the bathtub (nice but rarely used),
  • a dish washer (not used)
  • an ‘insinkerator ‘(a noisy but handy thing in the sink drain that grinds waste before it goes into the septic tank)
  • remote controls for fans and lights (really pointless unless you’re in wheelchair)
  • smoke alarms and panic buttons (we’re not using the alarm system).

Americans like gadgets and security stuff. You should see how
they live here. There is a humongous American embassy in Belmopan, amazing for such a small country as Belize, and the American staff live in a highly secured compound guarded by over 55 security guards, which is probably more than the number of residents. Once inside you feel like you are in a completely different world. Elegant houses, perfectly maintained lawns and sports facilities. When I first visited with Soleine she asked me if we could once stay at this hotel. The homes are dark and cool inside, with central a/c all day as if they don’t have to pay their own electricity bills, and everyone has gadgets. Giant gas barbecues, special beer coolers on wheels, espresso makers, yoghurt machines, ice cream makers, fitness equipment, fancy kids toys, 20-gear bicycles, computers and TVs in every room (always on). I can imagine that it is very tempting to stay there all the time.

When I moved to Zimbabwe from Mozambique in 1999, people remarked that living in Harare was Africa for beginners’ (how things have changed since!). I think the same can be said for living at an American compound: Living abroad for beginners… '