Let’s go somewhere where there’s CHEESE!!

I can’t say coming to the Netherlands was ever a particularly rational plan. It was hatched in 40-degree heat, in a sinkdak “flat” in the Eastern Cape, shared with about three million mosquitoes. I was thinking cold. I was thinking indoor plumbing. And yes – I was thinking cheese.

Wallace and Grommit picked the moon, but even I couldn’t persuade anyone to fund me to go and work on my PhD there (which is not to say I haven’t begun working on a proposal for occupational therapy research at the SA Antarctic Base, for next time they publish a call for applications). The Netherlands does have the advantage of gravity and oxygen, a language intelligible to a sometime Afrikaans speaker, and somewhat affordable flights from my home town.

They also have free freshly-ground coffee in the bank. I kid you not. It seems almost cruel that opening a bank account only takes about fifteen minutes. If FNB had thought of this, the last ten months of playing paper-chase for RuReSA’s account might not have reduced me to wailing and gnashing of teeth (quite as often, at least).

So – the Netherlands so far? Well… they’re tall. Freakishly tall. When you go to a music festival, the geometry of it all is just totally different. You have to stand at the front (if you’re me, and everyone I was with). But it’s not hard to get there, because despite being the most densely populated country in Europe (or maybe because of), they all believe in personal space. Also they don’t dance. At all. So navigating forests of thrashing elbows is just not an issue. It almost feels like a trick. And if you want to be the barefoot hippie lady by the stage (which wasn’t me, incidentally), you can, because NOBODY spills their beer, possibly because it’s so expensive, and I think you can get a deposit back on the bottles.

First cultural experience in the Netherlands: acquiring a taste for solid American blues, jazz, motown and general tough-life ballads sung by recovering alcoholics, part-time lumberjacks and other men with large fuzzy beards. In Utrecht.

Yes, I am also working. On Friday I got to attend part of a conference co-hosted by the African Studies Centre (my home base), aimed at getting Dutch businesses to network with opportunities/contacts in Africa. I got to hear a full-blast politician’s pitch for investing in South Sudan (“Our government is so friendly to foreigners! (and we only kill each other)”), in between categorical trashings of the country’s infrastructure and so-called democracy by academics and Oxfam workers. Also the thoughts of a top exec from a major Dutch bank on solving food security and nutrition (“You know, I never had cooking lessons at school. So I ate too much junk food.”).

Also the more sensible and critical thoughts of a lot of thoughtful and committed people who are doing good stuff, both for and not-for profit.

I like Dutch people a lot. They are friendly, and they are upfront. They don’t seem to care what kind of bike they ride – and everybody rides. Cars give way to cyclists all the time. People hand out free tulips on the side of the road, and you get a state-issue stroopwafel when you board a train (OK, not actually. The bike part was true).

I think this is going to be fun.

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