Sunday, June 03, 2007

Morphing slowly into a Dutchwoman?

After a long 4 day weekend in Berlin with my high school friend, Mike, I returned to Amsterdam. I was feeling a little apprehensive... things hadn't been completely hunky dory here - while I had met some people, I had an apartment, and my work was now starting to make sense - the easy laughs and enjoyment one feels when one is with a good friend was going to be hard to forget. To make matters worse, as Mike and his neighbor Kimmo (a very funny Finnish journalist) dropped me at the airport, I found myself with a rowdy drunk group of Dutch people returning home after a party weekend in Berlin. They all laughed uproariously and joked and jostled about as I opened up my book to read - solitary again. As we started our descent into Amsterdam, the atmosphere was oppressively dark and damp. The flat, neat, squares of Dutch farms looked green but the rolling hills, forests, and cityscape of Berlin seemed livelier somehow. When I arrived in my apartment filled with another person's art and belongings, my sense of not belonging increased.

The next day, I went off to work, determined to really try to understand my new job and organization and at least find some satisfaction through my job. I had a long meeting with my soon to be boss about her vision of what I should do. Rather than finding juicy new issues to sink my teeth in, I was shocked to hear that she was particularly interested in my ability to look at health data collection systems and analyze them. In other words, back to the world of MEASURE Evaluation! Now, rather than feeling challenged to do this in a way that includes my interest in gender and gender-based violence, instead I remembered how bored and unappreciated I felt that whole time with my terrible bosses Anne and Erin. How they constantly put me down and held me back from doing anything fulfilling.

I left work that day and headed home on the tram, spying my bus waiting for me at Central Station as the tram pulled in. I ran for the bus and missed it as it pulled off. Since I live in the North West of the town, the buses only run every 30 minutes. Deciding whether or not it would be better to wait for 30 minutes or walk home which would take about 25 minutes (and yes, it was starting to rain), I started to step off a curb, jumped back from a bicycle, twisted my ankle and fell off my Dansko clogs into the path of a tram. Luckily, it was stopped at the light and I picked myself up. Scraped up knee, twisted ankle, and damaged pride seemed to be my only injuries but I cursed the entire city of Amsterdam for my bad luck. DAMN YOU AMSTERDAM!!!!!! I spent the rest of the evening listening to the radio because my cable TV was out and reading the MSF policy on abortion and thinking about the women of Darfur. Not very uplifting. I was inspired that night to look harder for the missing bicycle keys that were stashed in my apartment somewhere. The next day, I got the bicycle out and decided to ride to work. I hadn't ridden a bicycle in at least a year and rush hour bicycling in Amsterdam is not for the faint hearted. I followed an older woman who seemed to know what she was doing and cruised along the highways. Amsterdam has separate bike lanes on the highways and traffic lights just for bikers. A very sane approach. Everything was going pretty well until I got right behind Centraal Station where the ferries from the islands in the North dock. People WHIP off those ferries on their bikes and stream out onto the lanes. I wobbled through them - and made it out alive. I finally arrived at work about 20 minutes later - a little sweaty, a little anxious, but alive!!! I was very proud of myself.

Wednesday was also the first day of our CO-days (which I don't know what it means but I think means Country Officers Days). All of the medical directors from our programs out in the field gather in Holland for a series of presentations on issues and stimulating discussion about solutions. I attended a session on Reproductive Health and watched as our medical directors from Sudan, Ivory Coast, Somalia, and Colombia presented tangible examples of the things I've always studied. It was thrilling. I rode my bike home that night, feeling a little steadier, a little more confident, and a little less unsure of myself. Slowly, I'm morphing into a Dutch woman; I suppose - on my bicycle, by the canals, and over the bridges - not just a lonely expat.

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