26 November 2011

Not a tourist attraction

Volunteers from the Salvation Army walk around the Red Light District several times a week bringing coffee to the women who are working behind the windows. In the middle of handing out coffee to one of the women, a group of tourists interrupted, asking "what are you doing?"

Having been brought up to be polite to others, even strangers, I began to answer the question. But then I stopped myself. Wasn't it obvious what was being done?!? Who couldn't see that coffee was being passed out to the women - from the hands of someone wearing a Salvation Army coat?

Since it was obvious what was happening, I had to wonder why the question was even asked. It reminded me of the sort of question that would be asked in the middle of a tour. And when I realized that, I wasn't sure with what kind of emotion I should respond: surprise, disappointment, anger, sadness or confusion. I know that the Red Light District focuses on tourism and in the evenings the streets are filled with foreigners. Nonetheless, I can't help but wonder what's wrong with things when giving someone else a cup of coffee could be seen as just another tourist attraction.

25 November 2011

The ghost who lives in my house

In the last while there have been a lot of strange things happening in the house. If I didn't know better, I'd say we had a ghost.

First there's the flashing lights in front of our house every day at breakfast, with some random bangs and crashes thrown in for effect.

Throughout the day, the house feels like it's undergoing earthquakes periodically. Plaster also sounds like it's falling from the wall (although fortunately there's no white chunks on the floor), and large booming noises accompany the house being shaken.

The front door of our apartment started sticking (even though it's the driest November in decades). The door handle was also rather loose, so at a certain point I started worrying that I'd get stuck in the apartment one morning.

The marbles in the house are no longer rolling to the same spot that they used to. Much to my disappointment, the houses here are such that marbles normally all roll to one end of the floor and disappear from the cat's sight and his limited attention span. Now, however, the marbles don't end up beside the stove, but instead roll to a metre before the stove at the end of the table: an ideal place to catch the cat's attention.

As I walked into the bathroom the other day, the plastic cover from the drain was moving - popping in and out of the drain like it was possessed.

The simple explanation for most of the above is the fact that the neighbouring house is being stripped bare and having its foundations replaced (12 huge poles - hence the tremendous noise). The lights flashing in front of the house are from the truck coming to pick up the container full of old building materials. With all the shaking, we're somewhat concerned that our house has been shifting and resettling because of the work next door (which explains my doorframe dropping a couple of millimetres). It might also explain the shifting of the lowest point in the house, although I'm not exactly sure how that could come to be.

And as for the moving drain cover? I still have no idea (and must admit that it was a bit freaky). I'll have to wait until I can ask my brother (a plumber) about it. I'm really hoping it has nothing to do with our neighbours, as I'm not sure I could handle what was wrong then, especially as they had already managed to mess with our sewage and water systems when they first started.

19 November 2011

Married a year

We were joking the other day with an older couple and some newlyweds about how couples often fight during their honeymoon. We did, too. But if you asked me how our honeymoon went, I would have smiled widely and honestly said it was good. We were crazy tired, had had a stressful few weeks before the wedding and in a new situation. All things considered, it probably would have been strange (and unhealthy) if we hadn't fought at least once!

I joke sometimes that I knew what I was getting into when I got married. I knew that we would fight sometimes, and sometimes I would feel like I wasn't getting enough attention or support, and/or that I'd once in awhile feel like I didn't get to do as much of what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And so when it turned out that things weren't perfect just because we were married, I wasn't surprised. Instead, we took the time and energy to work out the kinks and meet the challenges of making two separate lives into a beautiful harmony. Sometimes I've complained to God that it was easier alone (to which, I expect He'd answer that I didn't take my chance to be alone, so I'd better get over it, stop my whining, and use my energy for better things - like communicating and listening well, as well as learning to be thankful!).

And now it is a year. And being married has been good - really good. Matthijs is good to me and good for me. And I can see that Matthijs also delights in me, which fills me with wonder. The simple goodness of being married - the joy I have of sharing my life with Matthijs - sometimes surprises me. I hope we never lose some of the surprise and wonder.

14 November 2011

How did no one notice that?!?

This past Saturday, I checked out the inside of the electrical kettle, as I was wondering why it didn't seem to be working so well (e.g., on Friday evening, we'd made tea and it seemed like it had taken ages to boil the water). When I looked inside the thing, I did a double-take. The electric heating element inside the kettle (see the example of these coils in this article on electric kettles) had been eaten through by metals in the water (both the outer coating and the twisted up cord around the wires) so that you could actually have touched the small electric wires in a few places. I didn't know that was even possible. The erosion of the outer coating on the coil would explain why the water took so long to heat - and the exposure of the wires would explain the sparks coming off that someone had seen.

I think I stared at it for a few moments - just out of surprise. And then I had a desperate need to show it to a few others (perhaps simply to confirm if I was really seeing exposed wires in a thing where we're supposed to boil water). The first reaction I received was pretty much the same as mine: amazement, including thankfulness that we'd managed not to burn the house down with that thing. The second reaction was different - a simple suggestion to use some vinegar to clean off the calcium build-up. The person making the suggestion was busy washing the dishes (and the lighting behind the sink isn't so good), so I'm sure that influenced his reaction. Yet, it still seemed a bit like the disaster inside the kettle was so foreign to him that he simply explained away the strange colouring inside the kettle with the only reasonable possibility he knew: it was from a calcium build-up (and not that calcium had already eaten away at it).

And I couldn't help but wonder how it was that the kettle was still sitting there being used when close observation showed that it was a potential fire hazard. I learned later that it had only been a few days that it'd been taking ages to boil (and the sparks were also just recent), so there wasn't that much time for people to notice and wonder. But it'd started setting off the fuse more than a month ago. And calcium eating away the outer coating can't happen in three days, can it? I have to admit that looking inside a kettle isn't exactly normal behaviour (I happen to be fascinated by the amount of calcium build-up created by Amsterdam's hard water), but almost everybody who used it was aware that something wasn't quite working properly. It surprises me that no one had yet seen what was in the kettle - I would have expected someone earlier would have begun to wonder, ask questions, and explore.

10 November 2011

"If God had wanted to kill us, do you think He would have made such an effort?

Did you know that the Bible never gives the mother of Samson a name?

In Judges 13, a messenger of God appears to Samson's mother and tells her that she will have a son - a Nazirite (so he should not cut his hair and she should refrain from alcohol and unclean food). Samson's mother relays the appearance to her husband and mentions that she did not know the messenger's name - but that he clearly looked like an angel. The angel had told her that she would bear a son, who would be a Nazirite (and she should not drink alcohol or eat anything unclean).

Her husband (Manoah) asks God to send the messenger again so that they can ask him what to do when the child is actually born. The messenger returns, once again appearing to his wife. His wife runs and gets him, and Manoah asks how their son should live - once the messenger's words come true. The angel simply repeats that his wife should do all that he had already told her.

Manoah then graciously invites the angel to stay so that they can prepare a young goat for him. The angel turns down their offer of food; instead, he suggests that they give it as an offering to the LORD. Manoah then asks the angel for his name so that they can honour him when his words become true. And the angel responds: "“Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding." (Judges 3:18 NIV).

Manoah sacrifices a goat and a grain offering. The angel returns to heaven via the flames of the offering.

And Manoah's response? "Ahh!!! We're going to die!! We have seen God!"

Manoah has not, up to this point in time, come across as being significantly intelligent. Earlier in the text (after the angel suggests an offering), the reader is even told that Manoah doesn't realize that this is an angel. This is, of course, despite his prayer to God to send the messenger again, the actual message of the angel, and his wife's description of the messenger as being that of an angel. But Manoah's final response makes it blatantly obvious that he simply doesn't understand. It also prompts my favourite line in the story.

His wife's response to her husband was to point out that if God had wanted them dead, He wouldn't have made such an effort. He wouldn't have accepted their offering nor would he have bothered to appear to them and tell them everything He did.

Whereas sometimes not being named in a story points to the person's insignificance, this story seems to work in the opposite. It is the one who is named that is the fool, and the one who is not named (like the messenger) who understands. After all, if it really was a messenger from God, then what he said would come true. It's not like they could have a son if they were dead...

08 November 2011

Indifference as being a good thing?

I'm feeling a bit indifferent about my having become a tochtgenoot. In principle, I am glad and thankful about the step that I've made. And I'm especially glad about Matthijs joining me on this journey. And as I wonder about what might happen this coming year, I do get excited about the possibilities.

But how do I feel? not much, actually. Indifferent, to be honest. 

I'm slightly embarrassed by my indifference. It doesn't seem to be the feeling that is expected of me. But if I pause and wonder about it, it is also a feeling that fits me. I noticed that my first time of becoming a tochtgenoot never got mentioned on this blog - it was mentioned when I renewed my promise (and before that only in passing a couple of times). I don't remember how I felt about the situation then, but its lack of being mentioned on the blog (when I was writing so much at that time about life in community) seems to suggest that I either considered it such a natural step that it wasn't worth mentioning or that I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. 

When I think about my being indifferent in the past to things, I am reminded of how I felt in the beginning of my relationship with Matthijs. I described my feelings as: "So i don't react to the whole situation like a giggly teenager who blushes when you ask her about the boy she likes. In fact, for the longest time, if you asked me about it, I would have smiled but also would have appeared less enthusiastic and more confused by it all (probably because I was puzzled - and still am a bit)." 

Seeing how well my relationship with Matthijs has turned out, I am choosing not to worry about my current feelings. I've discovered in the past that indifference can be a healthy way of exploring expectations alongside of sorting out the desires of my heart. 

06 November 2011


On Sunday, I try my best to have no obligations. Ideally, it is a day full of wonder and possibilities: good conversation, a board game or two, good reading, good food, a little longer in bed or relaxing on the couch, and so on.

And today was simply one of those good Sundays.
-I received flowers from the Sunday school class because they'd seen that I was walking on crutches.
- An American woman came and sat beside me in church - hearing her "Excuse me" as she went past me into her chair, made me attune to the fact that she might appreciate some help knowing what was going on in the service - and I tried to help her be able to participate somewhat. I always appreciate people who desire to participate in worship in a local church when they're in a different country. I talked to her after the service - she teaches nursing at a Christian University in California (although she's originally from Ontario (she lived practically beside Redeemer College!)) and was here for a conference on the spiritual side of care with regard to nursing. Fascinating.
- And I was actually interested in the sermon (I'm notorious for not listening to sermons). Our church is doing a sermon series on the book of Judges - and it's just such a strange book with so many strange stories, that I can't help but be interested in what the preacher will make of the text.
- And after the service, I had a number of good conversations. I sometimes find it hard to know what to say to people, and it was nice to avoid the awkward 'so we should both say something but what' moments. My foot and crutches make a pretty simple (and obvious) conversation opener.
- The good conversations continued as Matthijs and I sat around in the community. Getting to go there after church and just spend unhurried time there chatting is one of the good things about being back in Amsterdam.
- And Sunday dinner was pizza, wine, salad, and ice cream. With a meal like that, how could it not be a good Sunday?

The rest of the Sunday has simply been spent being thankful. How could I not be?

02 November 2011

People are fascinating

I remember reading a study years ago about how often people would push the button to open the handicapped-access doors instead of actually physically opening the door. The frequency was surprisingly high. In certain places, this action was so normal that there was actually comments made about how laziness was not actually one of the physical inabilities that would cause one to need to use a handicapped-access door. Discussion also included how opening the doors with the button was a waste of energy for those healthy enough actually to open the doors.

Last Friday I sat in the hall of the Utrecht University waiting for Matthijs. In front of me was one of those buttons - and since it'd been so long since I'd seen such a button to open the handicapped-access doors, I was immediately curious. Who would press the button and who wouldn't?

Many of the students did not, in fact, press the button.... but that's only because one of their friends had pressed it, or someone immediately before them had pressed it.

Of the approximately 20 percent of people who physically touched the doors, more than half of them did so because the door that had previously been open unexpectedly started closing before they were through.

Matthijs came to get me after about 5 minutes (fyi: he did actually open the door physically). I wouldn't say he had to drag me away, but he certainly had to spend some time listening to me enthusiastically talk about the brief scientific study I had done on the door-opening. I have no doubt that I could have cheerfully stayed there for another half hour (and would have succumbed to pulling out on my pen to record things more scientifically). I just find people so fascinating.