24 June 2012

Adventure in Muiden

Last Saturday (16 june), Matthijs and I had made plans to explore some place together. A bike ride seemed like a lovely way to do that - so we headed out to Muiden to see what we would bump into.

First stop was the "islands" along the IJ-river - simply because the architecture is fascinating there. Then further alongst the river, past Ijburg - just past Ijburg we bumped into this delightful round building. 

After that it was through a nature area: peaceful, green, and filled with sheep. The unfortunate part was that the sheep had decided that the ugly asphalt bike path running through their are was ideal for a toilet. Not so pleasant for the bike tires :(

And then Muiden itself - a small village along the IJ river - at the beginning of its history it was larger and more important than Amsterdam. All that remains now is a castle and a small village.

Nonetheless, it is also the proud owner of a turning bridge. The following are my attempts at pictures:

As we were exploring Muiden, we bumped into the Muiden Protestant Church (PKN). Upon walking in, we were welcomed by one of the volunteers. As we walked around, he told us some of the history of the church, pointing out some of the unique features - the faces at the edge of the ceiling, a special opening in the wall so that people outside could participate/hear the Mass service, and the oldest church stone in the Netherlands. He also shared with us a bit of the history of the church itself - pointing out that the new Catholic Church was built beside this church. With the city hall now between/beside the two, it makes weddings pretty convenient! By the time we were in the church a half hour, I realized that I'd bumped into the adventure I'd been looking for - I just hadn't expected it to come through the hospitality of a church member willing to share with us so much about his church - both the building and the church congregation. (below are a few pictures of the Muiden Church)


The day continued with a quick glance at the castle, fresh fried fish, and biking further to Weesp. In Weesp, we also visited the Protestant Church, which is unique in its own way. Then, we headed back home - both tired but content.

The following is our bike ride, with some of the highlights pinmarked.
The top/north route along the river is our trip to Muiden and south through Weesp is the trip back.
View 16 june - Bike ride to Muiden and Weesp in a larger map

23 June 2012

6 months

It is today six months since my mother passed away. And yet it seems so very long ago that she asked me to clean out the shower for her because she wasn't strong enough to scrub the walls, when I spent so much time with her waiting in the emergency room, when she cried in her hospital bed upon seeing her sister, when she apologized that her being sick had ruined our visit, when she thanked me for helping out so much, and when I hugged her good-bye, expecting to see her again within a few weeks - and help out while she'd be going through chemotherapy.

That all seems so long ago, and yet, the sadness still lingers. It is not the sharp pain that it used to be - something that, at times, threatened to derail everyday activities. Instead, the sadness has become a quiet acceptance that life has changed - alongside the reality of missing Mom and all the support and love she gave.

Through God's grace and the encouragement of so many of those around us, my family and I have made it through these months. Life has once again found a new balance, plans for the future are being made, and hope and wonder are once again regular visitors.

17 June 2012

A good weekend

Last weekend it was once again my turn to have weekend duties in the community: I and 3 others take care of the meals, lead 3 chapels, hold open hours for the reception, buy groceries, pick up the bread, go with people to church, and try to do a couple of fun activities with the group. Because there's a lot to do (and organize), it can be quite tiring. It can also be disappointing if the efforts made to help others and be available are met with a lack of appreciation for that and/or a lack of participation. Last weekend was the usual tiring, but hardly disappointing: at the end of the weekend, I had the feel that I had been part of something good.

Before the weekend even started, there was some question of the availability of those helping out on the weekend team. I did my best to sort things out so that it would still be a good weekend for everyone. This sorting caused some frustration along the way but hopefully has also raised awareness about holding others accountable in a good way and making expectations for weekend duties clearer for everyone.

On Friday evening, a stranger came in to the reception longing for someone to listen to him and asking for help. I gave a listening ear and could refer him to the Kruispost, where hopefully he'll soon be able to receive more structural (and professional) help for the challenges in his life.

Saturday was time again for more good talks - a chance to catch up with others in the community with things that they've been struggling with and wondering about. Often normal life - even with structured coffee times during the week - doesn't give enough time or possibility for this. Doing dishes or preparing a meal together makes it easier to hear how the other person is doing.

And Saturday evening at 6 was the Holland soccer game. Dinner got moved to earlier and chapel later - and we set ourselves up in front of the television to share some Dutch spirit. The Dutch spirit and orange streamers were great; the soccer game, however, was not so great.

Sunday morning was the final church service from one of the community members who is a pastor. It being beautiful weather, several of us biked out to Landsmeer (a 40 minute trip). We were glad we could be there to support one of our own as she goes through this transition.

And Sunday evening was a barbecue. Throughout the weekend, the cooks kept inviting others to come join us. Much to our delight, various members from the community - at least one person from each of the various buildings where we live - accepted the invitation. The meal thus became not only a chance to enjoy wonderful food but also a way to increase fellowship and to delight in the joy of living in community.

A good weekend thus: Tiring, but very good.

09 June 2012

Forced Prostitution, Credibility, and the Maria Mosterd Scandal

A variation of the following blog entry has also been published on my "Recent Reading" blog where I infrequently write about books that I have read.

In her book Echte mannen eten geen kaas (2008), Maria Mosterd tells her story of being involved in prostitution via a relationship with a loverboy. As I've once again been reading books about prostitution and trafficking, it seemed only appropriate to read one of the most famous ones. The edition I had from 2009 was the twenty-second printing of the book (on top of this, sequels were written, numerous interviews were made, and film rights had been sold) - and then came the scandal. Maria's supposedly true story was filled with lies (see the dutch article on wikipedia). Most notably, the lawsuit against the school for neglect was dismissed - in the book, Maria claims to have attended class only on days when there were tests, which should have raised questions. Yet, according to the school, Maria did not skip class at any level of significance (and significant contact was attempted with her mother - about her lack of motivation and frequently arriving late). Classmates/friends of Maria testified in public to her being present at school - and that she had a good imagination. There is little doubt any more that significant parts of the book are fictional.

Before reading the book, I knew about the scandal - and I'm sure that influenced my reading. I found the book itself hard to believe; yet, at the same time, in the midst of this rather nasty and depressing story, I am unsettled by the belief that not all of it can be fiction and even if a little is true, it's cause enough for sadness and concern. Of note was the way in which Maria related to her loverboy - it came across as strange because it was the wrong kind of strange. The relationship with a "loverboy" - a dutch term for a guy that uses the guise of love and promise of a future together in order to convince a woman to prostitute herself for his benefit - is for me, by definition, strange: a woman, because she has "fallen in love", accepts things/situations that are clearly not loving. The relationship gets more complicated with time, but the desire of the woman for her loverboy and his (positive) attention to her remains, irrelevant of everything that has happened. Maria tries to convey that desire, but it falls flat as it misses the echos of a longing for an addiction that you know you need to rid yourself of.

Maria, as she presents herself in the book, is not a sympathetic character. She is unmotivated and lazy with regard to school and studies. She claims to be looking for trouble in the beginning of the book. She claims to know how to manipulate people well. She acknowledges lying (or at least withholding information) in regard to police actions in a rape case. She regularly does drugs. She doesn't appear to care much about other people - she expresses some desire of protection for her friend and sister - but generally seems indifferent. If such a character were to write a book, what kind of book could we expect? A book that bends the truth and tells people what they want to hear (i.e., manipulates) seems not unlikely.

Yet, even if I find Maria presented in the book to be rather unlikable, I do find it a pity that her story has been completely dismissed. Her book suggests that she knows a lot about having sex with strangers - and not good sex (and this is only partially because she was a minor when it happened). It is also obvious that she was mixed up and hanging out with a bad crowd. Both of these things should raise questions amongst Christians and Dutch society (see Guardian article from 2009). It should also raise questions about how much catering to popular taste messes with truth - both on the side of the writer and on the side of the reader. Have we avoided the real story - both with Maria and others - because a story was written that would sell?

07 June 2012

and that was May

The following are some of the statistics in my life from April 26 until today:
- number of days spent travelling - approximately 4; of which about 28 hours were spent in airports or planes, 30 hours in a car or van, 4 hours on a bus, and about 15 hours in a train.
- countries visited - Canada, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, United States and Germany (the last two don't really count since it was only an airport).
- number of nights not spent sleeping with Matthijs - 17 - mostly because of my visit to Canada, although a few nights are because of work things that Matthijs has had to attend.
- number of different places Matthijs and I have slept - 9 - the visit to France, conferences and my visit to Canada all make for a lot of different places to sleep. 
- hours on a bike: maybe 20 - it's been a really bad month in that regard - fortunately, I've been walking tons so I don't feel super unhealthy.
- number of loads of laundry I've done - probably 20 - it's also been a bad month in that regard - it feels like at least one load every other day.
 - cities and/or major attractions visited: Toronto, Hamilton, Strathroy, St. Thomas, Chatham, Cluny, Deventer, Kampen, TaizĂ©, Haarlem, Zaanse Schans.
- read/completed morning and/or evening prayer almost every day - taken from the lay person's variation of the monastic daily offices (in Dutch)
- number of out-of-town visitors - 5 (but only 2 tours of Amsterdam given) - May is the month to visit :)
- number of guests for dinner - only 6 (the 20+ nights of one or both of us not being home might relate to that).
- less than 20 hours in church and chapel - this is actually really low (4 hours are from church services last Sunday!) mostly because I haven't been at chapel often - either because I was away or because I preferred not being around other people much.
- hours worked - way too few.
- books read - at least 10 - noteable have been Berlin's Dynamics of Parallelism, Dossier Vrouwenhandel, Genova's Vrouwen te Koop, Bessenecker's the New Friars, Mosterd's Echte mannen eten geen kaas and novels by Lynn Austin and Steven James.
- average temperature - too cold or too warm. Honestly, we had a couple of days that were 30+ degrees and super-humid so that the house was almost unbearably stuffy, and in France we were freezing - the temperature at night getting down to less than 5 degrees!

For the most part, it's an impressive list (that's also partly because I cheated and counted about 45 days, instead of 30!).

So what are my hopes/wishes for June (and July)?
- more time biking!
- less travelling
- at least as many books read, including more on human trafficking, information visualization, Foster's the Freedom of Simplicity, and finishing up the book on parallelism.
- more time writing and working behind my computer
- less time away from my own bed (Matthijs, too :))
- more dinner guests and more eating at home, in general.
- and lots of laughter - 'cause one can never have too much!!

05 June 2012

Eating french fries on a bench, Amsterdam-style

About a week ago, my cousin and her family stopped by on their way to friends in Germany. I thus had the opportunity to get to know them better - and enjoyed getting to show them around. We managed to cover all the major dutch highlights: windmills, canals, the flower market, pancakes, stroopwaffels, trains, lots of walking, an orange soccerball, croquetten and french fries. And the french fries were eaten in classic Amsterdam style.

We bought the fries at a famous little stand around the corner from both the flower market and Begijnhof (I take more people here, so you might recognize it!). We walked to the benches by the flower market so that we would hopefully not spill/dip all the fries and mayonaisse over everything. It being a beautiful warm day, we had to share the bench not only with the usual tourists but also some of the locals. And the locals of the day were about four middle-aged homeless guys. I'm not sure if the tourists were intimitated by the open beer cans or the two kittens in the coat of the one homeless guy, but the only places still open were beside these guys. So we sat down next to them and enjoyed some random conversation, and the kittens were a delightful and obvious distraction for my cousin's little one.

Before I moved to Amsterdam, I would have felt horribly uncomfortable sitting in the midst of a group of homeless guys (my cousin, having lived in Toronto, was obviously more used to this kind of thing). Now, however, I have a higher appreciation for homeless folk than I do for tourists! And sitting beside them seemed like the most normal thing in the world - the homeless, after all, are my neighbours and the ones I would feel comfortable greeting on the street, and they are at least as much a part of Amsterdam as I am.