In the first place…

Dear All

The last blog of the year and at the very last moment. It was my plan to write on the plane to the Netherlands but it didn’t happen, flying is not my favorite thing. In ever smaller seats, knees beside my ears, eating a lousy meal with knife and fork from the elbow, movies with commercials – no fun really. For my seat, ‘very nice situated on aisle’, I had to pay 25 dollars extra, only the seats in the rear were ‘for free’. Mr. KLM became Mr. thrifty. The phrase ‘for free’ didn’t go down very well, after all I paid a lot of money for my ticket. And the service, ah well, the service… Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. This time I was not. The steward was probably used to working in a kindergarten and didn’t realize yet he was in a different situation now. No, compare that to the old days I thought, because the grandpa-like quite often think about the old days. The old days, in this context is about more than 30 years back, when I flew to Indonesia the first time. The cheapest ticket, 32 hours flight with stops everywhere, was 2200 guilders. Allowing for inflation that would be € 3000,– now. What I paid was less than a third of that amount. We want a lot so quantity goes before quality, and not only when we fly. That, with the diminishment of quality, the quality of life also diminishes.., ah, at least we have a lot of it. 

The Netherlands; since my mother isn’t there anymore, it’s different. No reason anymore to speed from the airport to Amersfoort, no quick first visit, still sleepy from the flight, to bath myself in happiness. A center in every visit is no more. Panta rei. But celebrating Christmas here was good, about new years eve I’m not so sure. It’s just a manmade, invisible threshold, nevertheless it always evokes saudade and a mild sadness in me. The inevitable looking back, seeing much that was beautiful and good; all that went wrong or got lost comes to mind as well in a pregnant way. New years eve, not to make it into a threshold but a milestone, a monument in human size, till here we made it together… I’ll do my best.

I arrived the day before Christmas and at customs, in the shops at the airport and in the train everybody was so nice I noticed, maybe a bit because of the crew on the plane, more because the media show an image of the Netherlands that is not too pleasant. With all the moaning and nonsense in my home country, with all the war and disaster that flood the world, it’s easy to forget that most people want (to be) good and better.  The language of intolerance is the same all over the world, it’s usually not the language people use among each other.

Usually not, but how for heavens sake is it possible that someone that doesn’t do anything but sow hatred becomes politician of the year? I thought that politics had something to do with (decent) governance but it turns out to be a game one can win with a rude mouth, content is of no importance. I don’t even want to consider that they did look at what the guy says. Hatred and frustration must come out of his ears but I think that his introduction of a sticker of hatred is well planned. Political gain at the cost of others, it was rewarded with the title politician of the year. What are you in the first place, a human being or….

In Indonesia pluralism is under pressure. Most people still agree with the words that ‘there is one God who has many names’. A minister of religious affairs states that ‘he doesn’t want to force people to embrace a certain religion, he only wants to inform them about the right religion’. A few hundred shia’s live in camps since they were evicted from Madura Island. Building a church is more and more difficult. Politicians  enrich themselves and keep the people busy with problems that are no problems at all. Based on a imaginary identity, tolerance goes down the drain. What are you in the first place, a human being or….?

What are you in the first place, a human being or an entrepreneur? A rhetorical question.., I thought. We were talking about the manufacturing of all sorts of things, from clothing to electronics that is done in the Far East and about the mines in Africa. In how far should ordering parties care about working conditions at their suppliers?

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A factory that just collapsed, weeks of more than 80 hours, salaries that equal a lousy tip, child labor and workers that can’t take it anymore and take their own life. ‘It’s the task of the entrepreneur to maximize the profits’, says R., ‘they can’t be bothered with these sort of things.’ With all the efforts R. makes to raise his kids to become responsible members of society, and he does make a real effort, he forgets that a world in which being human comes second is unlivable. What are you in the first place, a human being or…?

For the coming year I wish myself and all of you that we can put our humanity in the first place, if I want to know myself a little bit tolerance and compassion for the other are included. If our actions are in accordance with our words, it will be a good year. And that’s what I wish for you, a good and happy year.

Love, Frank  

 

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Specially foreigners were confused by the reactions. Anchor after anchor asked, why are the people dancing? Because that is what we do when we are happy, they said, the passing of the giver doesn’t nullify the gift. (In front of the house of Mandela in Houghton, Johannesburg. From the Mail & Guardian)

Dear All,

Of all the reactions after the passing away of Mandela, I probably found those that tried to declare him a saint the most disturbing ones. The fate of the truly great; make them even bigger and it becomes an infeasible plan to even try to follow in their footsteps. Call them an example, a source of inspiration, a giant among dwarfs; the status of a saint makes that you can do with something that’s even less than a shimmer of the original. Because, who is a saint after all? The narrow-minded search for things that were not so good, newspapers are already starting with it, becomes, although written with the intention to break down and to put his work aside as not valuable, in fact an appeal to do as he did. A human being, with all that comes with being human, did what he did. Those who want to see him as an example do well to realize that, in all the great things he did, he was human, with possibilities and limitations, just like we are. It is that that impresses and at the same time, makes the wish to follow feasible. Even if it’s only ‘small’ things that come on our path, we can be great nevertheless. I know plenty of examples in my surroundings.  

‘Hey’, the help says when she comes in, ‘that is really sad for K isn’t it, it’s terrible’. It would speak for me if I’d say ‘yes, its really bad’ or something like it, just to stop the gossip. And there would be a lot to think about the rest of the day… ‘What is sad?’, I ask. And then the story unfolds. K’s daughter, unmarried, is pregnant for six months now and she can’t hide it anymore. And K’s name, the whole families name in fact, is down the drain. Kasian K. (Kasian means poor / pity) The daughter doesn’t want to say who the father is – it’s probably an American or so that went home again, is what the village thinks – so it would be a child with no father. Adu, kasian K.

Luckily K found a solution although it will take long before his reputation in the community is on par again; in his family there is a couple that has no children. Yesterday daughter married the man of that couple. He has two wives for the time being but, when the kid is born it does have a father, not too much of a disgrace anymore. The couple keeps the child, the (second) wife is divorced again and it’s solved – more or less. What does daughter think about all this? I don’t think that anyone bothered to ask her or to even think about it. Kasian daughter.    .

In Bali the most horrible Christmas-decorations come out of storage again, it’s assumed that it’s important for those Westerners, shops and restaurants are quite willing to please. The Christmas-menus will be appreciated by the business people here; more money for less. ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’, a waiter wished me during lunch today. The rituals of the West, we don’t really understand but if that’s what they want, they’ll get it. Plastic wishes for sure, and I wonder in how far I’m guilty of the same thing. A well meant but obligatory email instead of a handwritten card or a personal wish, direct or by phone, I won’t do it this time. With respect for everyone that does things different, I’d rather look for peace and connectedness, with each of you and everyone in my world, in my heart. And when I go to Holland for a week or two the coming weekend, I’ll meet some of you. A bit of work, surviving the cold and beautiful encounters, that’s what I hope for. 

In Africa someone is sitting in a train-station, without money to go home for Christmas. Dirty clothes, no soap, no food, his studio is in danger because the rent hasn’t been paid for a while. And if I can help. This time I had to say no, with pain in my heart, there is a point when the money is gone. At the same time I’m convinced that the world goes to shambles because ‘we can’t’ is too easily said. Development aid is not re-structured but reduced. Aid for the Philippines was in many forums a curse, we have difficulties of our own enough already and half of the aid doesn’t arrive anyway. (Nonsense, but if that would be true, you’d have to give twice as much. Think of a better excuse brother.) And we have to arrange Christmas dinner, presents, tree… And later put all those presents on E-bay again, it’s all costly and we’re very, very busy.

We can do much more than we think we can and, in order to proof I’m right, I’m stubborn and stupid enough to often go further than what is wise. Not this time but it’s a nasty feeling not to be able. ‘Who sees it is responsible’, a friend said, and that’s true I think. Leaving the other alone is not an option. The limits of what we can do are often much further away than we think although it is, naturally and fortunately, ones own decision what can be done individually. That we, as a country, one of the richest countries in the world, reached our limit though, that is something I don’t buy. An example and a source of inspiration, I can hear them mumble it. Receive and not give, going in the light and not reflect any, that simply sucks. Spreading light where one can, giving hope for better, can one go without? And hope is, Vaclav Havel said, not the thought that something will work out well but the certainty that something is meaningful, regardless the outcome.   

It’s thoughts that, sad enough, seem to have more of a place in this time of year. Christmas is coming and then it’s okay, as if it shouldn’t be the essence of each day in the year. But yeah, he whom Christmas is all about is declared even more than a saint… Christmas, the celebration of the birth of light; apart from the sun and a tiny little bit from the stars, we’re the only source of light that creation provided. 

Love, Frank 

Selfie

Dear All,

It was bound to happen one day, we all knew. I’ve seen him only once, from a distance, in the entrance hall of a hospital, surrounded by bodyguards whom can have only been there to prevent too enthusiastic gestures of affection. Nobody in that hall wished to harm him, that fragile old gentleman that filled the big room with ease. Respect and love were tangible and visible. Big, clumsy men stood with tears in their eyes, that they just could witness this, everybody was silent until a lady expressed here joy and admiration in a very African way, then a cacophony of happiness burst out. An unpretentious human walked by, he waved and smiled.

From the public life he was long gone, from the hearts of South Africans and so many in this world he cannot disappear, he gave hope. In our times there are very few that can stand in his shadow, very few that even begin to equal his stature. To look back in thankfulness and to work with his inheritance is the best way to say Thank you Mr. Mandela, thank you Madiba.

Africa, it’s not only because of the news this morning, that I often think about it. That the studio is (temporarily?) closed was the bad news earlier this week and, although I can’t change it, it’s a loss. Thinking about my friends there I thought of C. once again and decided to try to call him. I’d tried before but this time it worked. Through the grapevine I’d heard that he was in hospital but now he was home again. With a sleepy voice he picked up the phone. What can you say then? Hi, how are you? Indeed, something like it, I stumble a bit and try to send something over the line that cannot be expressed in words. And then; C. was audible touched and very happy I called. We were silent for a number of dimes and it was good. God bless you he said before he hung up. And that touched me.

Selfie, in Britain the word of the year! It also makes a chance to get the same status in the Netherlands, and it will be in the dictionary. A selfie is a picture with the front of a cellphone, a picture of oneself and is published on one of the social networks. Can you see me? Here I am. Maybe I’m jealous because I don’t look good on pictures – no, how it is in real life is something we’re not going to discuss – but I was actually hoping for a bit less selfie. The pope states that a Christian cannot act different than to choose for the poor. Agreed, although that cannot be the case for Christians only. The ‘revolution of tenderness’ the pope advocates, is every human beings business. One cannot miss the fact that it is quite urgent.

Dennis, eight years ago born in the Netherlands, from parents from Burundi, will be send ‘back’ to Africa. He wasn’t in the care of the government for a few months and that’s against the rules of the ‘childrens pardon’, a by-law that recognizes the impossibility for kids that grew up in a western society to go back to a third world country. Dennis was out of that care for a few months, because the legal procedures of his mother had ended. Sending kids to the streets was something that was still done in that time. And now he doesn’t fit the rules, too bad. Many people protest, the responsible deputy minister gets ‘a bit tired’ of all those individual cases.

Ending up in one of the highest positions in the country and not being able to see the man… ‘

How do you know the night has ended, the old Rabbi asked.*

In Bali it rained, again. Buckets full, 100 mm (4 inches) in a few hours. The garden was under water, the pond overflew. Not a disaster, it will dry again, but there is something with water. As long as I know I have problems with it. A sort of Willem Alexander with his water-management but then reversed. (The Dutch king is an expert on water management). Having a pool, that’s 40.000 liters of water, is asking for trouble indeed then. Monday I woke up and I had to look twice before I could believe it; the pool was half empty. Okay, what I often preach; half full then. But still, thousands of liters gone. The dog didn’t drink that much. And the septic tank was full of water, resulting in unpleasant things. The problems are solved. Some dirt in a valve, valve stuck, water flows back in the tank, tank full, overflows, water gone. Valve cleaned and a gauze so that dirt can’t get in again. And the septic tank; rainy season, too much water in the ground, installed a little pump, water out, solved. No, I don’t think we could have solved the one problem with the other.

It’s things I’ve learned not to worry about, well, not too much.

R. the glassblower is back from Sumba for a week or so. He works there in order to make some money, glass is not doing well these days. He works in a hotel-project. A big project; luxury villa’s, rooms and restaurants and six thousand (!) cubic meters of swimming pool. That is six million liters of water, just for a swim in a resort that is next to the most gorgeous beach you’ve ever seen. The few reservoirs in the area go empty for the hotel, finding new wells didn’t work, there is too little water. That’s nothing new. The villagers nearby had to walk an hour already to get their water, it’s just a bit worse now. What’s left is polluted and they have to walk further for water, essential for life. I’m sure they will be very happy with all that tourism.

Don’t lend money to anyone if you’re going to need it some day. That wise advice I didn’t forget but when the money doesn’t come back then, it’s time to talk at least. I find that not easy. It’s my money but it feels like begging and moaning. Keeping the relationship okay – money can never be a reason to ruin a relationship – and still be clear about things. In Bali. There are also other promises that were not kept but, we don’t want to loose face. With the selfie put aside it wasn’t too bad. ‘Pak, if one has friends, one has to treat them with care don’t you think?’ The message was understood right away. Putting words in between the lines, keeping the non-verbal side under control… I only had to brush the shame aside. ‘We all forget things Pak, no problem.’ Maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn a thing or two.

With love, Frank

* An old rabbi once asked his pupils  ‘how do you know when the night has ended and the day begins?’

‘Is it the moment you can tell a dog from a sheep from afar?’ one of his pupils asked. ‘No’ the rabbi said.

‘Is it the moment you can tell a fig-tree from a date palm from afar?’  another pupil asked.’No’ the rabbi said.

‘Then how do you know?’  the pupils asked .

‘It is’, said the rabbi, ‘when you can look another human being in the face and recognize your sister or brother. Until that moment night is still with us.’

Chassidic story