The most surreal day of my life to date (part 2)

Dad and decided to put our emotions to the side, silently reminding ourselves why we were here in the first place. We walked to the entrance of the camp, attempting to maintain an aspect of confidence in order to not appear too vulnerable. The best way that my mind was able to draw a parallel with the squalor that these human beings were living in, was to picture a miserable aftermath of a festival ground, which has seen nothing but terrential rain. Throughout the camp there were disregarded clothes and litter swarming the edges of every corner. I spotted some portaloos (‘who empties these?’ I thought). I was pleasantly surprised to see a cluster of mini shops with incredibly neatly piled stock (where was the animalistic chaos that the media so bravely declared?). Huge generators provided this short term dose of reality for the inhabitants of the camp. 

As we walked further and further into the depths of this vast makeshift town, we passed a nightclub with a multicoloured discoball spinning from the ceiling, an information centre, restaurants, a woman’s centre, a building that providing therapy, a town church and so many other points of rest bite – it was incredibly heartwarming and eye opening to see how the human race can react in situations such as this. One thought that did cross my mind, was how these people were able to buy food at the little shops – did they use euros or was there an element of trade going on within the camp?). This question was left unanswered. 

The camp was plastered with chalk drawings and colourful posters declaring peace and love – I couldn’t help but feel incredibly moved at these clear displays of emotional projection. Children as young as one were carried in their parents arms as they wobbled over the weaving stones paths. Every so often a pair of women strolled by with a plain look on their faces as if they were simply mooching around in their home town. My initial intimidation sunk as dad I blended in with the rest of the inhabitants and volunteers, left completely unbothered.

Embarrassed of our voyeur status, we called Lisa to offer our assistance. Suddenly, roaring through the muddy ‘jungle’ in a truck that resembled something from Mad Max, came Lisa. She jumped out and led us to a 2m by 2m shed where a group of incredibly young boys were staying. Lisa tends to this group of boys who are aged between 10-14 and parentless. The best way I can think to describe this woman, is as an extremely emotionally dedicated social worker (who is not being financially rewarded of course). For these parentless children, all they have is Lisa, the other volunteers and each other. When they roll over at night, the only thing of comfort that they can reach for is a fire retardant felt wall covering (after their previous ‘home’ burned down, the boys were helped by a local charity who provided them with a solid wooden structure, sheltering them from the wind and rain). Lisa attempts to feed the boys on a regular basis (leading them to get some food, they follow behind her like a group of baby ducklings).  However, feeding them is not her only task, she must also attempt to stop them jumping the night trains, where two children have recently died risking their life for some type of escape to the sacred lands of the United Kingdom. Her job is not a simple one. 

As we attempted to attach a gas pipe to a mini stove for the boys using some hair gel as a lubricant  (do’s and don’t’s essentially evaporate in the camp) a young, slightly rounded little boy grabbed my hand and began serenading me in his mother tongue. My heart sank as he signalled to the sky and back to my eyes, passionately closing his own eyes as he did so. The song made no sense to me whilst simultaneously making all the sense to me in the world. This moment didn’t fit the criteria of cliche charity moments we see on television where everyone dances around singing and crying whilst the chosen celebrity turns to the camera and encourages the audience  to donate ‘just £1’. No, the rain was beating down hard and the gale force winds encouraged the thousands of tents to aggressively flap in the wind. Unfortunately a vast amount of media coverage on calais appears to be overwhelmingly negative (cheers DailyMail). After receiving a hug goodbye, my heart truly began to ache. 

I did not leave the camp feeling as if I had made a difference that day, I left disheartened and a little defeated. The reality of the situation does not allow for rest bite or relief. However, the work that these long term volunteers are doing is incredible, and I guess that example of polarity between love and desertion restored my faith a little. I believe that the work they are doing is a beautiful display of unquestionable love that the human race can be so great at providing. Love can only transpire from one person to another through something untangible. This task does not deserve praise, just imitation. Get out there and do something.

The most surreal day of my life to date (part 1)

It’s quite a strange feeling knowing that the last time you embarked on this journey, the car was packed to the ceiling with belongings, holiday luggage and random antiques that your mother had acquired from the last brocante (she’s extremely talented in bringing dying pieces of furniture back to life, yet we still complain about her decision to drag around her purchases with us). During the 12 hour journey, our knees would often be wedged into our chests (only allowing for shallow breathing) and occasionally a friend, boyfriend or grandmother would be forced to squeeze into this tiny, frustrating space that ran on 4 wheels. I never considered the fact that I would mature to a point where I would deem  this infuriating journey to be one that I realised I was blessed to have even experienced. Today, I make the same journey to Calais with my father (only this time my dad drives from Belgium where he is temporarily working and I drive from Amsterdam were I now live – you could say things have changed). We repeat this journey due to the fact that we are offering some ‘hands on deck’ for the refugee crisis that is currently unfolding in Calais.

The journey

The nerves initiated as soon as I read the destination on the impending road sign and it was then that it all began to feel very present. I had to remind myself that these individuals have no option to turn around and go home, so what makes me think that I should even have the option to consider doing so? Presumably , the sensation of home is now non-existent for these people – it has completely dispersed.

Through social networking, I was able to discover a contact to instruct me on all of the ‘do’s and don’t s’ of visiting the refugee camp. The address, provided by a complete stranger via social networking also, allowed us to drive directly to the warehouse where the donated support was piled two stories high. It’s interesting how in these situations your ability to trust a complete stranger has to be inclined to increase, because at the end of the day, it is this blind trust that allows these organisations to execute their work in the way they do.

It soon became evident that every other number plate in the warehouse car park, displayed a nationality of people that were definitely prolific throughout the organisation of donations – Brits. My father and I timidly approached a group of people clustered together, smoking outside the entrance. They all possessed a look of enthusiasm, combined with a dose of sadness and exhaustion.

As we cautiously entered the warehouse I felt completely overwhelmed and genuinely shocked by the sheer volume of donations that stood before me. In a bit of a satirical way, with the radio gently pumping a bit of spirit in the background and volunteers carting items in and out, the warehouse reminded me of a slightly morbid Santa’s workshop – I’m a regular with inappropriate thoughts, sorry.

Dad and I stood between the two story high iron shelves feeling very overwhelmed, insignificant and in the way. This organisation felt like a tightly run ship and the volunteers knew exactly how to run it. Shortly after, dad and I met a feisty woman, who I’m going to call Lisa. She was a boisterous, yet headstrong  individual who dedicated her time to a group of also headstrong lads – many who had no parental supervision or care.  These boys (who she knew by their first names and various preferences), had either lost their parents through unfortunate death, possible abandonment or broken promise of return. The 5 ft 2, sharp yet distracted woman explained to dad and I that there were specific items that the boys needed – hair gel, deodorant and of course clean pants. Lisa explained that not only were these boys mischievous, but at times they were inconsolable and even dangerous. Lisa went on to explain how some evenings, the lads even ‘tooled up’ and shockingly mugged people – their dedication to survive was obviously evident, yet their ability to blend in and behave in the camp, was not. Thus, something such as hair gel obviously presented a bargaining tool for Lisa. At times, I found it difficult to mentally process the hardship that these kids had experienced being combined with certain elements of normality, such as wanting to smell good or have perfectly coiffed hair. Occasionally, the kids turned their nose up at certain brands of canned food that were handed to them and it was moments like this that gently reminded myself of the fact that they were still just teenage boys – this realisation allowed for the unproductive soppiness to wilt away, making way for some much needed proactive emotion.

After receiving the kind orders, dad and I went to the local Carrefour to purchase the goods. After raising just under 400 euros, it’s safe to say that this went a long way and bought a lot of pants – dad referred to us as the ‘pants people’ from this moment onward. Feeling incredibly determined, we then dumped the goods in the warehouse in the most organised way possible (there are strict orders not to interfere with the organisation of the warehouse, otherwise it becomes extremely chaotic).

Dad and I had initially agreed to perhaps remain in the warehouse as the camp had proved to be a vulnerable and highly sensitive area at times – perhaps we would discuss it together upon arrival. However, after a 3 and a 1/2 hour journey and with some guidance of other volunteers, it only felt right to make a visit to the media labelled ‘jungle’. Plus, the general tone for dad and I entering the refugee camp felt extremely non-chalant which subtly soothed our concerns. So, in response, we bit the bullet and decided to go for it – this is what we came for. No discussion was had, just a simplistic gaze to one another based on instinct.

Prior to entering the refugee camp, another volunteer requested that I wear waterproof trousers to cover my ankles as a sign of respect to those who support particular faiths where this would be thanked. I happily obliged, whilst mentally appreciating the volunteers’ sensitivity for other cultures – as if they didn’t do enough already.

We nervously jumped back in the car and using a vague map, cautiously made our way to the camp. After driving for about 5 minutes, a very subtle slip road forked to the right leading us to something which we could not have mentally prepared for. I gasped in disbelief, encouraging my father to follow my gaze, allowing him to lay his eyes on the enormous refugee camp that sat 10 feet away from us, yet a stone’s throw to the ferry port where endless amounts of holidaymakers  would be travelling happily back and forth – practically pulling the wool over their eyes, until the camp was out of their sight.

At the entrance, the atmosphere was tense as groups of men clustered together, staring out at the roads and the people gawping at them from their cars. Something just didn’t feel right in my gut, so we carried on driving, watching the entrance pass us by. First the pull of the handbrake and then the guilty look across to one another. We both voiced our reasonable concerns, and for a moment it all felt far too real. Our sights gazed around our environment to a police van that sat on the outskirts of the camp – we were both fully aware that this was only as a precaution for the tax paying public living on the outside. They provided an initial facade of safety within the camp, however it soon became clear that their interests were not with the people of the camp as they hid around a blind spot, naive to the goings on around the other side of that corner.

 

Amsterdam livin’

IMG_9597When you relocate to another country, your mind is forced to simultaneously process such a raw influx of information, that it is only natural to feel overwhelmed. I remember within my first month at my new apartment in Amsterdam (that still lacks internet, leading it to be incredibly lonely at times), my determination completely subsided and made way for pure defeat – that night I cried hysterically for about an hour into my fish dinner for no reason at all (I laugh when I reconsider this memory). Everything at that moment seemed so intense and devastatingly overpowering, I had no idea why. So what do you do in that situation? Write to your nearest and dearest, light some candles, count your blessings and go to sleep. I try to remind myself that as human beings, we require polarity of emotions, in order to appreciate the occasions when we feel good.

I’ve now been in Holland for around three months, and as far as relocations go, it’s been pretty straightforward. I fell into a job which I love, working with people who keep me entertained on a daily basis. I have a beautiful apartment (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that does the trick) and I’m slowly starting to meet people – however this has been the part that has lead to the most personal detachment. The expat community is wonderfully huge in Holland, however the consequence of this demographic, is its fluidity. People are constantly relocating and contracts are constantly shifting. This truly tests your ability to be flexible when you meet some beautiful souls who you know you will be losing in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, when I say I ‘fell into a job’ and so forth, this implies that it was not necessary to make an effort. But, I worked my butt off to gain employment, meet new people, find somewhere to live, literally start my life from scratch – I was simply extremely lucky that everything came to me so quickly. The tip is work hard and eventually you will experience a change that is worthwhile. IMG_8732

There are blissful occasions when I am cycling home from work through the centre of Amsterdam and I find myself smiling the broadest grin – it’s these moments I cherish because I am able to experience a raw feeling of pure gratitude. Alternatively, there are times when I’m embarking on my morning commute when a man decides to ram his bike into mine as we cross paths – even though we both spot each other – this is swiftly followed by a ”fuck you”, to which i respond ”yeah? well…fuck you” whilst trying not to burst out laughing. Plus, although English is spoken by the majority of Dutch (something which has lead me to respect this race of people massively), the language barrier in work environments or social situations often reminds you of the differences that exist between yourself and your peers – I never thought I would be excited to hear a cockney accent as I walk by the canals.

Living in Holland is a constant journey of discovery in how to balance out the scales, attempting to achieve some inner peace and happiness, whilst still being kept on my toes, and it’s an experience that I am certainly enjoying.

There’s so many things that I’ve struggled with since I have moved here, and as a result my personality has definitely learnt to be more adaptable and to put it rather bluntly, all you can do in these environments is simply get on with it. Sulking and being caught in deep emotion are not attractive factors for creating new relationships or maintaining a positive environment. Moreover, when you’re lying in bed, completely alone and it hits you that you are miles away from home, you are the only one to comfort yourself, thus, leaning on others becomes void. This kind of thought process used to suffocate me, but now I find myself completely liberated. A work colleague remarked the other day ”I can do whatever I want to do and no one can tell me otherwise” – that’s when it hit me, that I am literally living the dream. Freedom without limits is such a privilege that we often forget to appreciate it. Now, it’s something that I feel blessed to be able to experience.

IMG_9489The key word for this situation is adaptability. In order to prosper and gain from these scenarios, one must try and remain open minded.

Skidding towards my destiny

A month has passed since I carelessly packed up my entire life and jumped on a flight to The Netherlands (I was filled to the brim with sedatives, regardless of the flight duration of course). My only regret at this point, is that I wish I had taken a little longer to pack my suitcase – if I had considered this and ignored the impetuous, carefree elements of my personality then perhaps my outfits would not be on a vigorous, repetitive cycle.image4

Let’s start with the comical. In The Netherlands, for most residents, it is imperative that you own a bike as this is seen as one of the most popular modes of transport. Of course, after initially purchasing a bike, the rest is free and that is the magical thing about it (although, the laws here regarding lights and so forth are quite strict – I’m currently ignorantly bending this law to suit the needs of my bank balance). Plus, the exercise makes you feel all giddy on the morning commute, theoretically segregating all of the miserable commuters to the tram and train (I soon learnt that bikes weren’t exclusive to happy people). So, after being stood up once (it hurt), I managed to purchase a bike and before I could even learn the Dutch word for bike (fiets), an old-school silver gazelle with a traditional gear system stood in front of me. (I managed to break the gears as soon as I trial rode the bike of course – leaving the seller’s hands covered in oil and dirt after he eventually fixed it on the side of the street for me). So, after a bit of a bump in the road, I was the proud owner of this beauty.

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Prior to the purchase, I was borrowing my aunt’s bike, to get me to and from my beach bar job. One evening, myself and another newbie friend decided to cycle into Den Haag and meet up with some others for some drinks (only a ‘quiet one’). After an entertaining evening meeting the funny locals, whilst slowly becoming more cheerfully intoxicated, and briefly rowing with some Dutch police, out of no where, the heaven’s opened. Ignorance was pure bliss as we embarked on our short journey home, whilst absolutely drenched without an ounce of fear or worry about the trip ahead of us.

As I was attempting to blink the heavy raindrops out of my eyes and wiping the tip of my nose with my already soaked through silk jacket, I gazed down at the floor to see my friend skidding past me in the road, shoe-less and in a fit of laughter. She had indeed fallen off her bike, rather gracefully mind. I tried to stop myself from screaming with laughter (I failed), so she threw her broken shoes in my basket and jumped straight back on her bike. Again, I arduously blinked, but this time it was me skidding to my destiny half way down the road. Opening my eyes, the ground was in my eye line and I could just about make out my own arm stretched out in the road. Clearly, our pathetic appearance screamed ‘help us’ and an onlooker ran out of his home to help the two tipsy girls who had fallen off of their bikes. Obviously, we both found this irresponsibly entertaining and continued to cycle home, holding back the tears of laughter . This accident was rich in riveting memory until the following morning, when my friend woke up in bruises and missing her shoes, whilst I awoke with an open wound on my hand and a broken phone.

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In reflection, the last time I remember confidently riding a bike was when I had a bike crash at the age of about 13 – no wonder I walk everywhere, I am completely accident prone and balance is not my forte. As you can imagine, I am now engulfed by terror every time I mount my bike. It is now my responsibility to gently increase my confidence, so I can eventually become used to the devil piece of apparatus – who knows, I may even be able to turn a corner without coming to an almost complete stop. Once I have that mastered, all I have to do is be alert for constant idiot bike riders, cars, trams, tramlines and pedestrians. Oh, and the huge, aggressive, appropriating seagulls, who are constantly out to kill – never eat, drink or move around a Seagull when in Scheveningen, they rule the streets here and will eat you. I saw one eat a plastic bag at the beach last week for God’s sake.

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The attractive sister of London

Amsterdam is like the attractive sister of London. The kind of sister that allows others to take centre stage, knowing that one day she’ll get noticed. Amsterdam smiles, whether on a long commute or simply whilst embarking on a pleasurable journey of leisure and exploration. Perhaps it is the lackluster effort to be angry or frustrated, or the absence of restriction placed on the inhabitants and tourists of the city that allow them to unlock this apparent happiness, which other cities seem to lack.

Almost every other happy Larry is riding an old, beat-up traditional Dutch bicycle. The paint job doesn’t need to be immaculate and often a sign of rust or damage signifies passionate use rather than neglect – thus the bike’s appearance equates to nothing and I feel that this reflects Dutch people’s desire to engage primarily in function over the sick, selfish obsession that many have over self-presentation – something which sister London is heavily guilty of participating in. Amsterdam exposes itself to be an influential, elegant and powerful city, but the element of aggressive competition appears to be refreshingly absent.

Today, the weather is glorious and the air is hot, so when the harsh winter falls upon the canals, the positive aura could rapidly enter a hibernation phase, along with the buzz of the city, but if it matches up to its descriptive rumours spoken by others, then perhaps throughout all seasons, Amsterdam can sit safely on its pedestal.

12/08/15

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Holland – week two

I can’t believe it’s almost been two weeks. I feel very positive about starting my new life in Holland which is such a refreshing sentiment due to the fact that my last overseas move didn’t execute itself so smoothly. If you’ve read my blog before, you may have noticed my commentary on my previous move to France (sometimes positive, other times realistically reflective). However, second time around, I think the element of choice is something that heavily differentiates these two scenarios. The fact that I chose to move this time around has lifted a lot of emotional weight off of my shoulders as the ball is entirely in my court. Unfortunately, at times, this factor can also create supplementary internal pressure, because after all this was my decision, so I do occasionally consider that if it were to be unsuccessful, I would be solely to blame – I suppose this is a common facet of adulthood some might argue – owning up to your own responsibilities.

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A typical bike traffic jam

Last week on the top of my list of priorities was a job search, sourcing a bike (it’s practically impossible to go without one) and meeting a few people. So, I carried on trailing the typical job sites as well as using LinkedIn and to my surprise, was offered one official job interview from a media company based in Amsterdam, as well as an internship for a big lingerie company. Sourcing a bike seemed to be a little more difficult than anticipated as I found myself staring at unresponsive posts that I had created on Facebook and bike forums. In the end I received a couple of responses and I was lucky enough that my dad was around at the weekend to vet them – I’m still on the lookout.

In terms of social life, it’s difficult after only being here for such a short period of time, but through an au pair forum on Facebook (even though I’m not au pairing 😉 ) I received some communication from a few girls, around my age, originating from all over the globe. who were in a similar boat to me – so we’ve arranged to meet up. It’s quite difficult to meet individuals when your natural environment does not enable this – so this is where a job will come in very handy for me and my currently non-existent social life!

In the meantime, I was able to utilise my family connections to gain a trial shift at a bar on the beach. My bar experience is pretty lacking but my ability to speak the native language is practically non-existent, so I truly felt like I had thrown myself into the deep end, with the sharks and every ocean creature. It was extremely daunting to go through the interview process in a completely new country but I managed it with a smile and bagged a job as a bar runner. I feel pleasantly surprised that within two weeks I have obtained official employment – it’s a pretty cool feeling. Yesterday I had my first drinks spill (balancing a tray of liquids in one hand is much more difficult than people realise – especially if you’re a clumsy fool like me). Most of the drinks fell down myself which was fine, however the remainder happened to plummet into the customers’ handbag which was absolutely mortifying. I’m hoping today goes more smoothly, nonetheless, this experience has taught me that nothing in life is plain sailing, so I just need to encourage myself to get back up again and carry on!

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Not a bad work view

Holland – Week one

So much has happened in the week that I really ought to note down my experiences before they overwhelm my capacity to remember anything.

Settling in

My first few days in Den Haag entailed settling into the area as well my new home – my family have gone to such an effort to make me feel at home and I feel very blessed. I’ll admit however, it was daunting to know that if I stepped out of the front door I could and would get physically lost at any given moment –  through my lack of being able to recognise familiar areas and so forth – something I will now never take for granted. Occasionally I experienced an almost unsettling feeling staring out of my window to a row of houses that I was not used to – in a matter of seconds you can feel so insignificant when you realise where you are, however when your sense of ‘home’ is so flexible, this feeling tends to settle quite quickly. If we never made the decision to get lost and explore, then as human beings, we would not advance or discover – a saddening thought.

A couple of days in, I met with an extremely pleasant recruiter, to be told that there wasn’t anything suitable for me as of yet – I’ve already discovered that i’m less ‘business minded’ than majority of people in Den Haag. In my opinion, the sectors tend to favour the financial, I.T or marketing areas. Nonetheless, I will simply extend my search to other cities such as Amsterdam and hope for the best rather than giving up hope already – why bother taking the easy way out when I have come this far? In terms of potential and wonder, Den Haag has heaps and that is something that fills me with joy.

My first job

So a few days in, a close friend of my Aunt’s kindly offered me some work at a cycling event due to be taking place in Belgium (another adventure, why not?!). One of the options was to get a train down over the weekend and work the Sunday shift behind the bar (whilst losing a days work for Saturday), or alternatively I could travel down with the family in the car, staying with them from Thursday through to Monday – when I would get a lift home again. It was a slightly strange and intimidating feeling thinking about travelling for two hours in a car with a family that I had never met, to then stay in their family home for a further 4 days whilst I worked for them. I took the latter option in order to save money and avoid potential hassle that would arise through taking a train in a new place. So, I bit my lip and did it – ‘just think of the money, you need this’ I told myself.

image6 The house was ‘in the middle of nowhere’, yet absolutely breathtaking. It had a very minimalist feel with floor to ceiling glass windows and doors displaying the stunning garden, backing onto a forest. The first night I was left to get to know the teenage boys whilst their parents attended the first parts of the event. In a way, this was great because all boundaries were knocked down – on a human being level, I feel that we communicate more efficiently in a more relaxed environment. However, waking up in the morning in a stranger’s home evoked that intimidating feeling that I had initially experienced. The boys were called to breakfast so I hesitantly followed not knowing if this included the new/strange house guest. In the next room they had set a place for me at the table – I exhaled slowly and remeasured myself that this was all going to be fine.

Over the next few days, I was able to chill and enjoy the family set-up, whilst meeting countless additions to the family over my stay – they were a very welcoming unit and I felt as if I simply slipped in with them, no fuss or frills about it. The Sunday event incurred a 5am get up time which was painful to consider, but necessary. I’d like to just add that I’ve never had a bar job, nor spoken Dutch or Flemish at any point in my life and because of this, I was hesitant to actually consider the reality of the job – instead I pushed it to the back of my head. I ensured that I could at least count to three in dutch (if anyone wanted more than three drinks, good luck to em’) and tried to recollect the words for wine, beer and so on.

Eventually, the 12 hour day ended, which allowed myself to contemplate the fact that I’d just worked behind a bar in a country I’ve never been to in a language that I’ve never spoken – it was a proud moment where I was able to reassure myself, ‘if I maintain this attitude, things will work out’.

Here’s hoping…

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working the event in Belgium

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