memoir


You already know my posts from Holland will not be chronologically ordered (there were so many things and I was more than few times too lazy to type every evening). So May 6th I went on one-day trip to South Holland to The Hague, Scheveningen and Delft (and I managed to stop for an hour and a half walk through Leiden on my way back).
Everyone in Serbia knows about The Hague and Scheveningen because in The Hague are two courts which plays very important roles in our lives: one is International Court of Justice (which was dealing with genocide issue in the war in ex-Yugoslavia) and the other one is International Court Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, or ICTY (where many of politicians from ex-YU republics were/are still on trials for their role in the war); Scheveningen is place where is the prison where are those politicians.
So my first association when hear these two places was indeed trials and I didn’t even imagining there’s anything else. As if The Hague are two buildings and Scheveningen one prison; and that’s it. Indeed this trip was in my “schedule”prior coming here and among things I really wanted to see were those mentioned buildings. I guess some of you might find this odd but I really had need to bee there and see it with my own eyes.

Of course that’s wasn’t everything I was hoping to see. When checking what else is there I was so surprised to discover how in my mind politics has completely covered real treasures those places have. Before this trip I didn’t even think about Vermeer and his life here, nor about Rembrandt or Rubens, or Escher.

Anyway I jumped on the morning train and was in The Hague about 10.30am. Luckily the weather was lovely although quite windy (but that’s fantastic for Holland). So first thing I was heading to was The Mauritshuis, one of the finest galleries in The Netherlands. It is placed in beautiful mansion which was bequeathed to the state after Johann Maurits death in 1697, and since 1821 it has been the home of the Royal Picture Gallery. And indeed what an amazing collection it is. I was stunned first by “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt; In the same room is the very last Rembrandt’s sefportrait and then in the next room the pearl of the museum, Jan Vermeer’s “Girl With a pearl Earring”. It was an amazing feeling to stand in front of “Dutch Mona Lisa”, the painting I know so much (nope, I didn’t read the book, nor saw the film). I was standing some half an hour looking it and listening audio guide when suddenly I’ve heard one quite weird sentence:“Jan Vermeer made the most famous pearl in western art by only two brushstrokes of white paint” and I thought “What?”. Then I approached even closer and was staring into the pearl and indeed is made by two different white: one that reflects the light and other that reflects the the clothes and that’s it. There is no definitive shape nor the hole in the ear. Amazing!

After the Mauritshuis I remembered advice from BookCrossing friend from The Hague and visited Escher Museum (which is oddly enough not included in the guides) and how good advice that was! I was completely lost in the impossible landscapes, optical illusions, and interactive things museum offers. I love how he used geometry in his art and all puzzle-like metamorphoses he made.

After Escher’s museum I finally went to Vredespaleis (or Peace Palace) in which is The International Court of Justice. The building (or should I say castle) is breathtaking. Sadly I couldn’t get in because I made stupid mistake and didn’t announce my visit which is mandatory. I almost begged but without any success. One simple phone call day before would solve the problem but hey, at least I’ve seen it from the (safe) distance. This means nothing but I’ll have to come back 😉
Enormous palace was completed 1913 and many of the member nations of the Court of Arbitration contributed to the interior’s (according to the guide) rich decoration. In 1946 the Untited Nation’s International Court of Justice was formed as successor to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
In a front of Vredespalais was a tram station where I could catch a train to Scheveningen so I did but after a few minutes I’ve seen a familiar building so I jumped off and indeed it was what I thought it is: The International Court Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (and I think Rwanda as well). It was very strange feeling to stand in a front of the building which was on news almost everyday. I even saw a van with some Serbian crew (I recognized the names). So I text message to Serbia where I am and got reply “I hope you were spitting it”. Strange thing is that every side involved in the war think the ICTY is against precisely their side favouring other two but indeed I would agree. I do think it at least a little bit less favouring our side but I’d rather not be part of that game so I’ll stop here.
Anyway, I’m so glad I fulfilled my, maybe perverse wish and visited both courts.
Then I catched a train to Scheveningen. As I said at the beginning, the only thing I could imagine about Scheveningen was a prison so I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I saw absolutely gorgeous little town on the coast of North Sea (yup sea again). I walked and really enjoyed myself in the view and nope, I didn’t went to see the prison. I really enjoyed my time there and actually didn’t know how much I love the sea because I was always thing about myself as more mountain-type but those waves and the salty air were incredible and indeed something I obviously missed a lot.
There is a joke about Scheveningen, that during WWII Nazis were able to distinguish Dutch from others by forcing them to say Scheveningen. This is indeed historical fact; the joke is that the allies (i.e. Americans) were pronouncing it something like “Shave-a-nigger”.

In the opposite direction of the same tram line was Delft, my third planned destination for that day. And after some half an hour ride I was there. Friends who were there told me it’s gorgeous but I couldn’t imagine how right they are. Indeed it’s so cosy with small and numerous canals and bridges, squares and churches. OK churches are everything but small but anyway I’m so glad I decided to go there as well. Delft is by the way world famous fir its blue-and-white pottery as well as the resting place of William of Orange (1553-84), one of the most celebrated figures in Dutch history. He commanded the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule from his headquarters in Delft, and his victory resulted in religious freedom and independence for the Dutch people.
Delft was also the birthplace of Jan Veermer who was so underrated during his lifetime that he died in extreme poverty. Well, so many painters had the same destiny. I just remember that I’ve heard on audio guide that “Girl With a Pearl Earring” has been bought for only 2 euros! Nope even then that wasn’t much!
So after spending few hours in Delft it was time to go back but then in the train I thought “Why not get off the train in Leiden, spend an hour or so there and then catch another one?” which is precisely what I’ve done. This was indeed second time I was here but first time was after biking some 50 km (I posted about that) and then I wasn’t keen on going deeper in the town.
Leiden was founded 1575 precisely by William of Orange, a year after he relieved the town from a year-long siege by the Spanish. As a reward for their endurance, William offered the citizens of Leiden a choice of the building a university or the abolition of tax. They choose wisely and the city’s reputation as a centre of intellectual and religious tolerance was firmly established.
The dark was fell long time ago when I left Leiden.
I’m very happy to say that after this trip The Hague and Scheveningen will not be places where our “Balkan heroes” are but home of Vermeer and Escher and lovely coastal town.
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Today was a fantastic day! Don [Marlene’s father] drove us [Marlene, Ro, Maureen (Marlene’s sister), Sigourney (Maureen’s daughter) and me] in Volendam, lovely little (quite touristic) fishing village in the North Holland on the mouth of river Ij. The village is famous because its inhabitants still wears traditional Dutch clothes. To be honest I really thought that wearing a wooden clogs is a myth but then Marlene told me that she was wearing them and also she bought every year new pair for Ro! Indeed you can by them in the shops here with all proper sizes and everything but I never thought some would use them. Well I was 100% wrong! One of the first images when we arrived in Volendam was a guy in jeans on the street wearing wooden clogs! (no jeans aren’t part of Dutch traditional clothes).

So anyway, inhabitants of Volendam made their town famous because of the clothes with those high pointed bonnet on women’s heads that became one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes. The houses are lovely as well. Everything was quite in (as one of my friend said) “Hansel and Grethel” style 🙂

And the we took a picture in traditional costumes as well. Don is playing an accordion, Marlene is testing her muscles with an enormous piece of Dutch cheese, Sigourney is showing some smaller pieces, Maureen just picked fresh tulips from the garden, Ro is grinding the coffee and myself showing my pray from the fishing. And of course we all wearing lovely wooden clogs!

By the way Volendam is the place where Picasso and Renoir spent some time.

After a nice walk, coffee and taking some photos we headed back home. Luckily today was The Day of Open Mills! I’ve never been in one before so this was a perfect opportunity. And where would be better place to do so than in Holland! We passed beside few and then stopped near one where the miller explained us the history of that precise windmill (which I didn’t understand cause he was speaking Dutch, later I got translation) and the working mechanism. He was so nice when he realized that I don’t speak Dutch he explained me in English and even opened the highest part of the windmill (which was closed for visitors) so that I could see it.

Many would think that windmills have been used to grind the corn and wheat but actually the main role was to drain the land of lakes and marshes , and extend the shoreline to create fertile farmland. Don’t forget that much of the Netherlands lies below the sea level.
The whole mechanism is made of wood and was working using the power of the wind. I was confused cause I thought it’s moving in one stable rhythm but miller said the case was quite opposite. Then outside I saw system of ropes that are modifying the changes in the wind.

Also nearby windmill there was a little shop where people were buying flour made in that same windmill. One man was shaking a sack of flour homogenizing it. he explained me that they have few flour types with different level of pulverization and they are mixing them in some precise measurement and then by turning the sack upside down he homogenizing it in the final flour. It’s totally traditionally made! And beside that little shop there was a tent where one girl was selling pancakes made from the flour from that mill. We took some (they were delicious) listening not quite Dutch melodies which one older man was playing on his accordion.

I must say that the route was quite scenic and in lovely little towns we were passing through we were making stops to take pictures. For instance Monnickendam (which we visited on out way to Volendam) is beautiful. When we continued our journey back Don was explaining me history of that part of the Holland. He showed me also some places which aren’t on tourist’s maps like steal factory, the steam train still working and railroad that it uses especially to transport steal from the factory (you know, steam locomotive is something you really can’t see in Holland). We also went to the IJmunden harbour which is quite huge with big cruisers and numerous fishing boats. In the harbour there are three huge locks which are enabling the ships to go from the sea into the dutch-canal-system and vice versa. There is a fourth one which can only be used for letting the surplus water out of the canals into the sea (North Sea) [this part was edited thanks to Don]. The harbour was curled among wast dunes and among the dunes there was hidden Atlantic Wall.

I must admit I was totally ignorant about the existence of Atlantic Wall but luckily one of Don’s passions is history (and as far as I noticed, especially wars) so he explained me bunch of things about it. The wall has been made by Nazis as a defense from the Allied forces. The wall is a system of coastal fortifications stretching from the very north of Norway till the shores on the french-Spanish border. Indeed the wall is mainly covered with weed or sand, some parts integrated with the dunes but he showed me some places where is still visible as well as a bunkers in which Nazis had huge canons.

It was such a nice history lesson about which I didn’t have a clue which was really icing today’s cake.

Beatrix of the NetherlandsYup I said I’ll write next time about Queens’ Day but today happened something quite strange: I’ve seen the Queen! OK the circumstances at the end weren’t so lovely but still. Namely after visiting few museums (among the rest Hemp Museum where you can smoke a little bit weed) during the day I ended on the Dam Square in Amsterdam where was about to begin the big event: it is Remembrance Day, a national memorial ceremony. All flags show mourning (they aren’t on the top of the stick (don’t know expression in English)) and each May 4th there is a ceremony on the Dam Square in which the Queen also take participation and at 8.00 pm there is a 2 minutes of silence.

Edgar DavidsIt was quite crowdy on the Square. The speeches have been made first in the church on the square and then there is a procession from the church to the Square to leave the flowers on the memorial monument to the Dutch who lost their lives in World War II which is also on the Dam Square.

I was in the crowd and I saw Dutch Queen, Beatrix of the Netherlands (I was some 5 m from her) as well as some famous people (and among them Edgar Davids).

Anyway, during 2 minute of silence suddenly some man started to yell (and I thought what a stupid, stupid joke). Then there was another scream which I believe it was some Dutch word and then we heard a roar, very strange sound as if a massive train is passing beneath us. That is when people were started to scream and stampede began. The metal fences were down, everyone was running away from the sound. My backpack was on the ground and camera in the hands so I was clumsy; managed to grab backpack, guarding camera but couldn’t avoid the lying fence so I fell. It wasn’t pleasant whatsoever because people in panic ARE dangerous.

Luckily I was on my feet soon enough to avoid to be covered with more bodies. I jumped over one fence in the area that was restricted few minutes before where there were no many people so I was able to watch what on earth is going on. People were hysterically crying, both kids and adults; many were carried by policemen and ambulance and no one knew what was the cause of the those screams and what was that really frightening sound.

Of course first association for all was last year’s Queens Day when many people lost their lives in the attack. Today however, luckily there were no such a consequences but I realized how deep trauma event from the last year has left on Dutch people. And that was the scariest part: knowing that people in such a perfect and ordered lovely, wealthy country live in utter fear without even realizing it. All they need is a trigger, a shout of a sick man and voile: psychology of the mass in on the stage.

Marlene was completely in panic. She sent me text message immediately to check if I’m alright. Rowena called to tell her that she just saw me on TV (there was a live broadcast from the Dam) and she turned on TV and start to type me a message when all this happened. She raised her eyes from mobile phone to TV and saw panic and stampede. Later when they said it was a sick man who was screaming Rowena explained what happened: “Oh it was just Milan not behaving himself”

I thought how would we in Serbia reacted: probably just thinking “What an idiot!”, maybe someone would be irritated and solve the problem with his own hands but I doubt it would provoke such a panic. But I totally understand Dutch people. They just didn’t accustomed to such violent excesses and after experience from the last year I doubt they’ll be cured anytime soon.

I didn’t have a time to write my blog regularly because I was out whole day and then in the evening I wasn’t quite in the mood to type. Anyway, Amsterdam happened few times in the meantime. On the first day (which was quite nice) I decided to take a canal cruise through A’dam’s canals (utterly touristic). I was sitting outside of the boat so that I could make a photos without glass (the boat was covered) and therefore couldn’t hear the story guide has been telling about the buildings before we were passing, but anyway I’ve read about that in the guide. The only thing was that after cruising I went to walk and then took almost the same route which I realized only after few hours and checking photos I’ve made.

Everything looks the same. So many times I thought “I have to take a photo of that, and that, and this, and that …” only to realize that those photos are almost the same. Another curious thing is that I’ve managed (in spite of the fact I had a map) to get lost so many times! Everyone told me Amsterdam is not big city but then I didn’t expect it’s so small. So many times I was heading towards one point and after so much walking without finding it turned out that I must have passed that point long ago and almost reach the point which is not on the map whatsoever! Also it happened numerous times that When I finally managed to locate on the map where I am after only few minutes I’ve been lost again! Today (on the lovely meeting with Dutch BookCrossers I had) I’ve heard explanation.Namely, on the BC convention hosts were explaining how the streets of Amsterdam aren’t straight but in the shape of a horseshoe, following the canal rings. What they forgot to say that after every half an hour (or so) the whole horseshoe pattern is moving anticlockwise and all streets aren’t at the same position on the map as they used to be before that click. Gosh that was so frustrating! But then after few days of not having the slightest idea where you’re going everything become quite clear and simple. (today I know perfectly where should I go to reach Van Gogh’s Museum and then where should I go to reach CaffePlaza to meet other BookCrossres)

But to go back on the first day… After finishing canal cruising I went to walk through the streets and bridges of A’dam. And suddenly in one moment I’ve heard knocking on the glass next to my ear so I instinctively turned my head in that direction. OK I know A’dam has Red Light District and of course I was planing to visit it but I didn’t know where exactly it is and even less that I’m in the middle of it. When I turned my head I saw big (really big) almost completely naked woman in her 50ties (or even more) winking me and inviting me inside. I must say the scene wouldn’t be pretty even if I have been prepared. If I wanna be completely honest it was scary, but of course I’m not used to those kind of window shopping so I needed a little more time to realize that’s OK; it’s OK to look at those women, to wink back or even to accept invitation. So The Red Light District turned out to be the first place I visited in Amsterdam and it was quite interesting. Also the real window stars can bee seen when night starts to fall although indeed there is a pick for all sorts of preferences.

[now I’m gonna time-jump again]

I saw great exhibition in Amsterdam Historical Museum: “The Hoerengracht (1983-1988)”. This world-famous iinstallation is a walk through reinterpretation of a section of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. With its display of richly decorated rooms of window prostitutes, the work is more than a superb example of assemblage art. It is a monument to the Wallen (window prostitution) of the 1980s and this is the first time the work is shown in Amsterdam. the exhibition examines the connection between art and Red Light District. Alongside Kienholz’s (authors of the exhibition Edward and Nancy Kienholz) work, international contemporary artists comment on the theme of window prostitution. “Role Exchange” by Marina Abramovic, for example, explores what happens when an artist and a prostitute change places. For four hours they changed places: prostitute went to the exhibition opening while Abramovis took her place in the window. I was so excited when I saw this installation: There are two screens: one was showing Marina in the window smoking and smiling to the viewers (me) and the other, prostitute chatting with people at the exhibition opening.

As I said I didn’t want to be in the museums when the weather was so nice so I walked whole first few days. I went in the Westerkerk and its tower (the tallest in the city at 85m). The church also has the largest nave of any Dutch protestant church. Rembrandt was buried here though his grave has never been found. The panoramic views of Amsterdam from the top of the tower indeed justify the rather gruelling climb. We were lucky cause the weather was so nice so the views were fantastic.

Beside the Westkerk is [in typical Dutch spirit] Homomonument, monument dedicated to the homosexual women and men who lost their lives during World War II. The pink triangular badge which gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps later became an emblem of gay pride and was an inspiration for this monument which consists of three large pink granite triangles.

In the same street where is Westkerk is also Anne Frank House but when I saw how huge queue is I decided just to pass it. I might go there before return although I’m not keen on spending hours in the line. By the way I visited (just on short) Van Gogh’s Museum today and and it was such an emotional experience. However I’m not going to write about that now. I’ll go there few more times for sure so it’ll be separate post. I’m just mentioning this because when I peeked out of the museum on the street I saw 1km line of people waiting to enter the museum. The same situation was with Rijksmuseum. And today it was raining incredibly (first day with rain whole day long). I didn’t wait cause I purchased Museum Card which allows beside free entrance in almost all Dutch museums, skipping the waiting line 🙂

Anyway, day before Queen’s Day is of course Queen’s Night. It is the day when many people arrives in Amsterdam and the party is starting. By the way, on Queen’s Day Amsterdam at least doubles its population (750000), not only with foreign tourists (like me) but with Dutch from other cities as well. All of a sudden there’s complete blockage of all streets in Amsterdam by people. Every single square has a stage with DJs or different groups. I was cruising from one to another; they were mainly house music which was OK but not to much fun. Then there was stages where people were having great fun but it was sort of Dutch folk music and I must say that certainly is not my mug of tea. It reminded me on some German, Alpine yodelling (not the same but leaves that impression), with middle aged men with accordion, guitar, violin but the audience was screaming the words. It was silly. And then I’ve found the stage with the disco music from 70s-80s and that was a blast! They were singing Bony M songs with all choreography and costumes and I had really great time! Oh and then rain shower started but I didn’t even mind that! It was such a great time indeed.

And then next day (Apr 30th) was the Queen’s Day, the biggest, craziest holiday in The Netherlands … but I think I’ll write about that, next time.

So my big journey started yesterday. I was planing for so long to visit Holland that I wasn’t fully realizing that this is actually happening. My dear friend Marlene invited me many times during last few years but of course because we had that visa obstacle it wasn’t that easy going on your own. (not that I’m complaining cause I was travel a lot but that was mostly in group and Holland was never place I’d visit in a group where I would have to follow certain schedule). So now when that obstacle has been removed I thought quite casually “Why not?”. I checked the term with Marlene and purchased the plane tickets but even then it looked like a dream. Then day before yesterday I started to panic because I had to leave the house in three hours and I didn’t even started to pack my things (that should make a picture how realistic this trip looked to me).

I did get seats next to the window (which I asked) but it was above the wing which messed my plans to use my new camera (that I bought for this trip) It’s Canon PowerShot G11 (I’m so happy about it that I had to mention again). I was a little bit worry about the Schiphol airport which is one of the airport with the highest flight frequency. I supposed to get the bus station, buy the right ticket and then catch the right bus with English speaking driver, explain to him where I’m suppose to go so that he can tell me on which station I should wait another bus. During the flight I was reading about Schiphol and was quite calmed down because guide I have, said that’s one of the most users friendly airports and indeed it is. It was extremely easy to find the right direction and right place to pick up the baggage. The custom clerk didn’t make me problems; asked me questions I expected and stamped my passport (thank you Murphy for not applying your law then!!!). I was on the verge to make silly joke when he asked me the purpose of my visit. I thought to say “Birthday party” [30th April is a Queensday which is the birthday of Dutch Queen’s mother (which was also the queen)]. But then I’ll be here on Rowena’s (Marlene’s daughter’s) B-Day as well which would be my way out with the clerk.

And then at the Schiphool it was such a huge surprise when I suddenly saw a “MILAN ZZZ” sign!!! (for those who don’t know my nick name on BookCrossing (place where I met Marlene) site is zzz). It was Rowena who hold it and then I saw Marlene’s father (!!!) and Marlene! That was not the plan whatsoever so I was really surprised! And then we started to talk as if we know each other zillion years (which is not far from truth) without any unpleasant “oh-say-something-quickly-to-break-this-silence” moment. We all really clicked perfectly. By the way Marlene’s mother suggested the “Who the fuck is Milan?” sign (alluding on the song with Alice of course) but they didn’t do that. Of course I would just pass beside them without even changing my facial expression 🙂 (later she said that’s exactly what she would do as well).

We really couldn´t stop to talk and in spite the fact that I didn´t sleep for more than 24 hours I wasn´t feeling tired. In the afternoon I went in walk through Heemstede and it´s such a lovely town indeed. From the air Holland looks exactly like a Farmiville (those who play it on Facebook (which I don’t and don’t send me invitations!) will know what I’m saying). Everything is so ordered in perfect geometry; on the edges are modern windmills and fields of all sorts of things. The town is lovely; the houses are utterly gorgeous the cobbled streets with street lights; amazingly beautiful gardens and the most strange huge windows without curtains or blinds. Of course Dutch aren’t peeking cause they are completely accustomed on that; however I’m not so I had to admit I was looking inside interested about inner decoration. Then I was wondering “Do they ever walk naked through their house?” Not that I was hoping to catch some nudity but I thought in your house you can be relaxed and free to do whatever you want; However in this case it would be as if they are displaying themselves on the streets. The windows are huge almost from the floor to the ceiling and often you can see entire house till the end on the other side.
Everything leaves impression of the rally rich country. I visited lots of places and in most of them I thought “Oh this could be nice to do in Serbia” however I don’t see Serbia anywhere near to this. Sadly. (will post some pics about neighborhood later).

Today (2nd day) was absolutely lovely with no clouds. I went to Marlene’s parents on the coffee and to meet them of course. They are fantastic! I love their humour and it really relaxed me totally (well, not that was too nervous but you never know). Oh and just like in Serbia, in Holland people are kissing three times! We talked about everything, we catched the topic on which Marlene and I had a huge fight last year (which is past Dutch foreign policy), politics of course, history of the Netherlands and Serbia, question of identity in Holland and Serbia and how there is a huge difference in those two approaches. It was such a great conversation. Oh and Don (Marlene’s father) lended me his bike cause I expressed a wish to do everything Dutch when in Holland 🙂

So in spite that only few kilometres from where I am Van Gogh is waiting me (which is something I’m really dreaming about) I was strong and decided to restrain myself from spending such a lovely day in the museum (I’m sure I’ll eventually catch some rain here) so I decided to go and bike through Holland’s countryside and enjoy the nature. So I took a maps Marlene’s father gave me; put my camera, few sandwiches, water and some long sleeves shirt in my backpack and hit the road.

Holland is cyclist paradise! There are cyclist roads beside the main, car ones, signs for cyclists with marked routes, everyone (car drivers) respects them. It’s just amazing. However thank god there were no cops cause I made few big mistakes: I know I was suppose to ride a bike on the right side of the cyclist road but few times I forgot that cyclist road can be on the left side of the road for cars. So I was turning right from the cyclist road following the direction only to realize that the cyclist road is on my left side  next to the road for cars where I was driving. I did earn few sirens from the car.

Oh and I did manage to fall. Idiot, I’m so into taking pictures so I suddenly saw something I had to picture and completely forgot I’m on the bike so I stretched my leg to stop myself but the speed was too high (I wasn’t realizing that either) which made me lost balance and I “kissed” the pavement. In the middle of the town, it was really embarrassing but I took that picture.

What I was hoping to see was a fields of tulips, something  I don’t think I can see elsewhere. In one of the guides I have, they suggested a route but I had to changed it a little bit of course. So I drove through Bennebroek, Hillegom, Lisse, Sassenheim where I turned right on my own and then I wasn’t sure where I am but when I saw the sing for Noordwijk aan Zee I realised that “aan Zee” must mean “at the sea” so I had to go and see Northern Sea. I was kind of excited cause I’ll jump in the sea again! All of a sudden I’ve found muself among sand dunes and I knew I’m almost there and then I smell it and heard the waves and there it was. endless horizon filled with blue. I left bike near the cafe bar, took of my shoes and started walking towards it. Sand was actually warm but I knew water isn’t. On the other hand I thought “If you could enter into the Arctic Ocean this will not be a problem” and it wasn’t. It was cold and lovely, quiet, except of the waves few people were walking or jogging… It’s strange that last few seas I saw were all cold and on the north of the Europe. I’m so glad I decided to turn and make my own route. 

Then I was a little bit lost in the town and couldn’t find road to Leiden so I asked two older ladies who were so polite and were explaining me direction about 5 minutes… in Dutch! I did found the road eventually but that episode was so nice. At first they didn’t know whet “Leiden” is. I repeated few times and when I showed them on the map they both in the same time said “Oh Leiden!” (I thought I pronounced exactly the same way they did!). When I reached the Leiden I was quite tired (I biked some 45 km) and decided to take train on my way back. You know you can bring your bicycle into the train … if you buy the ticket for it! Which costs the same as for you! How silly is that!?!

And now it’s 2 am, I’m finishing this first report without knowing where I’ll go tomorrow. The idea is Amsterdam but I’m a little bit afraid if the weather is lovely just like it was today I’ll not be able to resist to go in Van Gogh’s Museum. By the way, I learn how to pronounce Van Gogh corectly and I know when I come back and say his last name in Serbia no one would know about whom I’m talking about! I was so surprised. Of course it’s all “H” (Dutch language has so many and so strong “H”).

till soon *wave*

Thursday Thirteen

I modified my last post from 24th March into TT post cause I think it should be exposed to wider blogging audience. So here it is:
1. Last night I went in bed with huge smile on my face. It was amazing watching how Serbs Ana Ivanović and Novak Djoković have took titles in Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells! Serbian fans on the stadium wore “NOLE, ANA, JELENA” t-shirts, this time no one has been punished but the banner “Kosovo is Serbia” has been confiscated, on the grounds that the banner was a political statement (I guess “Texas is USA” would be taken in the same way). Novak made a taped speech last month for a rally in Belgrade in which he spoke against Kosovo’s independence.

Ana & Novak

 

2. “The people who know my past and they understand what I’m saying — my father and my aunt, my uncle all grew up there. They were born in Kosovo and my family used to live there for 30 years. I was there many times. So it kind of touched me in that moment that this was my quest to give support by my country.” said Djoković.

3. Last week, the swimmer Milorad Čavić, who was born in California to Serbian parents, was barred from the European championships after wearing a T-shirt that said “Kosovo is Serbia,” in Cyrillic letters, at the medal ceremony after winning the 50-meter butterfly. “I’m really sad to hear about this. It’s hard because we are athletes and trying to do the best we can on the court and promote our country in the best possible way,” Ivanović said about the Čavić’s case (I wrote about that HERE).

4. And it was fantastic to see those youngsters who have managed to conquer hearts of so many people all around the world.

5. And then this morning I’m turning on my radio expecting to hear news from tennis court I was frozen by the sound of air raid emergency siren! It was horrible flash back and it took me few moments to realize that today is 9th anniversary of the NATO War of aggression against Serbia.

6. I remember that day I didn’t want to leave my flat in Belgrade naively believed that international law is supreme value and that no one will attack sovereign European country without permission of the Security Council UNO (the only institution which has mandate to bring that decision). Moreover I didn’t believe it’s possible that NATO will broke its own statute which said that alliance will go in military action only if the country, member of the alliance is jeopardized by some third (non member) country. But then I simply didn’t think that international law doesn’t exist if USA wants that.

7. So I decided to leave Belgrade to calm my parents and I remember my shock when I arrived on the main bus station which has been completely covered with people sleeping with their luggage on the floor. It was impossible to reach the counters. My god I never saw anything like this before.

8. Anyhow that evening I was visiting my friend, drinking coffee and chatting about something trivial and in one moment we stopped talking. “Was that detonation?” and soon after that we heard air raid sirens. It was unbelievable.

9. 78 days of bombing killed about 3000 civilians; destroyed infrastructure of the country; helped Milosević’s regime to achieve what he couldn’t for so long: kill free press, put in jail everyone who was publicly expressing different political opinion; put citizens in total misery.

10. Official cause for bombing was massacre in the village of Racak. After bombing UN commission of forensics and pathologists confirmed that there was no massacre. Those bodies were in unnaturally positions in the cloths that don’t match the wounds on the body. It was confirmed what Serbs officials were claim that those are terrorists dressed post mortem in the civilian clothes. Naturally that was irrelevant. Of course now we see the true purpose of NATO aggression: making Kosovo independent.

11.

12. One might think 9 years would be enough for wounds to heal but I don’t think that will ever happen. When I heard sirens this morning I couldn’t pick up myself entire morning. 9 years and yet, as if it was yesterday. No I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t afraid during the bombing neither. I never went in shelter or something like that. I was in despair and filled with anger and in the same time incapable to do anything. And that state of mind is worse than anything you can imagine. This morning I realized that state of mind is somewhere inside me, waiting to be awaken.

13. If you were me, would you be able to forgive? (is this question makes me a bad person, or at least a bad Christian? If so, I’m wondering where is the limit of human ability to forgive?)

A Long Way Gone – memoirs of a boy soldier
Ishmael Beah

A Long Way GoneNew York City, 1998
My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
– “Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”
– “Because there is a war.”
– “Did you witness some of the fighting?”
– “Everyone in the country did.”
– “You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
– “Yes, all the time.”
– “
Cool.
I smile a little.
– “You should tell us about it sometime.”
– “Yes, sometime.”

 

This is how begins this vivid, heartbreaking testimony of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone.

Ishmeal Beah was born 1980 in the village in Sierra Leone and lived life common for boy of his age, was in loved in rap music, have his own “bend” who imitated famous rap performers, he recited monologues of Macbeth and Julius Caesar at the gatherings of elder people in the village (did I say common for boy of his age? I guess I should add “more/less common”), and knowing that there is a war “somewhere”. The only war he was familiar about was from the movies like “Rambo”.

Sadly he will find out very soon what the war is. On one common day war came into his life; when he was 11 Sierra Leone swept into chaotic civil war between Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the official (and corrupted) Action People Congress (APC). Of course there is no good war but while reading this testimony I was so confused with the extreme confusion (sounds stupid). Namely, as if there were numerous fractions that have fought against each other. Everyone who is not in your group is potential enemy (and the best/safest way to find out is to shoot before question is asked). Beah with his friends was running away from the RUF through the country and in every singe village people were so frightened by them and have leaved the village. They were trapped more than once and they had to explain that they are running away from the war so they can’t be soldiers!

Now the question is Why on earth the whole village is so afraid of one group of 7 boys? And indeed, question sounds quite reasonable but then, the main characteristic of the Sierra Leone civil war (as well as the civil war in neighboring Liberia) were precisely groups of boys (child) – soldiers. I was finding myself numerous times speechless toward the brutality they were capable to commit! I was often observing smiling face of Ishmael on the back cover in disbelief that he (and his friends) have took part in those events described in the book. It was really hard to believe.

In the same time it is very positive that we have a chance to read chronicle of the brutal life of child soldier because this is something that is happening in this moment as well and I’m not sure how much we are aware of that. There are more than 300.000 child soldiers around the world (according to UN) and huge majority is from the conflict region in sub-Saharan Africa (where Sierra Leone is) so this book is actually the voice of those 300.000+ children and is trying to break the wall of deafness of the western world.

You could ask yourself how come such an enormous brutality in the mind of one child (I was wondering the same) and this book is describing so perfectly process of brain washing. Of course children are quite easy material for manipulation.

Ishmael tried to avoid all this. As I said he was running away from the war with his friends, he was separated from his brother and later from the friends, he was living alone in the forest, sleeping on the tree but eventually government corps have found him and offered “sanctuary” in one village under their protection.

But as I said, mind of a kid is easy to be washed, especially mind that longing for its happy days from the past which will never be back and in the same time the main culpable have been presented to it. In order to help there is always sufficient amount of drugs, memory of their killed families, films with “Rambo” and his powerful fist of revenge. And of course on the other side are (imagine this!) vengeance seeking groups of children soldier! And that is the never ending circle.

Life in Rehabilitation Centre and the process itself was everything but not easy. He was drug addict, brain washed, full of hatred toward “civilians”, tormented by nightmares and of course sadness. But workers in the centre were constantly repeated mantra: “This isn’t your fault” and that was the hardest thing to adopt. Children in the camp were completely lost, they were taken from the forest, from the war and settled into the place were there is no need to be constantly careful, where there is no killings, shooting, and there is no drugs! We can see how slow but constant progress of the method is but sadly we’re seeing how little is necessary to destroy the whole process when the war reappears.

Ishmael lives in New York and is a member of Human Rights Watch and some other international organizations and considering this is the well known fact (as well as the topic of this book) I wrote liberally this review and therefore you might think there are some spoilers. I think whatever I wrote here will not spoil your impression (meaning, will not decrease shock while you reading quite graphic descriptions from Ishmael’s childhood).

And don’t object his writing style, it would be ridiculous (sometime I was forgetting what I’m holding and was analyzing construction but then I asked myself “What are you doing???”)

You can visit his site here: A Long Way Gone and check my Beats of No Nation review, novel written by Uzodinma Iweala with very similar topic.
This is the page of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

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