17 January 2008

the netherlands

There is a certain cold early morning smell that always, when I smell it, makes me drink in a deep breath and say, "It smells like the Netherlands." We used to stop in the Netherlands coming to and going from Liberia and it seemed like the only time we felt that cold-but-not-snowy air. My brother and I would curl up on the little cushion on the brick ledge next to the fireplace in my great-uncle and aunt's house. We watched boats passing on the canal outside. I remember the feel of the brick of their patio under my bare feet when I crept out behind the adults to greet a cousin or wave goodbye to a friend heading to the airport to go back to Africa.

We ate bread and rusks with cheese or chocolate sprinkles for breakfast. My mom usually made us eat one bread with cheese for every one with chocolate sprinkles. That ended up being a lot of slices of bread to get in as many chocolate sprinkles as we wanted. At intervals throughout the day, we drank tea and ate cookies. Nearly every single visit, I tried droppjes (salted black licorice) again - and every time, I hated them. I don't know how many years it took me to learn that lesson.

When I went back and forth to Rwanda, I did the same. The whole world looks better when you have a few hours of sleep on Oom Cees and Tante Dieneke's couch between two overnight flights. For longer stays, they always had a suggestion for something fun that we could see or do: the beach? a traditional fishing village? a bike tour? Every time, I saw a little more of the country from which my fellow blondish, pink-cheeked, Dutch-descended Michiganders come. I love the feeling of belonging in at least one little place on all three continents: Africa, Europe, and North America.

Five years ago, I was in the Netherlands at the end of March. I went for a bike ride under sunny skies and watched the little green buds bursting out on the trees and I thought to myself, "In a perfect world, I would spend the last week of March in the Netherlands every year." The last few years, though, when I went to Liberia and Sudan, things just didn't work out to stop over in Amsterdam.

But on March 24, I'll be back there, in the house on the end of the row, right next to the canal, sipping tea or, a more recent addition, espresso with whipped cream, and watching the fire flicker.

1 comment:

Monday's Child said...

That's so weird... for many years, we always used to go "back" to the UK, via Holland... where we would stay with my uncle and aunt (and grandmother)... of course we have no dutch lineage... this was the persian side of the family (my dad)... but still it was kind of funny to read that... I have VERY fond memories of KLM and Schipol airport... and the announcements "dames an heren " or something to that effect which preced all on flight information :)

My grandmother has now passed on and my uncle and aunt have moved to China (their kids, my cousins have grown up and moved out)... So I haven't actually been to Holland in a looooong time... but fond memories!