Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A belated Women's Day Post

A first discovered Women's Day living in Uganda back in 2012, a country that in my opinion has a long ways to go when it comes to fully recognizing the full worth of women as equal human beings. I am reminded on a daily basis how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born a woman in the US and in my particular family. I was encouraged and had the opportunity to get an education without any pressure or obligation to marry and start a family at a young age. I could pursue my goals, wear what I want, earn money for myself, and speak my mind. And when I get frustrated with the way we still have to come as a world when it comes to women's rights, I have to remind myself that I am one of the extremely fortunate ones. I did not have to worry about being married at 15, exchanging sexual favors to pay for school fees, missing school due to menstruation, or the burden of having no control over when or how many kids I want to have.

However, I was still born a woman in a largely man's world. I grew up in a family of four boys which perhaps shaped my choices and development in both positive and negative ways. For the first years of my life, I was a "typical"girl: wearing dresses, pink, playing with dolls. But doing all this while stubbornly determined to keep up with the boys, play in the mud, and exert my strong will whenever possible. I remember getting angry when I discovered that realistically most of the boys I played with would someday be stronger and faster than me due to simple biological differences. I grew up in many ways a very traditional home environment. My mother stayed at home after having kids and my dad was the provider. All of our close family friends had a similar family structure. I recall wondering if this was my destiny and if it was I wanted no part of it. I went through a phase saying I would never get married or have kids if it meant losing my identity (as I perceived the tradition of changing my family name to that of my husbands). I also made a pact with myself to never get married before 25. Fortunately, my parents never pushed or expected me to follow this "traditional" trajectory and eventually I discovered that there were other alternatives.

I remember the happy surprise I felt when I discovered my track coach in high school was a very happy stay at home dad. I was happy to meet women who didn't change their names when they got married and it was a relief to meet women who had both careers and families. However, so many other small incidences shaped my perception of what it meant to be a woman. Discussions in high school English class about literature and assumptions made by teacher that women are not good at math, are more emotional and therefore can write better. Taking stupid online quizzes about how "masculine" or "feminine" you are and being informed that I am more masculine simply because I am not afraid of spiders, don't enjoy spending all my free time shopping, and generally take less than 15 minutes to get ready in the morning. This stupid quiz then earned me the reputation of being a "man". Being told my last year of my bachelor by the dean of engineering that I should go to grad school right away before I start having kids and have to stay at home. Being told that if I dressed a certain way guys would notice me more.

Now my initial reaction to these experiences was a stubborn determination to do what I want and break as many stereotypes as possible in the process. I bull headed charged forward with my professional and academic goals, ignoring any men who wanted to do "gentlemanly" things for me, getting angry with people who were following the stereotypes, dressing how I wanted to and ignoring how this might affect positively or negatively the way I was perceived by men. If a woman chooses to be a stay at home, I think her choice should be validated and affirmed. If a woman chooses to never have children. her choice should be validated and affirmed. I realize now sometime in the not so distant future I would like to have a kid and sacrifice some of my goals to raise this kid. I realize now that maybe I can be accomplished and independent but also let someone else into my life to do things together.

However, whether you're a woman born in the US, Uganda, South Korea, or Egypt our world has a long ways to go in validating women AND men as individuals with different interests, goals, skills and talents. So yes, I will still claim the title of feminist because I want to see a world where women are not viewed as a risk to a company since there is mandated paternity and maternity leave, where women can feel confirmed as stay at home moms or working full time engineers. A world where men can feel validated as stay at home dads not just CEOs of big businesses. A world where boys can play with dolls and not be called "girly". A world women and men can choose when and who they marry. A world where everyone has the option to get an education. Ultimately a world where men and women can make the choices that allow them to be fully themselves and contribute to society in that they are best suited for.

Happy Women's Day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Perfect Imperfections



I grew up used to being late to things, impromptu unplanned outings and vacations, long road trips in a full size van stuffed with entertainment for my hyperactive brother(s) (ie toothpicks, aluminium foil, glue, paper), living in a house full of noise and mess and chaos. When I grew older I became determined to reclaim my German roots and create some semblance of order in my life. This meant an obsession with being on time, writing things in my agenda, calculations, plans and excel spreadsheets for my budget and life decisions (however, I still couldn’t bother to keep much semblance of order in my personal space…). Given these compulsions it would seem unlikely that after my first visit to the African continent I would fall deeply in love with the red dirt, unorganized rhythm, sense of time, chaotic transport, and lack of plans. I stubbornly told my mother as a young child that I would not go to a developing country (horribly embarrassing to admit now) and just wanted to live in Germany. My stubbornness extended to wanting to learn German instead of the more practical language Spanish that I started with. Oops. Well go to Germany I did and now it’s northern and perhaps equally organized neighbour (I will stop with comparisons there…). I do love both Germany and Holland!


I guess there are some aspects of childhood no matter how hard you try to reject them that just stick. Now I appreciate my family’s flexibility when it comes to trying new things, random and sudden adventures that are organized in the spur of the moment rather than months in advance, willingness to impulsively plan surprise parties for dear friends, and give of time and resources without the need to meticulously arrange every detail far in advance. Maybe it’s the fact that I was nearly born in Zimbabwe or my family’s still close ties to the continent but at nearly 27, I can’t seem to get “Africa” out of my blood. 

I’ve lived in the same country (officially) for 2.5 years. This is a new record for me. And not long ago I started thinking that maybe I could call this place “home”. For two years I was theoretically fixed (but that didn’t stop me from leaving the country as often as possible) to being in the Netherlands but it’s rather shocking that I have lasted as long as I have in this country. It is a well-documented fact that I hate being cold. Like really hate it. Sure, I can tolerate the cold. I spent the majority of my life in the Midwest which has a climate of temperature extremes, no mountains and long months of cold and grey. So in some sense the Netherlands has a significantly milder climate. But more important than the miserable weather, I’ve begun to the hate the aspects of the Netherlands that I first fell in love with. 

I moved to the Netherlands after 5 months in Uganda, which even by African standards is not exactly known for its organization. The first few days of orientation at Delft were a bit of a shock to me. I recall examining the carefully planned program that was split in 20 minute blocks. I scoffed at this level of detail, “how on earth would they stay on schedule?” But miraculously the schedule was followed perfectly. I received invites to parties months in advanced and began feeling stressed at the thought that I should be planning my social life that far in advance. Quickly I learned that if I wanted Dutch friends to show up to my events I had to also plan months in advance. Now many aspects of this organization were extremely appealing. Meetings start on time, people complete tasks on time, train delays (although often frequent) are unacceptable and cause often excessive amounts of stress—everything is highly functional. Education is affordable and mostly accessible to all, healthcare is mandatory and although the Dutch complain about rising costs due to the privatization of insurance it’s still extremely affordable when compared to the US, transport is reliable and easy to use, there is a highly developed network of cycling paths, I can find all the food I want in the supermarket, people speak a high level of English… Essentially it’s “perfect”. But sometimes this perfection is maddening. (sorry Dutchies, I really do love your little country). 

Sometimes I just feel like hanging out and calling friends the day of and going somewhere. Sometimes when I see the immaculate gardens where I picture a kind old Dutch man or women carefully trimming every leaf, I want to get shears and make it a little less perfect. Sometimes when people complain how someone is 5 minutes late, I want to shake them. Sometimes, although I dearly love my agenda, I want to rip up my agenda and others and tell people just to go with the flow. Sometimes I just want people to understand how someone might think or believe differently than them. Ultimately, because everything is so functional and organized I feel like I’m stuck in a perfect bubble with no room to make an impact or really enjoy life. 

So here it goes: I have loved my time in the Netherlands. And I appreciate the organization. But, unless something drastic happens (never say never) I think I will lose my mind in the greyness and perfection if I choose to call this place “home”(but I will still probably be living here for some time). Apparently, the chaos of my childhood is too deeply engrained in me for me to survive in a perfectly functioning society.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2014: Learning to be vulnerable



I’ve always liked to think there are few things that intimidate or frighten me. Hopping on a plane to an unknown place to stay with strangers in a country where I don’t speak the language generally makes me excited. Navigating public transport and haggling to make sure I get the local price is an adventure. And trying new foods that I don’t know the name of or are still moving when I eat them is a hobby. I’ve never paid much attention to security warnings and tend to trust my intuition rather than what I read from the news or US travel warnings. So perhaps on this measure I might be a brave person. But 2014 (because this post is a very belated new years post) brought lots of scary and intimidating changes and adventures and I often felt more unsure of myself than ever before.  2014 landed me on my favourite continent unexpectedly a record three times; trips that eased some of my restlessness and discontent with living in the Netherlands but also brought about the realization that I really cannot live long term in this tiny flat country I’ve called home for the past 2.5 years (crazy long!).  

Although being in new environments, traveling, and trying new things generally is quite comfortable for me, and regardless of how stressed or unsure I am, putting on a smile and plunging ahead with whatever I am focused on is easy. But leaning in, being vulnerable and admitting that maybe I’m just a bit anxious about things or can’t quite do it all, is difficult and scary. Investing in a community, staying put, and being “comfortable” or maybe even following the status quo is utterly frightening.  And this is the biggest lesson 2014 brought. 

The start of 2014 was quite typical for Rachel, overwhelmingly busy organizing contacts, conducting literature review  for my thesis and finishing up the final courses for my master’s degree. I had no time to think about where I was heading or what I was doing. Between courses, moving out, traveling to Cameroon, then starting my thesis, traveling to Uganda, moving in, months of data entry, an unexpected trip to Rwanda, failed job applications and interviews , the first half of 2014 was perpetual motion without a chance to catch my breath. But by September with a degree in hand, only a part time job offer, no certainty about my future and the deep let down that comes from months (years) of non-stop stress and action, I felt a bit lost. For years my life was filled with productivity and my ability to fill up every spare moment so that I could fit it all in, and suddenly I had much needed time on my hands but nothing to fill it up with. I wish I could say that I used this time productively: to learn French, read, learn new things, fill out loads of applications, train for something. But somehow the months flew by and I am only left with the feeling that I accomplished nothing. 

Currently I’m at a crossroads where I have to make some big, big decisions about where I will be over the next coming YEARS, but in spite of everything,  2014 taught me to occasionally lower my smile when I really wasn’t feeling it, let people care, and instead of constantly giving, let people give to me. Being vulnerable is a risk. For me it’s usually easier to shut down, close people off, and continue with my perpetual motion. But sometimes, opening up and taking the risk of letting people in is worth it and leaves you more full than simply filling up life with outside things.
I wish I had a clear picture of 2015, I wish I had clear plans and knew the direction I’m heading. I wish I knew that the direction I’m heading will help make an impact on the world. I wish that I was starting new, being in a new place with new people and a new culture. I wish I felt the stubborn determination and certainty that usually characterizes my personality and my decisions. My instinct is to run, start with a clean slate in a new place. Maybe that is what 2015 will bring, but right now I just don’t know. So instead I’m attempting to lean in, be present, and maybe be a little vulnerable from time to time.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gratitude, even when you don't feel it

Apparently I am only capable of blogging semi regularly when I have no free time. The past few months I have had more time on my hands than I have had in literally YEARS and yet I don't seem to accomplish anything semi productive. Since I've done a terrible, terrible job of keeping in touch for those who are wondering what I'm up to: I graduated end of August and am currently still living in Amsterdam doing research part time (in Delft) on frugal innovations in Africa for a joint research center between three Dutch universities. My contract runs until February 1st and soon I may be doing research very similar to my master thesis topic for another professor. The research center applied for funding that would include a PhD position. So far it looks like the money will come through which means I can probably start a PhD around March if I decide. Otherwise, I am mostly attempting to figure out how to deal with having so much time on my hands and survive off a two day a week salary (going well so far). And applying for jobs. So I suppose my main excuse for not blogging is simply having nothing interesting to blog about.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving and after a lovely evening with dear friends sharing food, wine, and laughter I felt it was time to express gratitude for my current place in life. Some days thankfulness comes easily, but oftentimes when I stare out at the endless grey skies, or step into the wind and rain and cold and feel depressed about not knowing exactly where I will be or what I will be doing in the upcoming months, gratitude is not a word I would easily use to label my emotions. However, I'm slowly learning to be thankful when it isn't easy, and express gratitude for things or situations that at first glance don't seem thankfulness worthy. Although cultivating a spirit of thankfulness is not always easy, I'm discovering that expressing gratitude even when I don't feel it can slowly change my mindset. So in honor of one of my favorite American holidays, I am thankful for:

1. Dutch weather. Yes this is a shocker. I have notoriously complained about cold, grey, rain, snow (pretty much anything other than beach weather) for most of my life. I would be lying to say that if I could have everything I want in life I would not choose to live in a cold weather climate. BUT, this year I have been learning to appreciate the weather. Whether it's sunny and warm, cold and grey, bitterly windy, rainy, humid, hot, whatever. I am thankful for Dutch weather because when it's sunny, I appreciate it more. My heart truly sings when the sun bursts through after weeks of grey. I'm grateful that unlike many places in the world, having enough water is not even remotely a concern in this tiny country. I'm grateful for the wind when I'm cycling because it makes me work harder and makes up for the lack of hills in the this country. And I'm grateful for the evening light just before the sun sets, that colors and illuminates the many clouds in the Dutch sky. Sure, most days I can't say I'm thrilled to ride my bike through a torrential downpour only to sit soaking wet on the train. But I do think, the inconsistency of the Dutch weather makes me appreciate the sunny days, and allows me to slow down and not obsess over not getting enough exercise on a particular day, but instead sit instead with a book or good company and enjoy a cup of hot tea.

2. Working part time and being able to support myself. This is also a blessing in disguise. For most of my life I have obsessively saved, scrounged, skimped and become over-involved. I have a mortal fear of missing out on opportunities so rather than strategically saying no to preserve my sanity, I say yes to everything and forget about myself and people. I don't have any regrets, I'm also immensely grateful for the opportunities I've had. But it's actually a remarkable gift to be able to work two days a week and pay all my bills (barely). There's something deeply satisfying about living simply (maybe I'm strange in this way) and just being content that rent is paid, I have food in my stomach and am surrounded by good people. Although, I haven't figured out how to be productive and only work two days a week and not think and read myself to death with all my free time, I think this period of living extra simply and not having a massive to do list is a huge gift after years of working myself into the ground. And more importantly, the fact that I have health insurance, a room, and food while only working two days a week is a remarkable gift. I hope I can work more soon since saving is also important. But in the meantime, I am slowly accepting the gift of this period of waiting.

3. My friends, particularly my best friend. In December of 1996, my parents drove me to the neighbors house of the house we were temporarily renting for the supposed one year of living in Michigan. There I met Rebecca, we awkwardly attempted to get to know each other in what initially felt like a forced friendship (for the first day that is). But eighteen years, and six countries later I haven't managed to get rid of this girl. Whether it's making and selling cards in the "craft room", overly competitively playing games and hating each other afterwards, waking up at 6 am on weekends to go running, camping under the stars to avoid paying for a campsite, riding horses, biking through tulip fields, running in Cape Town South Africa, having a picnic in fairytale like woods in Altenkirchen Germany, hiking mountains in Uganda, or cooking over a charcoal stove in the Rwandan rainforest; this girl won't ever be out of my life. And for that I am thankful. Sometimes I hate her more than I love her, but I'm thankful for our random adventures, strange habits, her consistently inconsistent communication habits, and her lifelong support. Besides Rebecca, no matter where I go, I have been fortunate to meet sincere, open minded, smart, generous and kind people who challenge me and support me.

4. My family. I'm thankful that I was the only girl with four silly and unique brothers. I'm thankful that being surrounded by guys my whole life helped me to never seek out attention from men (perhaps to a fault ;) ), taught me to respect myself and demand respect from others and perhaps also gave me a very strong dislike for excessive drama. I'm thankful for a childhood where I was allowed and encouraged to play in dirt, to create, to explore, to learn, to read, and to be creative even if it meant doing ridiculous things. I'm thankful for parents who actively encouraged my travels and attempt to have a global mindset even when it means me living halfway across the world. I'm thankful for a family that has encouraged my questions and determination and goals even when I'm bull headed, stubborn and opinionated. And I'm thankful for the lessons of hospitality and generosity.

5. Healthy food. I'm grateful that I live somewhere, where I have the ability to create delicious and healthy meals and I'm thankful that I was taught good food habits from a young age so I never had to relearn my eating habits. Finally, I'm thankful that I was taught to think about where my food comes from and participate in growing my own food (even though I mostly kill anything that grows).

Finally, I'm thankful that in just three weeks I get to see almost my whole family in a corner of the world with perfect weather (sorry Dutch weather, I'm not THAT thankful for you)!

Small business owners in Uganda

Market in Banda, Rwanda

Avocados in Rwanda

Post charcoal stove cooking in Rwanda

Climate KIC friends in Valencia Spain

Fresh farm food just outside Milan, Italy

Graduation in Delft. My dear friend and former roommate.

Rollende Keuken (rolling kitchens), Amsterdam. 

Rwandese dancing at a wedding. 



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Privilege

One of the side effects of the extremely connected world we live in today, is that with a simple mouse click we can in a split second compare our lives to those of our friends. We can control what portion of our lives we display to our internet network (although with privacy issues perhaps even this is changing). Suddenly, rather than being content with the fact that we have a job, friends, health, a roof over our heads, and food or perhaps any combination of these things, comparing lives can arouse feelings of envy and make us scrutinize our own lives and choices.

I love the fact that I can use Facebook to keep up with my lovely friends around the world. I have contemplated deleting my Facebook because of privacy concerns, how annoying it is to sometimes be bombarded with political opinions, and simply the distraction it often becomes. But ultimately, I don't have an alternative that allows me to so effortlessly get a sneak peek into the lives of people I do care about a lot. I realize that perhaps even my own posts might stir envy in some people since I have had some incredible opportunities. But one extremely disturbing trend that I have observed on facebook and the internet world in general is the abundance of fundraising efforts. I think it's great that the internet and social media allows us to raise support for causes and I spent years fundraising for various projects and trips and I understand how challenging that can be. However, some of these fundraising and kickstarter campaigns I find extremely unsettling and ultimately very angering.

At the end of the day people are free to raise money and give money where they want. I have no desire to change this freedom and I know I only have control over my own actions. Most recently, I read a post about $35,000 potato salad kickstarter (that started as $10). I sincerely hope this is fake and whoever was raising the money will use the $35,000 for something more productive than making a potato salad for the first time. However, what is incredibly shocking and to me a testament to how privileged and perhaps unknowingly selfish we have become int he west is the fact that people actually gave money to this cause!

A few months ago I had to write an PhD essay about the challenges and disadvantages I have experienced through life to allow me to reach the place I am at now. I recall sitting in front of my computer staring at the screen thinking about how I could write some BS about how hard I've worked, the challenge of being one of the few females in a male dominated environment with my engineering background, or the cultural difficulties in the many places I've lived. But this didn't ring true to me. Instead I took an alternative approach and decided to write about how privileged I've been and how this sense of privilege is what has created my deep desire to extend my privilege to others who were not afforded the same opportunities as me. This alternative essay approach did not prove to be successful in getting me accepted into the program but at least I know I was authentic.

I try not to judge individual situations (but this doesn't mean I don't find myself judging people), but there is one thing that can shift my normally sunny disposition (at least I think it's sunny) to anger. One of my "privileges" has been the many opportunities I've had to see real people living in an extremely difficult conditions with very, very few opportunities to change their situation no matter how hard they work. Yes, in the developing world many, many people work incredibly hard to simply survive but this hard work without rewards life is not just for those in the developing world. I know that in my own country there are single mothers working several jobs without health insurance and barely making ends meet. There are far too many people on the streets for reasons that I am convinced are not just because they were "lazy". I can write an essay about how hard I've worked to reach the state I'm in now, and it wouldn't be a lie. I do work hard. But my hard work alone did not bring me to this place. Through no choice of my own I had a very big leg up right at birth.

I was born in a country that although has a lot of seemingly unsolvable problems, gives me free access to travel in most countries in the world. Free access to primary and secondary education even if the quality of that education is variable. Electricity, clean drinking water, good healthcare. Besides the inherent opportunities I had just through my citizenship, I was also fortunate to be born into a family with two well educated parents who deeply cared about the educational and emotional development of their children. I also was fortunate to live in cities with a highly educated population meaning that the schools I attended and the people I was surrounded by also shaped my intellectual curiosity and development. I was fortunate to have a father who worked in academia so that I could go to a high quality private university for almost free where I was given international experiences, taught to ask questions, and given problem solving skills. I was also fortunate to be born a native English speaker (although sometimes I think this is a disadvantage when it comes to language learning). By default I had the opportunity to teach English, attend university in the Netherlands without any expensive and difficult language tests. Perhaps through the accumulation of these opportunities I was granted a scholarship that has allowed me to study for free and live comfortably in the Netherlands.

Now sure, I can approach my life from a different angle and think about the fact that I worked during my education so that I had to take very few loans. Or the hundreds upon hundreds of applications I filled out often to be disappointed by rejections when some of my counterparts seemed to be just handed opportunities. Or the fact that I have self funded most of my travel opportunities when some people can go on all inclusive holidays with their families (not that I want to take all inclusive trips anyway). I could compare myself to many people and easily wallow in self pity. By material standards, there are many people more well off than me. But the reality is that I make up a very small percentage of the world's population and most of the world will ever have the same opportunities I've been granted. Often I feel guilty about this fact. What did I do to deserve this privilege? Nothing really.

But rather than feeling guilty about privilege I was granted by birth, I feel angry, angry that people are giving money to potato salads (among other things) when $5 could provide health insurance for a year to a Rwandese. Giving money is difficult and we want to know where our money is going but what if instead of throwing our money around to things that make no difference in the world, we thoughtfully considered how we can share the privileges we've been granted and perhaps alter the life path of just one individual.

Disclaimer: I do not want people to feel guilty by reading this post. I trust that most people are thoughtfully considering how to spend their money. But I would like those of us in the west to at least recognize our very privileged state and reconsider how we view our lives, "problems", and how we spend our money. This is a good reminder for me too, since I will stress out about where I WANT to live and WANT to do and not recognize the fact that actually being able to choose my job or place of residence is a huge privilege. While the American in me supports people trying to pursue their goals and dreams and not accepting things the way they are, I also believe that we can choose to be happy and content in whatever job or place we are in. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Falling in love in 4 weeks

Moving to Amsterdam may have been a huge mistake. Yes, I'm back in the Netherlands and after weeks/months of room searching I am now living in a city that has effortlessly snagged the title of my favorite city/favorite place I've ever lived. Considering that I live in a very quiet (ie slightly dull) part of the city, am currently swamped with thesis writing, got my wallet stolen upon stepping off the bus into my new neighborhood on the first day (it's really actually quiet and safe, I promise!), and have had some bad luck with bikes since returning it is quite impressive that I suddenly find myself in love with this city and am on the verge of becoming as arrogant as all the other Amsterdammers that I used to make fun of before I lived here. Before moving to this fabulous city, I would find myself a bit irritated with the comments from Amsterdam residents along the lines of: I would never live anywhere else in the Netherlands, no Utrecht is boring there's nothing going on, ehhh den Haag is too posh, Rotterdam is ugly, sure that city is nice but it's not Amsterdam. Yep, Amsterdammers are snobs about their city. Yet as I discovered this morning volunteering at a home for the elderly and helping with a quiz (all in Dutch) about Amsterdam only 4 in 10 people living in Amsterdam were actually born in this city. So what is all the hype about?

I feel that I do have some qualifications to promote this city since I lived/traveled quite a few places (if I may be a bit arrogant for the moment). But I must state two potential biases in my analysis (the word bias only reminds me of my thesis that I'm procrastinating on at the moment): 1. It's World Cup season which means all of the Netherlands is decked out in orange to support their dear and incredibly awesome team. This makes the atmosphere in this city even more electric. 2. It's summer in the Netherlands which is the rare two months out of the year where the sun is generally shining more often than it's raining. This means all things outdoors for the city's residents, a long with multiple festivals every weekend.

Buuuut, biases aside this city is still pretty amazing. So why am I so in love with this city and feeling utterly horrified of the thought of moving ANYWHERE else in the world (extremely shocking I know!)?

1. The diversity. In case you didn't know, Amsterdam is home to 174 nationalities. This is almost as many nationalities as countries in the world. Although to me New York feels more diverse (150 nationalities) simply because I think there are more numbers of each nationality represented, in Amsterdam everyone is just living together. While there are more immigrant heavy neighborhoods, there really isn't a part of the city that isn't diverse. Add the thousands of tourists who swarm this city all months out of the year and you can expect to hear many, many different languages walking around. It's like visiting the whole world by just walking out your doorstep.

2. The size. Amsterdam is super super small both population wise and in land size. I think there are only around 700,000 people living here (probably depending on how you count the city limits). I live "far" (ish) from the city center yet I am pretty much a 20-30 min bike ride from anything I want to do that's outside of my neighborhood. Although Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands because of it's small size it has a very neighborhood feel. My housemates know everyone living in our building and when I step outside my door I feel like I'm part of the neighborhood. Each neighborhood has it's own market (weekly or more often) including organic markets! And finally because Amsterdam is so small, you can be cycling in the midst of the craziness that is the city center and then suddenly find yourself in the Dutch countryside. Plus, you're super close to one of my favorite airports in the world where the rest of the world is waiting to be explored!

3. Its beautiful. There's a reason why tourists flock to this city. With its canal lined streets (yes Delft was also beautiful) and its often crooked old narrow houses shoved together so neatly, you often feel like you've stepped into another century. Although I live not so close to the city center I do live in the oldest part of the city actually. Near where the East India Trading company was. I can cycle 5 minutes to a line of extremely old houses along the water and feel like I'm in a time where people paid for their beer with the fish they caught that day, where everyone knows everyone and people gather in the evenings to catch up on the local village gossip. Yet all this is in the Netherlands' biggest city!

4. The life. Amsterdam may be small but it's not short on things to do. It's incredibly frustrating to be locked inside most of the time writing my thesis because literally every weekend there seems to be multiple festivals. Its also the only city (in my food obsessed opinion) where you can find nice food. A few weeks ago I was in food paradise at a food truck festival in one of Amsterdam's many parks. I even got my fill of long lost kimchi.

5. The parks. In general the city is dense and crowded (at least if you're near tourist invested central station) but there are no shortage of parks and green spaces that are currently being thoroughly enjoyed with the fabulous weather we've been having.

6. Biking. This is obvious since it is the Netherlands but where else in the world can I literally bike EVERYWHERE? Amazing.

I actually feel depressed at the thought of being forced to leave this city if I don't manage to find a job or PhD within a reasonable radius of it. Maybe I'll start hating it once the endless rain starts again? Apologies in advance to anyone who has to be the recipient of my newly acquired arrogance. I know there are a lot of other nice places in the world that I'm sure I would also be happy living in. In the meantime I'm going to try and finish up this stupid (well actually I like it a lot) thesis so I can go play outside and enjoy this amazing city.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Favorites

Nothing fancy or deep or funny just some things I'm enjoying at the moment and looking forward to over the next few weeks!

  • The lovely people at my office and how funny, friendly and kind they all are. I realized the other day that I actually almost never spend any time with white people haha (don't worry I'm not predujiced, it's just how things have turned out this time around). We all know Africans can dance and my colleagues know how to have a good time! As ridiculous as I probably look I just join in the fun and enjoy laughing with them at Dutch dancing (since it is a Dutch NGO)! The endless smiles and laughs at the office never cease to put me in a good mood when I arrive and leave the office. 
  • The utterly perfect weather of Mbarara. Not once has it been too hot or humid or too cold! The sun shines every day and most days there is shower to freshen things up a bit! 
  • Ugandan pineapples
  • The two dresses I designed, purchased Ugandan fabric for and am having tailor make for me here! Hopefully one will be my outfit for my thesis presentation! 
  • I'm looking forward to playing in a football tournament on my office's team against some other businesses in Mbarara tomorrow. I will probably be both the only Mzungu and female. If nothing else, I will provide entertainment for the onlookers!
  • This Thursday Rebecca (my best friend and sister that I never got) arrives from Rwanda! It has been a year since I saw her last and I can't wait for a weekend of adventures. We will leave Uganda together to visit her little village in Rwanda before I head back home (yep, I'm embracing the term) to the Netherlands. 
  • On the topic of home, I finally found what seems to be a perfect room in Amsterdam! Looking forward to gezellig dinners with my new housemates, cycling in Amsterdam Noord, commuting to work, and exploring the awesomeness that is Amsterdam. 
  • I'm REALLY looking forward to biking again (both as my primary mode of transport and for sport)!
  • The color run (with friends and one of my new housemates!) 
  • Also this blog post about home that describes my feelings more beautifully than I will ever be able to. 
  • Proper cooking again and going back to a diet that does not consist of primarily flavorless carbs! 
  • Possibilities of several visitors this summer! 
  • Swimming outside this summer!
  • Running in peace without comments, whistles and people following me. 
Fijne weekend allemaal!