It’s all over the medias. The terrible stories and pictures. The friendly Europeans and the less friendly ones. Numbers increasing. How many is now here? And what terrible things have they been through? Natural questions, but at the same time it drags a fat red line between us and them.
I think it’s important for us to realize that we are not just hosting those people short term, it’s not a summer camp. However peace in Syria is what we all wish for, we have to realize that it doesn’t seem to be around the corner, the refugees will stay for years, kids will grow up here. A good integration is necessary; wishing the people WELCOME to our countries is just the first step.
With the aim to integrate refugees in Belgium and acknowledge the fact that those are people that can give and learn us a lot, a big library in Brussels started the Refugee Lectures and this Wednesday the first lecture took place; Felix U. Kaputu from Congo taught us about gender studies in Africa. He told about his own experience from his travels, shared pictures and videos and answered questions. We were around 30 listening people and the lecture was for free, with the option to donate money to pay the professor and help other refugees.
In the coming time the library will host different refugees to give a lecture about what they studied and used to teach back home. Not with a focus on tragedy, their life-threatening journey to Europe or everlasting scars on the inside, but instead on a person with a lot of knowledge on a topic to share.
I couldn’t help being curious about when Felix came to Belgium and what his situation is now, I think I was not the only one feeling this way, but nobody brought it up. His lecture was not about his escape or private life. Being a refugee is nothing he has chosen, nothing he studied to become. It’s his current situation but he had so much more to offer and learn us this evening.
Initiatives like this are a further step in the right direction. Just a step, but it gave me hope and a wish that we can continue in the right direction together.
Pictures from Background Educations
Is it possible not to either have a (even small) plan for the future or at least wonder about what’s going to happen? I think culture plays a role here. In Denmark I always felt that we are trying to be a step ahead. We are planning as much as we can. For ourselves, our relationships, our kids. It’s a great security, yes, but don’t we miss some important moments by always preparing for the next one? Since I was very young I was dragged into this worried world of “what’s next?” Not because of my family, but because of the entire society around me. I became a person I didn’t always know and didn’t enjoy to be. I decided to take a timeout.
Very black and white I felt that I had to go somewhere else to see things in a different way. I had to step outside my comfort zone to create the life I wanted to live. I enjoyed meeting people from different cultures and not really being a part of the system myself. I realized that if I wanted to, I could actually see the whole world and never return to Denmark. During this period I always saw Denmark as the place where I would go and build up my life when I was ready for that. Anywhere else was just experimenting and enjoying. Silly enough I got a lot of compliments simply for being Danish. A lot of people from other countries look up to us and if they didn’t go to LEGOLAND yet it’s for sure on their bucket lists. Our general system, music, architecture, all the bikes, fashion. They told me things about Denmark I didn’t know and asked questions I couldn’t answer. A young Mexican couple went for a trip around Europe as their honeymoon and at their last destination, Brussels, they told me that Denmark was their favourite European country.
By time I got tired of all those undeserved compliments that apparently made me a better and more interesting person without I had to do anything for it. I might have started talking Denmark down. “No, don’t go there; it’s raining all the time” or “people are not very friendly”. I was so fascinated by what was different that I didn’t appreciated what I from the beginning was built of myself.
At this time I didn’t worry about career or relationships, simply about what would be my next destination. But then… One morning recently I woke up and thought, “I want to go to LEGOLAND and I want to have the possibility to go there every day.” It was a huge contrast to my almost denying being from there for two years. I guess I got enough inputs from around for now, I’m satisfied and I don’t need a new adventure at the moment. But then again: after not being in Denmark for so long, moving to the city that people from all over the world were impressed and inspired by seems exactly like a new adventure.
Denmark is my next destination and I’ve never been more exited!
Three out of the four festivals in August are done. I’m a bit stressed as I didn’t reach quite as dark a tan as I was hoping for yet. Tomorrow we are leaving for Jospop and they are promising great weather – this is my last chance!
I’ve been told many times that the Belgian summer is very unreliable, I’ve been prepared not to expect a lot from it. I bought a pair of glittery rubber boots and thought I was going to live in them on the festivals, but they are almost unused. I think I will leave them in the basement for next year’s EVS volunteer, just in case she is not as lucky with the weather as I’ve been.
What I back in July thought would be a very hard month seems to be over quite fast. It is definitely an adventure. And a lifestyle; to be on the road. Your mindset is so easy to change according to the conditions you are under. If you hear rumors about soap, you happily walk 15 minutes to treat your hands. If not, you’re perfectly fine not washing them for another four days, even though you’re used to do so ten times a day.
One difference my body is not as fast to adapt to is the sleeping environment. When I’m back in Brussels it is suddenly too quiet, too soft and comfortable, too clean. Just take me back to my tent – I haven’t had a good nights sleep since I got back from the last festival.
I’m enjoying my last cup of not instant coffee before take off. This week we are going to a bigger festival, Pukkelpop, it will be a lot of well-known acts and… Instant coffee.
It surprises me a bit that I’m actually looking forward to this festival after almost constantly being on the road for the past two weeks. It’s kind of like an extreme sport and I start to feel like a pro. Here are 7 things I learned about living on a festival so far.
1. Showers are not for everybody.
2. No, I can not eat a kilo of carrots on each festival.
3. The only (but daily!) exercise you get on festivals are jumping up and down.
4. Handwritten letters might be a more stabile way of keeping in touch with people as WIFI is a rare resource.
5. If you experience a toilet with soap – always wash your hands twice. You don’t know if this will happen to you again. Ever.
6. Only make friends with people who have access to free liquor.
7. Brushing your teeth is a great alternative to a shower. (Anything fluent will do if you don’t have access to water. The same counts when it comes to the instant coffee.)
…One thing I didn’t learned yet is to drink cold beer on a festival. We have a fridge in the car but my beer doesn’t go there. It just feels wrong. See you out there!
When the things that happened last month or even last week of your life already feels like old memories. It has happened a lot to me recently, I suppose it means that I have enough to do. I can’t believe I did language classes just two months ago. I can no longer count the Belgian birthday parties I went to on my hands. Last week I went to the countryside for a long-awaited vacation and now it’s just a memory. Time flies when the one activity always overlaps the next one.
An EVS project can be maximum for one year and as mine is only for six months it’s very concentrated; I don’t want to skip a single moment. I have already check marked a lot of activities and goals, but the list will never be completed. It’s like I have to live a whole life in six months. I’ve realized that it will have to stop at an inconvenient time.
Anyway, next point on the list is the August festival marathon. When I first arrived in Brussels I was very enthusiastic and said a big YES to participate to all festivals on the tour, of course without paying any attention to the dates. And I got what I wanted; one months, four festivals, one day between each (oh my). There seems to be billions of different festivals in Belgium and a lot of Belgians don’t even recognize some of the ones I’m going to.
I could probably skip one, but it’s too late now, it has already become a goal. A “manhood test”, or maybe a “hardcore lady-test” is more fitting. One month as condom pusher; living in a tent, surviving from canned food and ready-made sangria – will she make it?
To be continued…
Here some pictures from our country side vacation –
Signs with numbers of the roads made it easy to plan a biking route (and only get a bit lost).
Find Anna in the cornfield…
…vs. Fredrik’s new election poster.
I already sensed that bad times were coming some weeks ago when they started to set up an amusement park RIGHT outside of our windows. But ok, relax Anna, let the kids have fun for a couple of days, I thought, until my colleague told me the following day “yes, this is every year in your area, at least it is only for five weeks”. The amusement closest to our house plays the intro to “everybody dance now” each time a new ride is starting; then five weeks can feel like quite a while.
Luckily I have vacation now, so I have the chance to leave the city for a while. When you’re doing EVS you get two vacation days per month you are working for your project – actually not bad at all! So tomorrow morning I’m leaving Brussels for the exotic destination Gent (30 minutes from Brussels by train) and the finest Swedish company is joining me. Through Airbnb we have booked a small studio in the countryside but close to Gent. Two bikes and a bed – what more do you need?
We will meet in the train to Gent – that called for a (small) welcoming flag. I. Am. Excited.
10 days of festival. “It’s all about having your Irish Coffee at the right time”, locals say. I attended for three days and I think I did a good job with the combination of caffeine and whiskey because I could definitely last a couple of days more!
Gentse Feesten is a free festival in the charming city Gent. The festival has existed since 1843 and covers the city center of an old and charming town surrounded by beautiful channels. (Yes, I’m in love.)
Last weekend I went to the festival as condom pusher and last Tuesday for a day trip with a friend – I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Belgiums national day!
I love free festivals. It really gives you the opportunity to go without expectations and just enjoy the moment as you didn’t put a lot of money in it. We arrived with no plans and as I now think back, I can cross out a lot of points on my “festival must”-list.
· Ending up at a concert by following the sound. We followed a narrow street with walls covered in amazing street art and ended up in a fruit garden in a back yard where we had a seat and listened to a duo of a violinist and a guitarist playing like I’ve never heard before.
· Joining a random event. We passed by a tent where we learned to make a sourdough bread.
· Eating good. (Read above) …We went to the shop for cheese and tomatoes and came back to pick up our freshly baked bread. Festival on a budget – voilà!
· Forgetting about time. It was pure luck that we caught the last train.
· Making friends with random people. Actually we could have had a free bed in a hostel if we had for real lost track of time.
· Going home but still feeling like continuing.
…And of course we ended the day with an Irish coffee!
Gentse Feesten could easily be an excuse to go back to Belgium in the future.