De Nederlandse Boekengids/English

Two Minutes

“I am a very well known writer”, he says. “My books were banned cause they were against the dictatorship.” I look at him. A good looking, tall man. Palestenian. Fled first to Syria; when Syria was Syria. Then Lebanon. Then got on the “death boats”, beating “death”, made his way with the “boat” to Libya. Then to Italy. Then to the Netherlands. This is where we meet: Sitting in the same taalcursus, trying to learn a totally new language, both at the age of 45. Me finding the Dutch soil much more comfortably with Turkish Airlines makes little difference: Here, we are no one.
“We speak Dutch here”, says the optician of the verygreenhearthhospital as if I don’t know, when I ask if I may switch to English from my broken-Dutch. But helaas. He crushes me with cold eyes looking behind his spectacles. He treads on me with his words. He doesn’t know I already speak four languages, and Dutch is also on board. All the same. He sees a shabby-looking young woman (for I do look much younger in my ripped jeans, they say) with black hair. Black hair. Attention mesdames et messieurs! A non-Dutch object has been spotted! I might have finished a few universities. My books might have been translated to various languages including his own. All the same. I carry my never-dyed-ever-to-another-colour black hair that contains (accompanied by a silly pride) only a few strands of white, like a flag.

“Is it 10.20 yet Mom?”, she asks.

That guy from Iran, is a veterinarian. That woman from Iraq was a docent at a university before her country was “liberated” by the good hearted Americans. The woman with amazing eyes that keeps smiling at me is from Afghanistan. She used to be a school teacher. “Ah, we are colleagues!” says our elderly vrijwilliger teacher with a pause, not knowing what to say after.
The other writer in the class adds to our short conversation in the break: “I wish I could speak English. I only speak Arabic… I was also doing journalism in Syria. Everybody knew me.”

“Is it 10.20 yet Mom?”, she asks.

Our class is a living map of the countless Middle East projects. We altogether form a brilliant group of evidence of politicians’ good will of dispersing universal brotherhood, and democracy. Cities wrecked, babies starved, young women slaved, millions displaced… All the same! Achtung Damen und Herren! A non-democratic object has been spotted!

The dawn breaks here only at 09.30 in the winter.
The sun sets here only at 21.30 in the summer.
My daughter’s school finishes at 12.00 on Wednesdays.
My daughter’s school finishes at 14.30 on days that are not Wednesdays.
My neighbour gets upset with my other neighbour if he doesn’t hush after 23.00 during week days.
Most of our new friends have their dinner at 18.00 every day.
My husband leaves for work at 06.30 on Mondays.
My daughter’s ballet class starts at 16.15 on Fridays.
It’s been 282 days 12 hours 22 minutes 42 seconds since I cried my eyes out on the stairs of the park facing our flat in İstanbul.

“Is it 10.20 yet Mom?”, she asks.

“You have a great job,” I say to the lovely-smiling man at the bureau. “Yes,” he replies. “I give people only the good news.”. I look at my Verblijfskaart. My horrible polaroid picture winks at me.

“Is it 10.20 yet Mom?”, she asks.
“Yes lieverd!”, I reply to my awesomely cool daughter who at that very moment turns eight! “This is the moment we were blessed with you.”
“After we cut the cake in the afternoon with my friends, can we go to the park? You know, the way we always did in İstanbul?”
“Of course we can! And we are so lucky, the park is only 200 metres from our flat, just like our old flat. And what more, this one is a real park! It has countless trees, authentic lakes and even ducks!”, I say.
“Can we feed them?” she asks.
“Natuurlijk schat!” I answer, trying to swallow the “na” as Dutch do.
“Yeeeeeyyyyyyy”, she cries in a language without borders.

“Beste reizigers,” goes the mysterious lady with the soft voice and perfect hoch-Dutch I keep envying every time I hear it. “The Rotterdam train on perron 2a is running two minutes late. We do apologize for the inconvenience.” Opgelet dames en heren! A delay in the uber-punctual transportation system has been spotted! Well all the same… I might take the train to Den Haag in this case, lots of connections to Gouda from there too.
Feeling knackered after 17 hours of flight. Need to stretch my legs. Ah, a long, warm shower! Let me connect with all those I met in Lahore before I forget. Will be good to do the Sydney festival next year. Will Sabyn and Esther be there too I wonder? I should get back to my novel instantly though, no time to waste hoor! If it’s good weather tomorrow, after dropping my Precious to her art class, should I perhaps go to the Markt for the kitchen? Always fresher and cheaper there… I can buy some kibbeling for lunch, then take a cup of coffee in Swing afterwards! Sit in the sun… Listen to Sint Jan’s organist’s Saturday tunes… Was it Saturday that he plays on the hour? Let me check… Or should I just hop on my bike and head to Reeuwijk? That road is incredibly beautiful… By the lake… Amazingly pretty houses… Boats sailing rain or shine… Goodness somebody stop me! I stop.
I stop, and I call my husband. I tell him my plane had landed, I will be home in 52 minutes. Home. Time to go home.