I was looking forward to come back to the Netherlands after having worked in humanitarian crisis situations for the last 3 years. To meet friends and family in real life and not via the phone. To cook a meal in our own place and invite people to join. To do something completely different and enjoy the freedom. And we wanted to built our own house, to have a safe place to fall back on. As a temporary living place we set up a yurt, which has been a great decision as yurt life is just amazing. Close to the nature, the weather and close to each other. It is great to live in a place which is completely for ourselves and where we can sleep under our own bedsheets. We don’t even have to share the kitchen. I can walk freely in the evenings and see the sun set at the riverside and sit around the campfire.
But the people, my people in my country, were busy. They were so busy with their lives that I had to make appointments weeks in advance when I could see them. They wanted to have a clean house before I could enter, the children had to be in bed and dinner had to be ready. When I called if I could come this evening and they were already seeing other friends, I was not invited to join. I had to indicate days in advance if I wanted to join for lunch and what I wanted to eat. If I arrived five minutes later they at least expected a message to notify I am coming later.
I am not saying this for accusations or out of anger, but this is how I observed it. I was feeling strange and alone. I felt left out, neglected and rejected. I couldn’t decide now if I wanted to see someone in three weeks time; maybe I preferred to be alone then. Where I lived the last three years planning was a useless effort. There were so many unexpected things all the times, I had to let go of all control. I learned to live by the day. I took off my masks; this is who I am right now. I had the best feeling of connection with random friends at random times in random places.
Another struggle was that in the Netherlands everything is done by hidden rules. They do everything so much by the rules that when I didn’t made the right appointment the civil servant was not willing to help me. When I drove too fast a fine ended on my doormat one week later. The insurance company was not willing to refund my medical bills because I was a special case which didn’t fit in the system.
I was frustrated by all the structures, it felt so complicated. The rules were not clear to me as there were no visible road blocks and soldiers with AK47’s 😉 It felt like no one was willing to help if I didn’t fit within the 9 AM – 5 PM working mentality. There was no place for any negotiations.
I came home in a place that no longer felt like home. I couldn’t understand a thing. I didn’t feel connected. It felt like I was not free to be myself. But I didn’t want to adapt myself again. I didn’t want to participate in this completely structured life where everything had to be planned out. I became angry and sad. I was judging people’s behaviors. I tried to understand them and to give it a place I was condemning the system who made the people like they were. The rage against the machine.
And at the same time I felt selfish that I was just sitting in my yurt doing nothing. Whilst in Iraq, the country I just left, a lot of new refugees entered from Syria as their places were bombed. I felt guilty and stupid I choose to go home. I wanted to go back to a place where I felt I belonged, a place where I felt connected and a place where people were giving me something and I could give something back.
But by thinking I knew how we should and shouldn’t live I distanced myself. I placed myself above the other. Which made it even more difficult for me to integrate. I couldn’t meet the other because I was not free from myself. I had to empty the space between me and the other and the judgment of it. And when I did the differences were less big. I could open up, the other could open up and I felt more connected. I decided that I am allowed to observe the world with the people and it’s behaviors in admiration, I was allowed to wonder and ask questions without having a judgment. But at the same time I am allowed to go my own way through it, and the other as well. And that attitude was deliberating for me. I was trying to discover the undiscovered things.
And then Covid-19 came and was spreading over the world as a pandemic. Another crisis which is affecting everyone. We are not in control and it makes us scared. We don’t know what is happening tomorrow. Maybe you have lost someone. Maybe you have not hugged your loved ones in a long time. Maybe you have lost your job or your future is very uncertain. Maybe you are having a lot of arguments at home. Maybe you are frustrated you can’t drink a beer with friends in the pub. And maybe you are angry on your national leaders.
And all these emotions are oke to have. Just let them be. Don’t point to others as that will distance yourself as I have personally learned. But talk about it. Share and reflect on your life. What is important to you? What do you want to change?
And just also know that it is a luxury to have a health care system which is able to take in the extra peak of patients; there are also countries where there are only two intensive care beds available. It is a luxury to have a government which is providing funds for people without an income; there are also people who have to go outside to earn their daily living or else there will not be food in the evening. It is a luxury to be able to distance yourself 1,5 meters from each other; there are many people living in camps on top of each other.
So let’s think about what we do have and what we can do. Let’s put off our masks. Show your fears. I want to join in your lives and I don’t mind to air out the dirty laundry together. I think it is time to come together right now and start on building the new. We all have our own fears and own ways of dealing with it. But I think we are all looking forward to hug people again!
The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
As a bonus find below a very beautiful film made by Fenne van Loon with some great portraits of the people we live with on our yurt camping (including ourselves). It is in Dutch, but still gives a glimpse of how yurt life looks like.