Not a single thing has changed. The office is the same – the carpets are still on the wall. The sandwich shop is now a hub: re-designed with upstairs seating. The coffee shop still serves baby cappuccinos, my delight – milky with only a hint of coffee. I ignore the cakes, delicious as they look.
The people at the front desk haven’t changed- same faces, same hair and same attitude – friendly but not overly so.
Everything seems the same. Except, the art gracing the walls is different – lots of primary colours. And greens. And geometric shapes. Lines. Triangles, stripes.
The people, my friends are the same- all happy to see me, all talking about how much weight I’ve lost. I’m ecstatic, happy to be back…These people are good for my soul. Our absence, time away from each other has made our hearts fonder.
I feel embraced and comfortable in a sea of guttural voices. Dutch no longer sounds ‘weird’ or annoying. It’s even taking on a welcoming, familiar tone. Wow, who knew 4 years here and a stint back home could do it? Cement my romance with this country?
Den Haag is like a sibling I left several years ago. And I’ve returned to find him all grown up. Or in the process thereof.
Centraal station is a mess. I’m meeting Hans at 11am and I’ll be late. Lateness for me, an African – is the bane of my life. I hate it. I hate it because its easy to ‘tag’ me African and be done with it – ‘They’re always late. She’s no different’. It’s not how I want to be known or how I want to know myself. And this lateness is the exception. Plus I know Hans will understand.
Its me who’s frustrated.
In spite of my best intentions, I’ll be late. Because the construction that began 2 years ago when we moved away, to Nigeria is still going on. So I’m at Centraal and there’s a sign pointing left (cardinal directions I know not), saying tram 5, 9 and 15.
I have no idea it’ll take me 10 minutes to walk that way. I was on time till then….till that moment.
Now I’m late.
But I let Hans know immediately. He’s fine with it. Its on my way back from our lunch meet that I discover a closer tram halte. Stop. It was just to my right. Sigh. I would have been on time!
I have a croquette sandwich for lunch. Soft white roll. Beetroot salad. And lots of heartwarming conversation. Hans and I agree that New York is the best place on earth. My soul is soothed even if I’ll live in a tiny apartment, shared with 3 ‘growing’ children and a husband. Oh dreams…..do come true please. Soon, I’ll see you NYC, soon.
‘Running for the tram’, something I have to do today is so familiar. My legs are used to the motions. My eyes darting to see if the driver will notice me, willing him, her to look at me, to acknowledge me and to take pity on these old bones and stop. Wait for me. I am thankful there are no bikes in sight for me. Willing me to hop on!
Alas it doesn’t always happen.
I fee free and safe. I walk without fear of being mugged, my broken MacBookPro in hand. Once again, another computer has died an awful death in my hands.
This place – it is old and new at the same time. I’m in the bathroom in one of the buildings I used to work in and I lose my bearing. I open another door thinking its the ‘exit’ but its only another bathroom.
Some things are easy to find, but others are hard. You….I……forget how far places are. What streets are where. And how I used to get there. It takes 3 tries for me, wandering 3 streets to finally find the art shop I’ve been looking for. On Molenstraat 35. Its a gorgeous shop with lots of paintings and prints.
Its Ramma, the Indian restaurant that brings it to my attention. I remember Ramma.
I don’t remember walking this long to reach the shop but as I inch closer, I see the print of the cows, one I’ve always loved and in fact the very thing that brings me back here.
Its a litho-print (watercolours) of cows! I love it. But I don’t understand litho till Khalid, the Egyptian manager of the store, tells me more. He explains the history of engravings and prints and the difference from paintings. I learn that the earliest ‘prints’ were created via wood engraving, popularised in Italy. Brass and steel engraving soon followed and by the late 18th century, stone became a popular medium for printing till silk-screen printing took over.
I’ve learnt a lot. And now I’m hungry. And thankful. And in possession of some nice prints. 3 to be exact. And a postcard of Anne I
I have Sweet weird mayo and fries. Frites. Delicious.
And I sneak a trip to my favourite Wiener Konditorei – my Viennese cafe where I devour the most delicious slice of sacchertorte.
On the tram, we go past the old red building where we lived. And the tram stop.
I’m older and wiser.
And more educated. On this trip I’m thinking and watching out for the bikes, road crossings. I’m aware a lot has changed. Myself included.
I find the people more fashionable and friendlier!
It’s cold and I am thankful I threw a jacket into my suitcase at the last minute.
I’m home again. And my heart is at peace.
Holland has truly welcomed me home!