How well do we treat people?

I recently read a quote that said “The measure of a society’s freedom is not how it treats its good, obedient citizens; its how it treats it dissidents” (Glenn Greenwald). I’ve been reading about different topics that oddly enough relate to this (democracy, progress, the murder of a controversial film producer, immigration problems, missing students in Mexico), and I couldn’t agree more with the quote. Treating good citizens well is nothing strange. I remember a teacher friend once told me that teaching the high level English groups was nothing extraordinary. They tend to get the job done. The interesting groups are the low level groups or the students that just don’t want to do the work. Getting them to work, to learn, to become better people is what is key.

I am not trying to say that we must change these dissidents to good obedient citizens. Some people refuse to change for many reasons which are irrelevant to this post. What we need to observe in our country, our cities, our work and even with our family is how do we treat those people who are outside of what we consider correct. First and foremost, we should treat everyone with respect. I have caught myself many of times treating people who have hurt me or who I disagree with with disdain. They are not in my circle so I don’t care about them. Is that fair?

I am a terribly optimistic person that believes that every person’s actions can make the difference. I know I have no real, immediate influence in what happens in politics. I cannot end discrimination, I cannot demand prisoners or protesters to be treated fairly and have any real immediate effect. What I can do is treat those around me well, and hope they do too. Slowly but surely, this basic humane action will spread. It seems like a better plan than to just sit around and complain of abuses.


School and Asylum

It is estimated that over 18,000 asylum applications were filed last year in the Netherlands. The top three countries of origin of these asylum seekers are Somalia, Syria and Iraq. The EU states that those seeking asylum must submit their application on the first EU affiliated country they step on, which puts Greece, Spain and Italy as the “top” arrival destinations, and, therefore, the more saturated ones. Because of this saturation, many immigrants are trying to reach other EU countries, and the Netherlands is seeing more and more asylum seekers.

I do not know a lot about asylum seekers and the bureaucratic procedure they must abide to, but from what I have observed, once they have been accepted, they must go a similar process as other immigrants in the Netherlands: integration. Integration to the Netherlands, or to many other countries, requires work. First, the language must be learned, and Dutch is no easy language to learn. Another important step in integration is to find work and/or continue studying. Even with university degrees from other countries, some work must be done in order to be up to the standards and regulations that the Netherlands asks of all its residents. Validation courses must be taken all of which are in Dutch.

For those wishing or needing to study a university degree, a regular application to the university must be submitted. The requirements vary, but overall, the documents requested are transcript, language proficiency (most universities offer degrees in English), CV, letter of intent, residency documents, and a photo. However, depending on the university, other requirements might be necessary. One of those “other” requirements are typically letters of recommendation.

I am not here to criticize universities for their admissions policy. Each university asks for what the institution deems fair and necessary to evaluate candidates. However, I think that when dealing with people who are here because there is war in their country, certain measures must be taken. A friend of mine wished to apply for a masters at a university in the Netherlands. She has all the requirements of the university except one: two letters of recommendation. She cannot get these letters because her university is closed due to war in her country, and she has no way to contact old professors. She really wants to continue her studies. She is learning Dutch and adapting well to her new life. Her husband and two children are also adapting well with work and school. What can she do?

I do not think universities should lower their standards for anyone because then that makes the system unfair. Everyone must have the same chances of entering school regardless of where they come from and what their story is. However, I do think that universities in the EU must anticipate these situations. Perhaps there could be other documents to give: an essay, a research project, a personal interview, a scholarly article about a specific topic, etc. Every resident who has the desire to improve his/her life should be able to do it. Integration isn’t a simple ordeal. It requires hard work, learning new things, remembering others, and adapting to a society that may or may not be similar. If we really want immigrants to integrate to society and learn a “western way of life,” why not help them get the tools they need?

Changing Roles

Dear parents,

I write to you this letter because you are starting a new chapter in your life. We had talked about what would happen when you passed away, but never about your retirement. I find it silly now that we hadn’t discussed it. Perhaps it is because your role as a provider is very much ingrained in my mind as well as yours.

First of all, I want to tell you that just because I want to talk about this, doesn’t mean I am taking away your autonomy. I don’t want to become your parent and tell you what you have to do. I merely want to help you organize your finances so that you can do as you please. Perhaps there will come a time when you will need me more, and I want you to know that I will always keep your best interest at heart.

Lets talk about what you would like to do in this chapter of your life. Do you want to travel? Perhaps you would like to buy a new home where you will be able to move around on your own regardless of your age. What will happen when you are ill?

I know it is hard to “let go” of your role as my caregiver, and to focus on taking care of yourself, but I guarantee you that I will be okay. You have taught me everything I need to know about hard work, making budgets, not overspending and preparing for a rainy day. I will still call you for advice when I want to buy a new home or a new car. You will always be my number one advisor, but you are no longer responsible for my well being. This is a time for you!

I know that right now, I don’t understand what you are feeling as you lose more and more control of my decisions. You must be certain that you taught me well, and that I will recover from whatever pickle I am in. I also want to show MY children how I would like to be treated when I am your age: with respect and with love.

So go on and enjoy your life! Now that you have no more tuition to pay or food or clothes to buy me, do as you please with what you have worked for! Take care of your needs first, and let me figure out what to do about mine. I will not starve and I will not be homeless because you have taught me to take care of myself! I promise you I will be alright!

With love and admiration,

Your children who are children no longer

This letter was inspired by the following article: Don’t Wait to Have This Conversation with your Parents

Food, Family and Nostalgia

I had written before about my grandma’s taquitos and how much I missed them. Last week was a week filled with nostalgia about my family and food. I longed to spend time with my mom and my sister and grandma and the rest of the family, and as I longed for them, my taste buds began to long for Mexican food.

I love food. I LOVE food. My life in Mexico always centered around food: if we went to a certain part of town, I quickly thought of the best places to eat nearby. Mexican food is so rich and varied that it is hard to get bored. Mexico City also has a good variety of food as well so any craving, whether national or international, can be satisfied.

In the Netherlands, I am learning to cook. I already knew how to cook, but I am learning every day cooking. I am also trying to “spice things up” so that everyday food does not become boring, and I am happy with the results.

I spent Wednesday at a friend’s house and she made a delicious apple pie. Pies are a big thing in the Netherlands, and especially in the region of Limburg where I live. Helping her make the pie reminded me of my grandma’s cookies. Every once in a while, my grandma surprises us by baking something and her cookies are a big hit! It takes here longer to make them than us to fight over them and eat them all. These are the type of cookies that don’t last, and this is not due to the lack of conservatives. They are just that good!

On Friday, I was sitting in “my room” at our apartment and I thought again about those cookies. I knew all the ingredients would be easy to find except one: Crisco. I had already read in different Facebook groups that shortening is not regularly sold in grocery stores. I spent about 30 minutes at the grocery store downstairs looking for an equivalent, but was unlucky. I read all the do-it-yourself boxed baked goods for ingredients and the closest I found was “creamy butter.” Butter is made out of milk. Crisco is made out of vegetables.

At first, I resigned myself to experimenting with this creamy butter, but my need for these cookies did not allow it. I remembered the baking store nearby and headed out hoping to find Crisco….and Crisco I found!

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The cookies came out delicious! Some burned (my grandma’s recipe does not include oven temperature or time of baking so I pretty much had to wing this), but the cookies tasted like home. They tasted like family. They tasted like sitting at the breakfast table with my family, drinking coffee and talking.

By the time you read this post, the cookies will be gone, but the taste of family that these morsels gave me will still linger on.

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Poetry…a love/hate relationship

Una rosa se hizo en mi corazon.
Una rosa llamada Astrid.
Y a esa rosa yo la considero
La mejor hermanita.

I was about seven years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer and wrote this poem for my little sister. She was just born and I wanted to celebrate it somehow. I will admit it is not proof of a prodigy child or someone with phenomenal writing talents. It was simply something I wanted to share with my family and my sister. After writing this poem, I was sure writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had managed to understand at a very young age the power of words, the power of MY words and the power of sharing these words with others.

When I was in the fourth grade, I had a great teacher that taught me not only to find my writing voice in English, but also taught me other types of writing. Texas had at that time the TAAS test as a standardized exam and in 4th grade, the exam assessed writing. We spent all year learning about essays that described, explained how to do something, compared and contrast two things, and persuaded others. I discovered and experimented with prose and fell in love with it.

Sadly, once I found prose, I never gave poetry another chance. Poetry became too codified for me, and even in college, I found poetry hard to read, comprehend and analyze. In prose, I felt I could explain myself much better; with poetry I had to choose my words carefully. Poetry became something that I had to be in the mood for. Sometimes it even felt like work.

Today I discovered a very interesting TED Talk about poetry, and it left me thinking. Stephen Burt says that poetry helps us live with the fact that we will die. We read poems written by people who died, we read poems about death, we even feel we can be immortalized with a poem. I think Stephen is onto something. I share with you the link to his talk in the hopes that he can get you thinking about poetry, if like me, you have put it aside, or to reaffirm your love of poetry if you are fortunate enough to understand it and love it!

TED Talk: Why people need poetry

An Ideal Place to Write

While I was having lunch, I was catching up on the blogs I follow. Between visitors, moving furniture and selling an apartment in Amsterdam and getting my very first Dutch common cold, I’ve hardly had time to read posts and comment. There were plenty of posts that caught my attention, but the question in one lingered in my mind throughout the whole lunch: If money was not an obstacle, what would be your ideal writing space?

I read the responses of many people and all sounded amazing: a deserted beach, on a mountain, in Alaska, in a garden, etc. One answer made me giggle: a plane. This person said he likes writing on a plane because there are no wifi distractions, and he sits on the window so he will be forced to write and only get up when he really has to go to the bathroom. I guess idea writing places are as diverse as the books in a bookstore.

My writing space (with Mona's fave box to sleep in)

My writing space

I gave the question more thought. What would I like as my ideal place of writing, the place where I will find refuge for hours on end letting my creativity flow? I would love a beach setting simply because I love the beach, but my life right now is not in the beach. I live in a small town in the Netherlands, and have no plans to run away to the beach (at least for now). I walked into my loggia and realized I do have an ideal place to write. Our apartment has an indoor balcony that can be opened up when the weather is nice and closed in the winter. It gets a lot of sun and I have a bit of a view. I have my desk, my two typewriters, my laptop, books, my smart people (stuffed toys of Shakespeare, Austen, Woolf and Poe), a very comfortable couch with an ottoman, flowers and enough space to sit, lay, nap, write, read, meditate, etc. The kitchen is nearby with enough coffee and tea and Mona is always around to keep me company.

As Riccardo and visit new houses hoping to find “the” one for us, I constantly check where I could place my desk considering the view, the light and the space. This place is just as important as the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.

I am sure when we find our home, it will have a great area for me to write, a place where I will spend my days with Mona and the smart people and this will become my new ideal place t write!

I never thought I would say this about the Dutch language…

Over a year ago, I began learning Dutch in order to move to the Netherlands to live with my boyfriend. Having such a strong motivation made learning a bit easier but not free of obstacles. As much as I learned and tried and advanced, I felt the language was rough, aggressive, very different to my personality. However, I remained hopeful that one day I would learn it and speak it fluently. Although I am not there yet, the closer I get, the better I feel about the language itself.

On Wednesday, I was traveling by train from Amsterdam to my home. Due to repairs, I had to detour and the journey took longer than expected. I was tired and didn’t want to read. Luckily for me, three young teenage girls sat next to me. It seemed they had just been shopping in Amsterdam and were going home. The talked about their day, looked over their purchases and made plans for the weekend. At some point, one of them thought it was a great idea to go to the beach. The train was nearing The Hague and the beach is very nearby. Two of the girls lit up with joy at the idea of the beach, but the third girl wasn’t convinced. As they tried to convince her, she explained that she didn’t want to go home late, that her parents expected her, etc. The other two would not budge. Every stop of the train, they would grab the bags and pull her to get up. They promised to be home early, they mentioned the new bathing suit she had purchased, they begged her to please accept. Everything was said to pressure the girl without being rude.

Once we arrived to Rotterdam, I lost sight of them as we switched trains. From what I understood, the two girls that wanted to go to the beach had won. They were joyous and loud the way only teenagers can be. As I waited for my next train, I realized something important had happened. First, I had eavesdropped on these girls and understood their conversation…a big plus for my listening comprehension skills. But most importantly, I enjoyed hearing them speak Dutch. At no point did I feel the language to be rough, rude, or distant. It was warm and inviting because the girls were warm and inviting.

I am proud to say I have crossed the threshold of being distant with Dutch. The language is becoming a part of me, a part of my stories, a part of my life which in no way is cold and aggressive.

Extreme Reading is my Sport!

I must admit that up until a month ago, I wasn’t much of a sporty person. My free time was spent either reading or writing, and I simply saw working out as time that could be better spent reading. When I would go to a doctor and he/she would ask me about what physical activities I did, I simply replied “extreme reading.” Needless to say, most doctors found my remark not funny.

The past couple of weeks I have devoted a lot of my time to reading. I always read, but these past three weeks have been intense. I am devouring books every day, hungry to find the next good read. I have a very long list of books I want to read, and I am happy to be making progress this fast.

One of the books on this list is Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84. I remember a friend of mine was reading it and the title captivated me. I wrote it down on my reading list more than a year ago, and I finally got to it. I have been reading this novel for a couple of days now and I just can’t seem to put it down. The novel is filled with so much detail, so much magic, so much plot, and yet every page gives me something new. I’ve read about 70% of the novel (I love that feature in my kindle, together with the reading time estimate based on how fast I read), and I KNOW I don’t know anything about the characters. I have no clue how it will end; I can’t even speculate it will end one way because I know Murakami will change it. I am on the edge of my seat with this novel.

So if you are looking for something interesting to read, keep this novel in your mind. It requires a significant time investment (over 900 pages), but it is worth it. Every novel I’ve read of Murakami has captivated me, but I will admit that few books in my life have had this effect on me.

I remember… (part 3)

I awoke not knowing where I was or what had happened. A bump on my head told me I had fallen hard. I carefully got up, taking my time so as to evaluate any damage in my body. I was not a stranger to fainting nor to forgetting what had happened. This much I always knew.

I examined the photo on my hands. It was of me with a girl I could not recognize. We seemed happy, almost in love. What was her name? There was a black blur in the picture. Something was near us. I needed to find out more. I looked around the room: a lamp, cold coffee, books everywhere, a comfortable reading couch. This seemed like a place I could live in, but whose was it?

With the picture in my hand, I slowly started walking. My back ached a bit from the fall, but I seemed to be okay. I looked around the kitchen: toaster, coffee maker, sink with a few dishes, fruit. I walked towards the bedrooms and slowly opened the door: a bed with a closet. No sign of anybody here. I opened the second door: a bathroom with a shower, tub, sink and toilet. Nothing out of the ordinary. I walked towards the last door in the hallway and held my breath. If there was anything that could help me figure out what had happened in my life, it would be this door.

Once again, I woke up and found myself lying on the floor. Flashes of something jumping at me kept repeating in my head. I began moving my body slowly to make sure I was okay. One of these days, I would wake up from these absences unable to walk. As I moved my arms, I felt something furry near me. On my other hand was the photo. All of a sudden bits and pieces came back to me. That black blur was a black cat, perhaps the same black cat that was sleeping on my stomach now. Flashes of the cat in my life came back to me, some of us sleeping, others of me waking up after fainting and the cat on my belly as if keeping guard.

I still didn’t know much about my life, but I knew I was home.

This is part 3 of a sequel titled “I remember part 1” and “I remember part 2.” Although these posts are not necessarily related to each other, they are inspired by each other.

A love letter to language

Dear language,

I don’t know if our love affair started when I was in daycare and classes were given in Spanish, English and French. Perhaps moving at such a young age and learning to communicate impulsed our love. It could even be an intellectual disposition that has made sparks fly between you and me. To be honest, I don’t really care why and how it started because our time together is what matters most.

Some of the reasons why I feel romantically involved with you are the way you allow me to truly understand a culture, the endless supply of words and expressions I have to explain what is truly in my heart, and, I will not lie, the fact that I am good at learning about you in all your variations. Thanks to you I can share what I think, I can tell those I love how much I love them, I can read books and be immersed in the stories, and thanks to you I can even write this blog post. You have catapulted me into a better person, someone who speaks what she feels instead of just acting, someone who can explain my frustration without anger, someone who can ask for flowers on a cloudy day.

The truth is that I wish I could learn all your variations, but I know that task is useless. I’d rather perfect the parts of you I know, those I use to speak with my family, my friends, my neighbors and my stories. There are over seven thousand variations of you in the world, and those are just the one still used! But, like I said before, I am content knowing 5 of those seven thousand and using them the best way I can. That is, in my opinion, the best way to show you my love, my admiration, and my need for you.

Yours truly,