donderdag 12 maart 2015


I believe that growing up in one culture and living in another one has some advantages. One of them is that you get to see the world from different perspectives. I often feel enriched that I had the privilege to grow up on Curacao, a small Caribbean island with a very strong social network and family structure.

Living in the Netherlands I do miss this warm bath, but I love living in a big city. I absolutely adore my city Rotterdam and am equally fond of other ports. I like the rawness of harbour cities, as if there was no time to cover up or to put up a face. It’s the nakedness of the cities that appeals to me the most: what you see is exactly what you will get. There is no window dressing involved. There is one thing though. I prefer to live near the ocean, no mather where I am. Till date I managed to do just that, even in our years in Mumbai, India, I could see (and smell) the sea from my flat.

Every culture, every community, has their own rules and codes. Some may be written down.  Others implied. But they are always there even, if you are not aware of them. If you are new to a culture it is not easy to get a grip on these rules. Moving to a (over)-organized place is easier. Most of the rules are probably written down and people are expected to live by them all the time. A small community with less codification will still have rules, but as most issues will sort themselves out automatically, these will not always be set in stone. Even if the rules are there, this is not a guarantee!

An interesting example is the band playing in our neighbours garden on Curacao. Growing up in the early eighties we all knew that during the months of January and February the band of the brother of one of our nearby neighbours will be practicing in their garden. The brother was one of the most celebrated “Tumba” kings of Curacao, singing one after the other marching tune for the Carnaval parades. He needed a place to practice and we got a life performance for 2 nights a week totally free of charge. A win-win situation I would say.

But then new neighbours moved to our neighbourhood. They were Dutch and highly annoyed by these evening music extravaganzas. So they complained to the police that environmental law so-and-so does not permit music to be played after whatever time etcetera. First the police did not even react. After a complaint was filed against the police they came reluctantly to check out the situation. In the meantime the new Dutch neighbours had looked up the appropriate law and insisted that the police would intervene and make the music go away.

Unfortunately for the new Dutch neighbours the situation was not resolved to their satisfaction. The police explained to the new Dutch neighbours that they would have to sit through it. It would make their lives easier if they were to try and dance on the music and maybe invite some friends over for drinks. You see, this man needed a place to practice and we would all gain from this as he will probably come up with again a great tune for the Carnaval parade. This is only during the two months a year. After February they can enjoy their poolside drinks in complete silence. This is how things were done on my island. We live and we let live.

Years have gone by and many things have changed, even on my island. But last week -as I was driving around on Curacao - my heart filled with joy because the essence of my people is still the same. I approached a crossing without traffic lights where during rush hour it is very difficult to get a chance to get on the main road. In Holland you would have to wait until the road is completely empty to take the turn, because those are the rules. But on Curacao everybody knows that this is a difficult spot and the cars are given right way, even though they didn’t have to. The rules are very clear, but are not obeyed because it worked better this way for everybody. I love how this works out, at the same time I do realize that this would not really work in a larger community. It could even create unnecessary chaos.

Since we are comparing I could not help wondering how this example would work out in Mumbai. I believe that none of the traffic rules would matter and that all cars, big and small, would just bunch up in the hope that they could make the turn before the next guy. Off course we would try to fit as many cars as possible in one lane and do keep in mind that there is no plausible reason why one could not use the left side of the road while there is no approaching traffic!

But after 10 days of shere Carnaval joy on Curacao I returned back to Holland where my other home is (and where my three men were waiting for me). As I was making my way through the airport I passed the gate where the next flight to Mumbai was being called out. I could not help but feeling a small itch at that moment. Looking at all the people standing up to get in line, part of me wished I could join them.