November 18, 2011

A trip to the motherland

I am packing for a trip to Nederland, the country where I was born, raised and lived until the age of 25. It's been 18 months since I saw my parents and grandmother and am very much looking forward to spending time with them.

I also look forward to soaking up new impressions from the country that is so familiar and yet so foreign to me after 16 years abroad. Canada is home now. I am a visitor to my country of birth where still I wave my Dutch (and only) passport to gain entry. Last time the customs officer told me, Welkom thuis, or Welcome home.

I love wandering through the town Dronten, where my parents moved a few years ago after three decades in historic and picturesque Harderwijk, which was a member of the Hanseatic League and had a university from the mid-17th century until early in the 19th.

Dronten is a neat brandnew place with a population of about 40,000 near the Ketel Lake and Marker Lake  that arose when land was reclaimed in the former Zuiderzee after it was closed from the North Sea through the Afsluitdijk connecting the province of North Holland with the province of Friesland.

One of my favourite places there is De Meerpaal, a superb centre for the arts that sits right next to the excellent public library. The wide flatter-than-flat polder landscape around Dronten is fantastic for running and I hope to meet up with this year's national women's marathon masters champion who lives there.

I can run to several surrounding towns along the North American-style grid of roads and cycling paths. Not having cycled for six years now, I would jump on my roadbike there in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it's too much hassle to bring it. I'll ride one of the 'regular' Dutch commuter bikes instead.

I love visiting the iconic Dutch stores that remain such as the HEMA, Kruidvat and de Albert Heyn. Nothing entertains me more than speaking the language without anyone batting an eyelid, as back home in Canada I get asked almost daily about " that accent".

Dessie, our recent visitor from Australia, wasn't the first to remark that I'd lost my Australian accent and replaced it with a Canadian sound, funny as that seems to me. Regardless, my non-Anglophone roots are exposed for all to hear apparently as soon as I speak one word, even as they might have trouble placing them. Are you South African? German? Danish? Brazilian? (huh?)

I explored the importance of understanding our roots in From my Mother, my first novel. Based on a true story, I found that exploring parts of my family history as a fictional tale was easier, yet it also made me realize how much knowledge I have taken for granted; in other words, I thought I knew a whole lot more than I actually did.

Having just finished that book a month ago, I return home with a new perspective and I am looking forward to experiencing the thoughts and feelings that will accompany this visit. My first volume of poetry, Sunshine on a wooden floor, contains a poem I wrote in the train I took from Schiphol Airport to Lelystad, where my parents picked me up, three years ago. 


Is vandaag
Geelblauwe treinen door een
Groen vlak landschap
Langs files
En knooppunten
Ik kom altijd onbekenden
In deze vreemde bekendheid
Nederlands praten
Kan ik
Maar het voelt niet
Meer als moedertaal
Vervreemde geboortetong
De grijsblauwe
Luchten nog steeds
Meer grijs dan blauw
Onderweg naar huis

I wrote the original in Dutch, and included the English translation in Sunshine on a wooden floor: 

Mother tongue

Is today
Yellowblue trains through a
green flat landscape
past traffic jams
and bottlenecks
I always run
Into strangers
In this foreign familiarity
Speaking Dutch
I can
It no longer feels
Like my mother tongue
Alienative language
The greyblue
Skies are still
More grey than blue
Off track
Heading home

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