Monday, April 03, 2006

Week II

The end of another week back in Holland. Outside the window the thin sliver of the moon looks ‘evil’, but then looking at it reminds me of the last time I saw a similar sight. And that was sometime in the past, somewhere else, somewhere far, far away.

Life is getting back to ‘normal’ here. I’ve more or less gotten into the hang of things again, though sometimes speaking Dutch again after almost a year of ‘no contact’ seems to dent the tongue and self-confidence. But I guess the more I read, and the nightly radio talk shows I fall asleep to, will perhaps soon make me comfortable again in the language.

Went to see my old colleagues where I used to work last year on Friday. Since it was a Friday, not many people were there. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about going, and been planning to contact them since I got back. Somehow, I had to muster the courage to even make the phone call to say I’m back. Strange, isn’t it? Well, I guess having been away so long, it felt a bit sorry for not keeping in touch frequently, and preoccupied me most was wondering what people at my old job would think about me and what I did the past year. A year is a long time to accomplish a lot. And certainly looking back now at all those grand plans I made before going on ‘sabbatical’ leave it seems like I’ve not really accomplished much of what I intended to do. Ashamed, why? I guess I care too much about what others would think…about my progress career-wise, in deepening my studies and my interests and my experiences in (as I recall) “grassroots organisations”. And really I shouldn’t.

So with butterflies in my stomach and hesitations I entered the office. And to my surprise everyone was so welcoming, so friendly, as if I never left. But leave I did, and many things happened in between the time I last entered those corridors and the time I again entered them.

As expected, the questions I dreaded came up.

What did you learn most?

What did you do?

What are your afterthoughts?

What are your plans now?

A couple of times I hesitated and my mind literally went blank trying to answer. How could I recount all the things I did and saw all this time? Other times I simply did not know how to answer. Again my poor memory span and being asked my opinion under social circumstances in which I don’t function properly made me feel all the more uncomfortable. What’s wrong with me? I’ve known these people for a year, and yet I acted and reacted as if they are strangers. Shudder.

But I managed. And I said what I really did, and what I really felt made the most impact on me. Sure, I did a bit of the things I planned to do with migrant workers in Indonesia and Taiwan, but most of the time I took time out for myself. I had/have issues to deal with, and I can’t recall anytime in my whole life in which I took time out to take care of myself. As someone told me more than a year ago, and again on Friday, I don’t take care of myself enough…or rather, I don’t take care of myself at all! It’s usually other people, other commitments, and work and study that keep me busy. I do this and that, and do it as best I can, to please others, to help others…but what I forget is that I am the one living my life, for me, and not for others.

So, in the past year I made little progress in my career, I made little progress in my study, I made little progress in thinking about and planning what I would like to do in the future. But I gained a lot in discovering who I am, and in processing many personal issues and problems which have for a long time dragged me down like heavy baggage I carry with me wherever I go and whatever I do. Childhood, family, low self-esteem… the process of recovering, surviving , living alone, my social dysfunctions, lack of confidence, uncertainty and doubts… I’ve not overcome them completely, but I’ve at least made the first steps to facing them and acknowledging the presence of them which troubles me.

As someone said to me, I should be proud that I did all that, and should be proud and glad that I had the chance and time to do what many are perhaps are unable or incapable of doing. Looking back, I guess I’ve come a long way, and I’ve travelled really far. And I made it back here, again, looking different, feeling different. So there was change, but I just didn’t (or can’t) notice it.

It was meaningful, and helpful, to back and meet those people. It helped clear my mind, organise my thoughts and my experiences of the past couple of months. And again, it showed me that whatever speculation, doubts and anxieties you may have about something, it always is different! Instead of being judgemental, people were friendly, welcoming, and some told of how they missed my presence. I must mean something, be someone to be missed, right? Another life affirming moment, another moment in which I learnt that I am somebody.

As planned, the renovation work around the house is about to start. So today we went to a DIY shop nearby to pick up materials. It came to almost two hundred Euros in total…but as we took another inspection of the house, we were confronted with more urgent needs (and costs) than just a bit of painting here and there. Our windows in the front of the house seriously need replacing, as they’re single glazed and very run-down. The previous tenants managed to somehow do something to turn them into windows to look at but not to be opened. Opening it would risk the frame falling off. And in the back of the house, the wooden frame around my room and the little room next to mine is partly rotten and peeling badly. Some bits practically have no protection against the elements, and a big downpour could drench and soak the wood frame and doors, and seep into the structure of the house, and all the way down to the first floor. If that’s not enough, the bathtub that was installed while we were away was so shoddily insulated around the edges against water that over time water has seeped into the floor and may have caused the wooden panels to start rotting.

How are we to fix all this? When are we to fix all this? Thinking about the costs (totalling probably tens of thousands of Euros!) just makes me sick. Thinking about the small things that need to be done inside the house, from small repairs to painting entire walls and ceilings, makes me tired already…

Spoke to mum on the phone in the afternoon. She soundly tired, as she had been cleaning and scrubbing the house all day, but she waited till late for our call. Things are alright at home, it seems, and I told her what we’ve been up to. At one point, while mum was talking about what she did, how dad is doing, and her plans to go for a health check-up, I started to shed a few tears.

What touched me so? Perhaps it was because of all the pressures and thoughts about the renovations and paperwork that still need to be arranged here…perhaps it was the fact that she is so far away, yet so, so close…perhaps it was hearing that things seem alright and peaceful at home after I left…or perhaps it was hearing that her health has been upset lately, or that she’s had to work hard to get used to her new job…

I closed and rubbed my eyes,

and tasted the salty water on my finger tips.


Song playing: Can you feel the love tonight, Elton John

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