The 17 Year Anniversary

It is not a particularly round number nor is it a sacred number in any culture I’ve ever learned about in my travels, but this week begins my 17th year as a resident of the Netherlands. 16 years ago this month, I arrived with 50 kilos of luggage from Portugal with a simple idea, be a graduate student in this country that I knew very little about. I’d love to say I remember it as if it were yesterday, but you try remembering stuff from 16 years ago, especially in a city that is constantly renovating, repurposing, and changing things. The buildings might look the same, the people might even do many of the same things, but you can bet life has changed and I’ve been a witness to those changes.

Meanwhile my own life has gone through phases, the ups and downs that make up many a life. If you had asked me what my life would look like at the start of my 17th year way back when I first arrived, I would not have been able to answer. Incidentally, some things never change, I still can’t tell you what my life will look like in 17 years. Sometimes not knowing gets to me, but thankfully, most of the time, I’m thrilled to still not know what is around the corner. I mean other than old age.

This website started just before the big move, back in a little apartment in Lisbon, as I packed my things and said goodbye to a city I thought I could not be without. In the end it is this city, Amsterdam, which has been my constant over the course of almost two decades. At the time the idea was to let people read my observations, and in some form, that is what we still do here. After two years of writing,  I started doing it in audio form, not yet fully understanding what this odd hobby that myself and a few dozen people around the world were doing (podcasting) was going to become; a mass audience phenomenon. In between I kept writing. Kept taking the pictures and posting them. Even threw in some videos for fun. Sites like Facebook and twitter, for better or for worse, would all come along much later. Back in 2002 this was a personal space to share with you the public, and if you were there you know how special it was. It wasn’t just about moving your life to a new city and telling others about it, it was about sharing life experiences and discussing what was going on around us — be it in the place where we live or on the other side of the world. No issue too big and absolutely no issue too small.

The European Communication crew, ISHSS U of Amsterdam, Fall of 2002.

Of course, like Amsterdam, the internet has changed. Writing, recording, on the internet, has become so commonplace that it goes mostly unnoticed and will be buried behind other content within seconds. In some ways so too do some moments in this city. I watched today, in honour of this anniversary, as new students arrived at the U of Amsterdam, ready to do their study abroad or their first year as grad students. The conversations were so familiar, yet I felt invisible. I imagined school as a VHS tape, and these students’ arrival as someone taping over something. Over and over this happens with every new group. The tape doesn’t get grainy or lose quality for them, but perhaps it does for me… as many names, places, and moments, have faded over time.

Regardless, I’m still here, and life is still interesting. Just as it was back in late August 2002. Happy anniversary to me in Amsterdam, and happy anniversary to this crazy website. Long may we all carry on!

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Thoughts From An Overnight Train: Men

The following text was written on an overnight train from Trivandrum to Coimbatore (India) in late November 2016:

The following are words written by a 36 year old Portuguese-American raised happily in the 80’s and 90’s in New Jersey and at the age of 21 moved to Europe eventually settling in The Netherlands. I offer these details because they shed some light on how I see the world and what I see when I look. Obviously there is always more going on and I live like everyone does, in my own sort-of reality.

30940676145_b515eb3b0c_cAs we move further south from Mumbai our happy traveling group is in fact a trio. 2 women and 1 man (me). I don’t know where I would rank on a sensitivity scale but I can say with some confidence that I am a sensitive human. I notice things around me to the point that often the decisions I make are based mostly on what impact my actions would have on others. (depending on the situation of course, but apparently more often than the average bear) Im traveling with 2 women and since I haven’t asked their permission to talk about things like their age and backgrounds, I will leave that part out because what I want to talk about is not dependent on those more personal details. The fact that they are women already says a lot. We live in a world where, even if 2016 feels very far into the future, your gender impacts how you are treated, and well… so much more.

Im an avid follower of current events in as many countries as I can possibly follow. Much of what I know is shaped by various media outlets as well as friends who Im fortunate enough to have in every corner of this planet. And so I have some idea, for example, of what the status is when it comes to treatment of people based on gender in a place like, say – India. I’ve read my history books and watched events unfold that revealed how complicated it can be, but above all, where and in what ways women are being mistreated.

Now to the meat of the story. I’m traveling with two women. Two wonderful humans, but again, no details beyond that for their safety. Sometimes I walk ahead of them because they’re talking and Im a long legged kid. Often I walk behind them because I’m slow and easily distracted, always looking left and right and down or up. As this goes on, what I notice in India are the looks in people’s eyes. In the cities, in the villages, eyes are on us. More specifically, eyes are on them, especially eyes belonging to men. They don’t just look, the way you would look if any living thing passed in front of you; they stare. The staring ranges from the kind you might call gawking, to oggling, to lusting, to threatening. It is a dead look, almost zombie like. The kind of gaze that they themsleves may not be aware they are doing, yet it is also a look that they seem completely unconcerned about stopping. The look gets worse the more men are standing among other men. It gets worse when there are no women of authority in their lives within an earshot. It gets worse when it seems like no one else is around or paying attention, not that crowds of people could snap them out of this pathetic trance.

Sometimes it comes from a man standing in a shop doorway, waiting for customers and then suddenly enchanted beyond control. Other times it is as they walk by, complete with that glancing back after we’ve passed, and continuing to stare even at the risk they will crash into something. If you’re in a hot, coastal area (which isn’t hard to come by in India) then it happens at more intimate moments, like when a woman is swimming in the ocean; they stand on the sand staring directly at any women who dares to wear a bathing suit and swim. They stare when she comes out of the water to dry off or simply walk home. Their eyes follow as women do everything in their power to move quickly and get somewhere beyond the horrible eyes that won’t stop following them.

Staring is not the worst crime a man, or anyone really, can commit. In fact its not even punishable under law, I think anywhere in the world. History shows us far worse things to worry about, some of which have improved in terms of how women are treated and protected under the law. But that doesn’t mean the staring isn’t a terrible thing.

I’ve watched as a good day turns to a bad day, because of the stares. I’ve watched as one moment a women can feel human and respected to her feeling reduced to a collection of body parts or an object. A little piece of paradise along the coast goes from tranquil recharging to hostile territory.

I’ve watched all this as a man. And even though I’m unable to know what it is like as a women, as I man, I absolutely hate it. It disgusts me. It disappoints me. I makes me want to exit this planet and take all the women with me to keep them from ever having to deal with such an assault. It makes me want to smash every staring moron in the face, regardless if he does or doesn’t know any better.

But all these feelings and wishes don’t change anything. Women everywhere, including in India, still have to walk down the street and be confronted by this vile shit. And this doesn’t even take into account the far more horrid things beyond the staring that women endure still today and at this moment, at the hands of men. And once my rage fades a bit, all that I’m left with is a silent sadness and some passionate typing on a keyboard. Which again, changes nothing.

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Choosing Silence

This website started as a blog in 2002. Back then it was the early days of sharing, personal diaries online, leaving and responding to comments; ongoing conversations. All these years later, after the dawn of podcasting and youtube stars, social media and viral content, live tweeting and instagraming- things evolved from a very exciting and seemingly limitless new world for communication and understanding, to a fickle world of hearing only what interests you and tuning out everyone and everything else. The world got smaller, while also becoming a place we don’t trust or yearn for. People could communicate with everyone and anyone, but usually end up posting a few photos of a baby, a pet, or a something temporarily amusing. Long story short: it is not quite the world it looked like it might become in those early days of personal publishing and new tools for expression. It has become.. something else.

But you’ve heard much of this. One thing there is no shortage of on today’s internet- commentary about the state of the internet. This alone has, over there years, inspired me to stop writing. In a world where everyone is expressing themselves, everyone is sharing, everyone is looking into their technology in search of — something, we don’t know what- my gut reaction is to close the browser and forget about writing words on a screen. What’s the difference, won’t it all be scrolled out of relevance really soon anyway? Lately, I’ve found more joy in the comfort of my home, sharing a good meal or laugh with my partner, gathering with friends as often as possible in person, than I have toiling over what to write in the next paragraph.

I’m somehow reminded of the old Timothy Leary (via Marshall McLuhan) quote: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”, though I’m sure like many recycled quotes, I may not completely understand the themes of self-reliance and consciousness that I think he was recommending back in the 60’s. But if he meant in any way looking inward for meaning and solutions to problems, then that is very much we’re I’ve been over the past few years. Not looking to any institution, leader, or movement of any kind… I’ve sought the answer within. And that journey continues, but it is nice to write on the blog like old times, regardless if anyone is reading.

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Mass Noun

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Terrorism is defined as follows:

 the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion

Screenshot 2016-03-23 02.06.40

 

Oxford takes it a bit further:

The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims

And finally, the Urban Dictionary brings it all home:

Manipulation of any person or group of persons fear (the emotion of terror, hence TERRORism) in order to gain obedience/forceful agreement, or accomplish a certian objective.

-So there’s that.

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