In May I went to my home country Holland, to see family and friends and to strengthen ties with the media I work for. I hadn’t been looking forward much to the journey, perhaps because I had been travelling quite a lot in Colombia. And a very nasty welcome surprise awaited me when I had a little problem in Amsterdam.
I was going to arrive quite late at Schiphol airport, near Amsterdam. Friends had offered me to stay the night in Amsterdam. A good idea, I thought, in order not to bother anybocy to pick me up at Schiphol. When I arrived at their home however, nobody was there. And less than half an hour before that I had found out my Dutch T Mobile phone wasn’t working. And it was about 11.30 in the evening. I had been travelling for about 20 hours and was exhausted.
The helpful Maroccan girl that offered her cellphone to call unfortunately didn’t have enough credit to make a call, but in the neighbourhood there was a bar. The solution was near. I pulled my suitcase to the place and was welcomed with loud cheers when I entered. ‘Hey chick, where do you come from?’ Perhaps it was because of the Bolivian poncho that was hanging around my shoulders. It was a cold spring night in Amsterdam. And because of my suitcase.
I decided to take it all as a big joke and ordered a beer. My neighbour at the bar asked where I came from and I told him I live in Colombia. That interested him and we started a conversation on that. He seemed nice so I explained him I had a little problem and asked him if I could use his phone for a minute. I had the impression it was ok, he went to the toilet, I sipped some of my beer, when the bartender all of a sudden told me ‘Will you leave alone my clients, please!’ I was flabbergasted, waited till his very harsh looking face would change into a friendly one with a big smile – only a joke, sweetheart – but no. As quietly as I could I explained my problem and told him not to worry, I would pay my beer, without effect. It was very clear that I had to leave there in order not to be humiliated more than I already felt. Paid my still almost full glas of beer and left. It was around midnight already and I didn’t know what to do.
It was so painful to be received like that in my own country. Thought of all those stories of Dutch who return from far away sunny places ‘where the people are so hospitable and helpful’. Appearantly they forget that very kind behaviour when they are in their own country. Everybody has his own working cellphone, her own internet and his own car. Nobody needs help. Asking help awakes suspicion. The next day – still in Amsterdam – I wanted to ask where the bar was where I had an appointment with a photographer. The two obviously Dutch guys I asked my question to shouted ‘No plata’ (No money). Damned Bolivian poncho that I again was wearing, but it was so awfully cold.
Now back to that midnight in an Amsterdam street where I walked with my suitcase. I knew that I had to ask for help again, because I had to call my friends, although I feared another rejection. I entered the terrace of a restaurant. And there I decided to explain the waitress exactly what had happened and wait and see what her reaction was. She was very kind and I could use her phone and talk to my friends. Of course it was all a misunderstanding. They hadn’t remembered well the night of my arrival, etc. And we eventually met at one in the morning.
But I kept thinking of this phenomenon that asking help seems to be like something suspicious in my country because everybody is self supplying and I didn’t sleep well. A year ago I also had a big problem because that terrible T Mobile failed and I couldn’t ask help. (I hate them profoundly now, it’s all their fault). In Colombia people with three cellphones on a small table sell minutos, and if not, there is always someone who gives a hand. There is street business based on people’s most simple needs, because many don’t have a cellphone, or minutes on their cellphone, let alone internet. They need eachother more, so they are more used to asking help. There is more communication on the street. It’s not strange to speak to somebody you don’t know.
But my problem was solved by a very kind waitress, let’s end it positively. Although it seems to be less, it still exists in Holland, help.
I have received more very warm help in my country when I appeared to have malaria and had to stay in hospital. Will write on that later, as I announced in my last post, that also explains why I am so late telling this.