Having traveled the world over and lived in different cultures, I learned there is a huge difference between visiting other people’s societies from the safe harbor of a decent hotel, than actually living among them and adopting their lifestyle, food and cultural habits. As a World Bank official, I usually settled down in a relatively comfortable hotel and got chauffeured or taxied to a government building or private company and returned there after work, then ate and drank in a fashionable restaurant and slept in air-conditioned comfort with a private bathroom. Or I lived as a resident in a comfortable rented house. Even in many field trips, I was relatively shielded from having to leave my comfort zone for long. All sorts of security reasons dictated these rules, but while one may get acquainted this way with the local culture, it does not lead to a true multicultural experience.
A multicultural experience occurs after having gone through the “cultural shock” (the one I experienced the first night when I entered in my wife’s home in Georgetown), something that shakes you out of your comfort zone into a new world where the familiar reference points are lost. This goes both ways, by the way. People from remote cultures coming to the “West” go through the same adjustment process and often find it hard to assimilate. Language, customs, philosophy, food, systems and climate, the things they grew up with and became their life’s trusted beacons, turn out suddenly all different. Those who receive the “displaced” person in their midst expect that person to adjust to their own kin, but that’s easier said than done. Experience shows this really happens only after one or sometimes two generations. In an interracial marriage like ours, it must go a lot faster to sustain the momentum.
As a school kid in Holland, I was told that America was “the big melting pot”. Having lived here for many years, America is full of different races and cultures, but I don’t think it’s melting all that much. Societies still huddle in their own circles along racial and cultural boundaries offering the comfort of their own familiar reference points. Multicultural institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations may be an exception, and being a “World Bank couple” surely helped, but the vast majority sticks to their own habitat, creating the frictions we see repeatedly shown on TV or being used for political posturing.
The great benefit of having crashed through that glass wall of displacement is that the new world one enters offers a wealth of new human experiences that vastly broaden one’s horizon. From little things like feeling that a “cold” shower is actually “lukewarm”, to the larger things of tasting new food and sharing the homes of people who grew up learning math and language as you did but in different settings, you set new beacons and readjust your antennas. Things seen previously as “out of the norm” become “part of the norm”. Feeling comfortable beyond your own comfort zone, and being able to communicate in it as if you had been one of them all your life, and being accepted that way, is the great benefit of a multicultural experience.
Those were the thoughts that went through my head on my way to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church where the Blessing of the Marriage would take place, accompanied by my new brother-in-law, the esteemed sir Lancelot Jaundoo from London, waiting for the bride who led me to that new world and helped me enter it, accompanied by my new father-in-law, Richard Emerson Jaundoo. (A small footnote: when we traveled through India later, the English spelling of the Hindu name in the telephone books was “Chandoo”, pronounced the same way.)
Get me to the church on time…
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church
Waiting, waiting, waiting
There she comes! With the Father of the Bride
The Bride Taken!
In the newspapers
Cutting the cake with the loveliest bridesmaids ever. I wish I had a harem…
Mother and Father, sister Gwen and husband Lloyd with Renée (left), brother Lance with sister Sandra (right), before the Calypso Ball.
The next days consisted of family meals and visits with traditional inputs of curry and rum.
Uncle Enoch cooking curry and peppers the traditional way
Cramped, learning to drink from a coconut without messing up on the beach near Berbize
A glimpse of New Amsterdam, the town the Dutch exchanged for New York with the Brits. Surely less traffic.
Flying to the Interior to walk along the Potaro River in Essequibo county on the way to the Kaietur Water falls.
The Kaietur Falls are one of the highest in the World (250 meters or some 750 feet) and are a mighty presence of power and beauty.
It has an estimated flow rate of over 660 cubic meters per second. Suggestions to build a hydro power dam are bountiful, but fortunately the pristine nature has so far remained protected by the Kaietur National Park.
Back to the family, more than a year and a few months later:
Young David bites his Mom’s finger
Did we see this somewhere else? (Credit: IRIS – Paris XIVe)
Darwin’s theory proven
Next- Some more pictures of beautiful Guyana.
My curiosity for long-distance enchantment and multiculturalism was born out of a famous story, Saïdjah and Adinda, written by a much-lauded Dutch author, Eduard Douwes Dekker, alias “Multatuli” (“the one who has suffered a lot”) in 1860. His book was about “Max Havelaar, The Coffee Auctions of The Dutch Trading Company”. It agitated against the abuses of Dutch colonialism in the then Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), was widely read in his days and later, reprinted many times, and turned into a Dutch movie in 1976 by film director Fons Rademakers, which got first prize at several film festivals for best foreign film.
Credit: Wikipedia NL.
Saïdjah and Adinda was chapter 17 in this long book. My elementary schoolteacher wanted me to read the story when I was 10 (1947). Its sadness, savagery and underlying beauty of love gripped me forever. As young children, Saïdjah and Adinda were destined to marry. Their friendship evolved into love, but the local colonial master confiscated Saïdjah’s buffaloes he needed for his rice field. Forced to earn a living and cash to marry Adinda, he left the area and went to work somewhere else. Their separation was heartbreaking.
I still see the picture that Adinda had shaped in my imagination: a beautiful slim girl with long black hair, bare footed and a light coffee-brown smooth skin, wide dark eyes and a brilliant smile, the dream girl in the “Dessa” (village). I fell in love with this Adinda. But when Saïdjah came back to marry her, he found her family murdered in their shantung home, and Adinda’s body tortured and ripped open. It was a cry against colonial rule. Her sad image never left my mind.
I read the story when Holland fought its colonial war during 1945-49, which led to Indonesia’s Independence. At high-school from the early fifties, I had several Indonesian friends whose families had fled to Holland during these bitter years. At that time, I learned that my grandfather, Hector van Coehoorn van Sminia, as a young man, had spent five years in the Dutch Indies in the early 1900s to set up and manage a coffee plantation with a business companion. Had he ever seen a girl like Adinda? I wonder. But he didn’t feel that was the type of life he wanted and returned to Holland to find his love and married, going back to speed-skating, horseback riding and breeding Dutch thoroughbreds.
Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to talk to him about his life in the Indies, as he died in 1946, shortly before I read Saïdjah and Adinda’s story. I also learned at that time that a great-uncle, John Paul van Limburg Stirum, had been Governor General of the Dutch Indies from 1916-1921. As a young boy, I met him several times at my grandmother’s house, and I remember him as a very impressive man.
Only when I became 16, I heard that he had been very critical of the Dutch Government for not allowing the local population more political freedom in their own decision making. He took several measures to enhance local political participation, which were later rescinded by a much less visionary Dutch regime. He died in 1948 when the colonial war was raging and I was too small to talk to him about these things.
His vision was the main reason why, in 1962, I wrote my masters thesis for political science about the renewed conflict between Holland and Indonesia regarding Western New Guinea (the Dutch side of Australian Papua Guinea, which was part of the Indonesian archipelago). Holland had kept it out of the 1949 Indonesian Independence agreements as Dutch territory.
The thesis argued against the Dutch Government’s impossible position to keep Western New Guinea (Western “Irian” for Indonesia) out of Indonesian sovereignty. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially Minister Luns, was not amused when they heard about my thesis during my research. A month after I completed my thesis, in August 1962, Holland was forced to sign the secession of Western New Guinea to Indonesia, under American mediation (New York Agreement, Ellsworth Bunker, diplomat under President Kennedy).
Meanwhile Adinda had found refuge in my mind. She was the driver of my economic development studies in Paris and my desire to join the World Bank. She probably was also the driver behind my inclination to find her as a life companion despite all the blondes and brunettes that complicated my life and couldn’t keep me committed, spawning deep sorrow and many tears. Ultimately I found her….in 1973 at the World Bank in Washington D.C. An East-Indian beauty from Guyana.
“Adinda come true”
The World Bank is, of course, a multicultural institution by definition. All member nations are somewhat represented and you meet and work with all colors and races, from yellow to black to brown and to white. As English is the main language, everyone works and converses with each other and feels like they are one family regardless where they come from and what color or faces or accent they have. Of course, we make fun of each other, but it’s never hateful. When you exit onto the streets of the USA, locals do not understand that congeniality, as they are still stigmatized into racial differences in spite of many years of activism in this area.
But for us, that did not matter and we married on January 25, 1974.
John and Joy’s civil marriage and the parties
Though left and right our decision was criticized in 1974, after 40 years we still stand while many of the critics failed.
Both children, here pictured at my family residence in Holland, are products of a multicultural colorless approach to life. Both have successful careers, saw a lot of the Third World, and can reach out to all sides and relate to their weaknesses and strengths. Character counts, color does not. They learned to be standard bearers of good family values, keeping up the flag of all peaceful nations under one universal God, whatever name He carries or concept He represents. We are called “the family of the United Nations”, without all the infighting of that body.
The proof is that often derided multiculturalism works, and we will be celebrating this shortly.
Next – Guyana – The Blessing
Born in Amsterdam fills me with pride every time I get back to my home town. I realized this first in Paris where I studied in 1964 and heard Jacques Brel singing, for the first time, “Dans le Port d’Amsterdam”, in the famous Olympia Hall. A song about sailors eating, drinking, burping, and having fun with Amsterdam’s fabulous women of pleasure that today draw even schoolgirls from Japan under tight escort to their splendid vitrines. Perhaps to tell them what they should not be doing, or what their boyfriends/husbands pilots and sailors might be doing when landing in Amsterdam Port or Schiphol.Extending to a roaring climax, the song tore my heart apart. But was that Amsterdam? I had more romantic visions.
The River Amstel in fog, as painted by my nephew, Dutch painter, Michiel Kranendonk
or a sunlit bridge over an Amsterdam canal on a quiet Sunday morning, also painted by Michiel,
or the first visit to Amsterdam by Queen Elisabeth in 1958 that I pictured with a prehistoric camera.
after which I dropped by a dear school friend, who lived in a turret of a canal house along Prinsen Gracht (Princes’ Canal). I remember dropping a bag full of fried rice out of his window because what he served me was inedible and it fell on the head of an innocent person strolling along the canal on his evening walk. We checked and miraculously he survived, even though with a headache.
Not long thereafter I attended the Matheus Passion at the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam’s famous Concert Hall) with my mother and we walked along the Rijksmuseum ( in the back of the picture) and Jan Luikenstraat 2 where I was born. A moment I won’t forget.
It was said that Jacques Brel did not like Amsterdam. As he was from Belgium, the other “lowland”south of the Dutch border, this didn’t surprise me. It must have been in-born jealousy, as Antwerp – a port city I like very much by the way – could never match Amsterdam port city despite all its efforts. But I loved Jacques Brel’s songs.
Amsterdam is ubiquitous in the World. In Paris there is Rue d’Amsterdam, linking it with Gare St. Lazar, and the best French cheese shop (Androuet) in town.
New York was New Amsterdam, as everyone knows. The Dutch were there first.
And there are 16 towns in the USA with the name of Amsterdam. If we had not lost one of those many sea battles with the Perfidious Albion, New York would still have been New Amsterdam. Wall Street would have been Dijk Straat or “Dike Street” and Yankee would have been “Jan Kees”. Both British Guyana and Dutch Suriname in Caribbean South America were once Dutch colonies. Both have a town named New Amsterdam. In New Amsterdam in Guyana, which the Dutch got in return for New York (what a deal!) before the British stole it back again, I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life. I had to shave myself dancing to avoid being bitten by swarms of these bloodsucking insects. New Amsterdam in Suriname wasn’t much better.
No, there is nothing more comforting than my old Amsterdam. Jules B. Barber, an American author, writes in his “Amsterdam” of 1975: “Amsterdam is a charming, dynamic, hustling, tolerant, greedy, seedy, beautiful, enlightened, socially oriented politically eruptive, warm, welcoming, “gezellig” (cozy), schizophrenic kind of place. It’s eternally young at heart despite its 700 years.” That’s all true. From Google images under “Amsterdam in Paris” I borrow a few pics that represent the sense of the city.
This is Amsterdam.
Central Station at night as I pictured it from Hotel Victoria across the station.
A city of eternal youth, especially if you are over 70. Yet it is also the only place in the world where I was robbed three times of my travel bags. Multiculturalism has its charms and dissonants. Oh well, we “Amsterdammers” are “tolerant” (they say).
Next week when I am in Holland, Born in Amsterdam II.