Once again strolling along the streets, my mind gets increasingly clouded. Is this the right way? I have followed the directions given but it seems as if I’m getting further from where I want to go.
As I walk, across the street, someone shouts with a drunken slur, “Go back to your country!” and the woman beside him laughs. I smile back at him, because it’s true. I have no right to be here. This is Holland, not home.
As I continue on my journey in search of Piet Blom’s Kubuswoningen, I seem to be getting ever deeper into a racial enclave. I pass an elderly man sitting at a park, and I ask, “Engels?”, to which he gives a dismissive wave of his hand, refusing to speak to me.
Dejected by this wave of anti-foreigner sentiment, Rotterdam seems to have been an erroneous choice.
Finding a bench, I sit there, figuring out my next move. An elderly man sits on the opposite end of the bench. I smile, saying, “Hi”, and attempt to seek directions again. He is kind and genial, and in his halting English, points out the way.
He asks me where I am from. And we begin a conversation that till date, continues to reverberate deeply in my soul.
“You see that shop over there? It used to be owned by a Dutch family, but now it is Turkish. This whole area used to be full of Dutch people, but now there are only 5 Dutch families left.” His voice trails off, reminiscing the times when the neighbourhood seemed more homely and familiar.
He points at the satellite dishes peeking out of a block. “You see those dishes? They are for the Turks who want to watch Turkish channels but do not want to pay for them.” I struggle to collect my thoughts. I’ve been ignored, and unwelcomed in this city. But it’s hard not to feel an outpouring of emotion for this elderly man, as he sits on the bench with me, glancing around him. I fall silent, not knowing what to say.
In a place he has called home, precious memories made slowly fade as his neighbourhood changes, seemingly beyond recognition. It’s hard not to understand his pain, where a place he has invested so much of his life in, seems to be slowly taken over by others.
“Sir, would you like the stir-fried noodle with squid?” An air-stewardess interrupts my quiet reflections.
“Is it the Hokkien Mee?” She smiles, and in that instant, we form an unspoken understanding here on this international flight, bound by a common identity.
I peer out of my window. Lights twinkle from the cities thousands of feet below. The world seems much bigger than I remember. Yet as different as all of us are, hailing from different nationalities, cultures and languages, it’s easy to forget that we are altogether human, though walking different paths, but towards a common, better, Earth for all.
It’s great to be home.