à deux doigts

Dinsdag. Half twaalf. In het muffe leslokaal sleuren we ons met moeite door de al even muffe vakinhoud: Franse grammatica. Stoffige, klassieke, plaats-alles-in-tabelletjes-dan-snappen-ze-het-beter grammatica. Net op het moment wanneer we aan het gebruik van de subjonctif beland zijn, gaat de deur van het leslokaal langzaam open. Een brede kerel staat in de deuropening. Zijn ogen groot, zijn lippen samengeperst, in een excusez-moi-je-ne-voulais-pas-vous-déranger* uitdrukking trippelt hij naar binnen op de toppen van zijn tenen. Gegniffel golft door de klas terwijl hij met zijn ‘onopvallende’ getrippel alle aandacht naar zich toe trekt. “Désolé, je suis encore en retard”* zegt hij wanneer hij eindelijk bij de achterste rij -zijn vaste stekje- is aangekomen en zich met al zijn breedheid tussen de stoel en de tafel perst.

Elke week hetzelfde scenario.
En elke week moet ik er opnieuw om lachen. De oprechte verontschuldiging op zijn gezicht, vervolgens de slungelige poging om met zijn opvallende figuur zonder te storen de volledige klas te doorkruisen.

Zal ik me hem nog herinneren eens ik terug in België ben?
Misschien.
In ieder geval zijn het dit soort momenten die bijdragen tot een thuisgevoel, een verankering, het bewijs dat je deel hebt uitgemaakt van een groep, van een periode, van een hoop ervaringen die je maken tot de persoon die je nu bent.

Nog drie weken.

Ik geloof het niet.

*sorry-ik-wil-jullie-niet-storen
*Het spijt me, ik ben alweer eens te laat

Wann sag ich wieder mein und meine alle?

Berlin, 9 november 1989.
A huge crowd of agitated citizens gathers at the wall which splits their country in two parts. A physical wall, seperating loved ones, family, friendships. An idealistic wall, dividing two political systems, two utterly different beliefs in how to cope with a society and all its problems. A symbolic wall, representing fear and misunderstanding.
The people scream, push and try to climb the ‘Mauer’ in a struggle for unity. The guards – and they too, have a voice- totally overwhelmed by the mass, hesitate and at last, cannot hold back the mass.
There falls the wall. The physical wall. The temporary wall.

Facebook, 9 november 2016.
An invisible wall divides the country across the sea. It is invisible but can be felt by every single person. It is a wall that stretches across the ocean, pushes forward across the internet into peoples bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens. It grows into people’s hearts. We built it. And are still building it.

Young Birds in Stormy Weather

Someone once told me:

“Only when we discover other life outside our planet, we will feel connected to the other inhabitants of our world. Only then we will identify with our fellow ‘earthlings’.”

Is that true?
Do we construct our identity solely in opposition to others?

There is a certain logic in this statement.

I only knew what it feels like to be Belgian when I met someone from another country for the very first time.  I could compare my identity as a Belgian with that of someone else. It became clear what it means to share a geographical region, a government (well, six governments in our case. But that’s a different story), certain habits and ideas, a common history. Therefore all of a sudden I saw the connection with other Belgians in a whole new light. I found out that people can have other ideas about the world than the ones I was used to, things that I had taken for granted were suddenly questioned.

The more people I met the more clearly my identity was shaped. I felt ‘Belgian’, but also ‘Hasselaar‘, ‘Vlaming‘, Western European citizen, European citizen, ‘Brusselaar‘, ‘Limburger‘…
And all these labels indeed referred to differences with other groups and a sense of community within a group. So in a certain sense, yes, my identity is shaped in opposition to others.

But hey, let’s put things in perspective.

Searching for identity also means to define and redefine these labels, because that is what they are after all.
Labels.
Names that we gave to concepts in order to understand them.

I never labelled myself as an ‘earthling’, because indeed, there is no need to in reference to other life.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t identify as one. Here on Erasmus I met people from all over the world -from Sri Lanka to Italy to Bolivia- and I learned that we resemble one another more than can be seen at the first glance. I never felt a stronger connection to people from other cultures than now.

We are all young people, open to other cultures, open to get to know the world. Let’s try not to forget this once we are out of this dream-like Erasmus bubble and re-enter the ‘real world’.

Let’s get a little sentimental (I am allowed to, it’s almost the end of my Erasmus!)
I love you, my fellow earthlings… 🙂

 

credits: cover photo Lotte Stockmans

A Collection of Impressions

The light was dim in the dining room and nobody spoke a word.
A serene melancholy hung as a murky haze over the group of people
who were gathered together.
Time seemed to go unrealistically slow.

Most of the food – a leftover from the weekend –
lay cold and unappetizing on the large table.
It spread a nasty smell in the house.

Although the silence was full of unexpressed thoughts,
nobody seemed willing to renew the discussion;
it felt like a wordless conversation and provided a welcome respite after the frightening chaos of the last days.

There were no words needed to understand each other.

Together they brought the dirty glasses to the kitchen.
Together they did the dishes, threw away the rotten food,
washed the red wine stains out of the table cloth.

As the evening proceeded, the air became clear again.
Breathable.

Fresh words were found in all languages.

Finally, a neat, white table cloth covered the table again.
A candle was lit.IMG_1173

I Cried

And all of a sudden everybody started to scream. Gasps, cries, shouts, prayers filled the air.
People were running, stumbling through the crowd, terror and bewilderment on everyone’s face.

What had happened?

What had happened?

The air grew dense with anger, leaving hardly any space to breathe.
More and more people came and joined the chaos, astonished by the recent horror.
Upset, vexed, enraged.

Tears.

In the middle of the chaos, a little boy stood on a rock. His name is Libra. Scales.
He silently watched the people around him in wide-eyed surprise.
Never had he seen anything like that before. He turned round and round on his rock and observed the people’s faces, listened to fragments of conversations, watched the bizarre mishmash of ideas and opinions. Some people carried images around and threw them into each others faces, shouting about sickness, about humanity, about war. Some of them closed their eyes or looked away. Some others only whispered soft words of despair, taking a neighbour’s hand.
Finally, he sat down to think.
Words didn’t come as easily to him as they would normally, but maybe it was better that way. Afraid to say something wrong, he stayed silent for a long time.
He thought about the different people he had met in his short life. He felt deeply connected to all and yet as if he really knew none of them. He wanted to understand them.
At last he spoke:
“Please, do sit down and talk.”