Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't Forget to Wear a Costume!

          I was told to go to Southern Netherlands for Carnaval (or Dutch Mardi Gras), but I never could have imagined what I was getting myself into. After making my bi-weekly trip to the market in town and picking up my residency permit from City Hall, I parked my bike in the train station’s garage and was off to Tilburg! The trains zip from city to city and pass through fields, herds of sheep, and canals between each stop. As I got closer and closer to Tilburg, the amount of people in costume increased exponentially (a common outfit is a fuzzy animal onesie). When I finally arrived, the station was surrounded by people in costumes and draped in neon orange and green scarves singing along to Dutch bands. Overwhelmed I made my way through town and to my first hosts’ house. The house is know as Casa Merode and quite reputable for all of the couchsurfers that they have hosted. There are five housemates from all over Europe including 2 from Greece, 1 Dutch, a Belgian girl going to school for juggling, and a Lithuanian studying liberal arts at the local university. We played complicated board games, ate dinner together, and finally the Lithuanian, Igor, took me into town to celebrate the insanity of Carnaval. Before hand he shared with me his fascination with the backwardness of many American laws (such as gun control) and that if I ever went to Lithuania I would be given vodka then told why America is ruining the world. I suppose I can rule Lithuania off my travel goals!
Outside Tilburg Train Station

Tilburg Couchsurfing Room
            The next morning I left for Eindhoven. Eindhoven is not the most beautiful city since it had to be mostly rebuilt after World War II. Nonetheless, my host Theo, a Ph. D student and droplet specialist (he studies the physics of how liquid comes out of a ketchup or shampoo bottle), brought me with him to his hometown Asten. Asten, a rather agricultural area, was having their own Carnaval celebration that included elaborate costumes and having a drink at each of the town’s 11 bars. Aside from being the only American amongst hundreds of rambunctious Dutch, the celebration was America themed so his friends were very excited to have me join them. I especially appreciated the people who dressed up with American flags, beer bellies, and carried around McDonalds in line with the theme. The day ended with a dinner of various fried foods at one of Theo’s friend’s family house (my vegetarian diet absolutely baffled them). Although his parents couldn’t speak English, they thought I’d be a suitable wife for their son. 
My New Dutch Friends in Asten

Theo in His Pig Onesie (He wants to wear it on Casual Fridays)
America themed Pub Crawl

American "football" building
            From Eindhoven, I hopped back on the train to Maastricht, the Carnaval capital of the Netherlands. My host, Frank (an environmental/urban planner!) was off to Aachen, Germany for their parade so he introduced me to his neighbor Osman. Osman is studying Medicine at the university, 1 out of 10 children, and the first to leave Saudi Arabia where he grew up. He even asked me to teach him ebonics—we certainly had a lot to learn about each other! Without asking he gave me a grand tour of the city, which was dotted with small parades of people and drum bands. He was particularly excited about taking me to the “American boulevard” where there is a monument to the US soldiers that crossed the River Maas and liberated the city of Maastricht in WWII, John F. Kennedybrug bridge, and a giant building that looks like a football.  That night the city came alive in full force again for Carnaval! My favorite costume was a Scrabble board (there is an “SJ” in Dutch Scrabble). The bars and cafes blast traditional Carnaval music and let’s just say the music is an acquired taste (the locals are grateful it’s only a few days a year.) Before finally heading home, me and the other couchsurfers headed to a tiny village of about 100 people for their big parade of floats pulled by tractors (fun fact: the cows here say “boo”). 

            In addition to my adventures, I have actually attended classes. It is a whirlwind making it to my back to back classes. They are all on Thursday and a 10-15 minute bike ride from each other—it is actually not possible to make it to class in time without one. I am taking Environment and Society, Dutch Culture, and Decision Making and Rational Choice, plus Consumer psychology in the second half of the semester. Classes are MUCH bigger than at Clark, but for the smaller ones I have frequently been asked how the native speaker would define or pronounce something. Another professor was telling us about the history of Dutch dikes, dams, and canals and I inquired about feelings of global warming here. Her response was, “Of course it’s real! It is fact! I don’t know what country you’re from, but the waters are rising here and we have to deal with it.” What a great country! Until next time, Omhelzingen en kussen (hugs and kisses)!

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