Tag Archives: south africans

truth, honesty, and observation

okay, it's not the cafe citroen, but this is the view from its patio.
okay, it’s not the cafe citroen, but this is the view from its patio.

wednesday night arrived in amsterdam with a light rain.  i had spent most of my day sitting in a pleasant little “cafe” called “café citroen,”  writing and editing video and photos (a tip for the uninitiated: in amsterdam, a cafe is a coffee shop, where you can buy coffee.  a “coffee shop” on the other hand… well that’s where you go to buy and smoke marijuana. why they do it this way i have no idea, but if you want play a joke on your significant other, don’t tell them this before they go out for a cup of morning joe) .  jenna had informed me that they would be having a dinner party that night as part of a small group they regularly host for their church.  they had offered me the escape route if i wasn’t interested in attending, and if I’m completely honest, it had been my intention to find something else to do.  but as the sun descended and the rain clouds moved in, i had not, in fact, found anything else to do and i realized that i preferred to spend time with my friends instead.

i got back to the apartment and started to help jenna and sam prepare a curry she was readying for the group of about 10.  always considering myself a better sous chef than actual chef, jenna handed me a knife and instructed me to get chopping.  i’m surprised i didn’t chop one of my fingers off because I was so preoccupied with how I was going to approach the church group atmosphere that was quickly approaching.

i won’t go too far into detail, but i have a complex past with the church and with modern christianity and all the conflicted opinions that go with them.  my family was one of those very religiously conservative families growing up, that on paper and in public always seemed to have everything together, but behind closed doors there was a lot of anger, pain, and chaos.  the duality of the lifestyle always really confused me, and unfortunately i never had many role models in my life (neither in or out of the church) that i could reference as positive examples or influences to draw from).  i then went to a very conservative christian university in search of answers and peace, and while I did eventually find some answers, they weren’t the kind that jive with what typically is preached on sunday morning at the pulpit.  these weren’t destinations i arrived at lightly, as they are the types of slow-burning battles that are fought internally over time, intensity, frustration, confusion, and ultimately release.  But suffice it to say that i understand now that i am older that everyone has their journey and their struggle, and no one man can claim to know the truth, for absolute truth has not been granted to us.  nor can one man truly tell another that he is wrong in his belief, for that is not for us to decide.

so with that being said, my general plan of attack was to basically keep my mouth shut and be a silent observer.  the last thing i wanted to do was somehow influence someone else’s spiritual journey, especially when my own has been littered with so much… well, litter.

the people in the group arrived and everyone was very nice and polite, conversation was very casual for about an hour while food was enjoyed and a couple bottles of wine were shared by the table.  eventually the discussion began, the topic being “transformation.”  jenna led things with the wisdom and grace that i had only come to expect from her, but i noticed quickly that the group was rather shy at first. and then before i knew it, i found myself speaking up to just try and get the wheels greased on the machine.  the silence had made me uncomfortable.

eventually people started chiming in while I silently chided myself for opening my mouth. but as the night wore on, i was finding myself increasingly struck by the candidness with which the people in this group were sharing from.  the conversation slowly evolved from the host topic and started straying to a more personal level for the people of the group, as they shared from more honest and more “real” places than many of the “bubble gum” church experiences i had experienced so much in my life.  i found myself occasionally offering small tidbits of advice to people in some of the real life experiences that they had presented.  i sensed that many of the group was relatively new in their faith, as compared to someone like me who had been wrestling with belief since as far back as i can remember (this is not to say that these individuals hadn’t also, but this is merely a feeling I got from the atmosphere in the moment).  my state of mind began to change during the night from one of “i should stay out of the way so that i don’t lead someone from their own path,” to a mentality of “i recognize many of these themes and have dealt with them long, long ago. i can help,” and so i began re-entering the conversation.  soon sam and i were actually helping create makeshift “game plans” for how to approach some of the issues that were being presented by individuals in the group.

there were 2 people who were particularly striking within the group, and i hope they don’t mind me chronicling any of this in the blog.  for their privacy, i’ve tried to remain as vague on the subject matter of the conversation, but if not for these two and their soul-baring honesty within the conversation, i probably would not have even opened my mouth the entire night, save for the occasional social nicety.  one of these two was named elze.  elze had a delicate but confident nature about her.  She was from south africa (so many south africans I met in Amsterdam!), and she had been working as an auditor of some type for some company that she had been somewhat bored with for awhile, but was excited about a new opportunity she was starting the following week.  elze is one of those people who is very intelligent and probably very good at what she does, but she doesn’t feel the need to parade that around to everyone’s attention, which made me like her immediately (i’m not always good at that.  sometimes I’m too eager to please others, so i pointlessly brag about something to prove myself.  it’s stupid).  she was also interested in stocks and investing, which is something i’ve been interested in for about a year, so we talked shop a little about that and shared info on some companies to check out.

the other person was named esther-hanna.  esther-hanna has one of the coolest jobs of anyone i know.  a year ago, she and one of her friends started their own business in amsterdam where they take tourists on local street food tours with tiny locations that an out-of-towner would definitely not find.  i was so intrigued by her profession that i immediately had started talking with her during the early part of the night about the food tours (i’m a foodie, i couldn’t help it), and we hadn’t really talked about her at all.  so i was taken aback when later she began sharing so openly with such a large group of people and a stranger present among them.  esther-hanna has a piercing gaze that seems to look straight into your soul, but instead of this being an intimidating thing, if you are paying attention you notice that she, too, is allowing you to look into her soul.  it is so refreshing and unique, but also can be off-putting if you’re not ready for it, because most people in this world don’t operate with that level of intimacy in conversation.  needless to say, I live for these types of interactions.

at the end of the night, there wasn’t a single person in the group that I wasn’t impressed with, and this doesn’t usually happen to me.  My cynical self usually finds a way to discount something within gatherings like these or the individuals within them.  But every person at this dinner was beautiful in their own unique way, and I appreciate my presence even having been tolerated.  I didn’t have any grand spiritual realizations, none of my questions about life and the universe and spirituality answered, in fact I still find myself in the same place as I was when I was chopping potatoes only hours earlier.  But I think the experience did assuage a little of the apprehension and mistrust I often have toward organized religions and subsequent gatherings.  I’m glad I took part, and I thank the group all humbly in retrospect.


today’s song is a new instrumental piece from Odesza, an EDM duo from the US.  only clocking in at 2:15, this seemingly inconsequential track is actually the most interesting of a top-to-bottom solid album.  for those of you who are not fans of electronic dance music, give this album a spin.  it breaks away from the often repetitive obnoxious formula that seems to define edm these days by keeping fun off-beat rhythms mixed with chopped up vocal melodies and subtle supporting layers of unexpected dreamy pop sounds, all without being afraid of slowing the beat down and getting quiet at times.  this is crucial for grown-ups like me who don’t want a neck-ache the morning after listening to my music.  i’ve been listening to this album for about a month now and i have yet to get sick of a single song.  enjoy…

canal boats, dad jokes, and an expat gathering, part 2

…a few hours later we were back on the bikes again.  a quick 5 minute ride over to a friend’s house for a dinner party.  I made sure I wore the only collared shirt that I currently have, as I didn’t want to make a bad impression on sam & jenna, because apparently most of their friend group would be here tonight.  I put forward my best “friendly face” (many of you know that isn’t always easy for me…) and ascended the stairs to the dinner party.

at first, I really just wanted to observe the scene.  there were a lot of big personalities here and I didn’t really want to offset the balance.  I often consider myself a bit of a chameleon socially;  I can become whatever the conversation is lacking.  If there’s no firestarter, I can be the one who gets things going, if there’s no funny guy, I can tell the jokes, if there is no quiet contemplative listener, I can shut my mouth.  so I was waiting for my self-designated role assignment when I realized that this group really had balance.  everyone in the group was smart, witty, funny and fun. they all had different perspectives and opinions that were never horribly off-base by any means.  ahh screw it, I thought, just jump.table 1

the person i immediately got along with most easily was one half of the evening’s hosts, mark.  he and his wife marije have a wonderful, spacious place on the top floor of a really badass building with a rooftop patio that overlooks the city and, you guessed it, a canal.  I immediately fell in love with their place, but anyone would.

anyway, mark has a larger than life personality with a very perceptive whip to boot.   never one to let an opportunity to laugh go by, he garrulously facilitates any conversation he’s in with a patient energy that provides a wide open landscape where one need not worry they’ve overstepped their boundary

pierre hams it up while mark is engaged in other conversation
pierre hams it up while mark is engaged in other conversation

with a topic, but you better believe that if you speak arrogantly or incorrectly he will call you on it.  Just my kinda guy.  mark is actually an american expat who is a successful entrepreneur/venture capitalist with a very shrewd business sense.  Not much gets by him.

His wife marije perfectly compliments him.  She has a slightly more delicate nature about her and a very subtle (at first) sense of humor.  You don’t see it right away, but eventually you can tell she’s paying attention, waiting.  Being the only real native dutch person in the group, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I really just thought she kind of quiet at first.  But then right when I thought I had her figured out, she drops a hilarious joke in mid conversation that immediately got everyone’s attention in the party and had us laughing for what seemed half the night.  Eventually I talked with her a little more, learning that she was extremely well traveled and had lived in quite a few places all over the world, and also had some entrepreneurial ambitions of her own.  She also can COOK.

marije looks on in the background as her delicious appetizers are served
marije looks on in the background as her delicious appetizers are served

Oh my god, I don’t think I will eat as well at any other point on this trip as I did during my time with mark and marije.  she made us a three course meal that culminated in a ugandan stew she learned to cook during some volunteering she did for a few months with a small village down there previously.  when asked, mark modestly shared some stories with me of some of the ways they made a difference with this village, chiefly by purchasing a cow for them which drastically changed the future for these people by stimulating their local economy and food production through dairy and producing more cows, etc.   truly way more ingenious and affective (effective too, I suppose) than donating money or just doing vacation bible school for the kids, like most churches do when they perform “missions work.”

riordan points a finger after a typical mischievous pierre joke
riordan points a finger after a typical mischievous pierre joke

I also met riordan and Justine.   Super fun people, I got to hang out with riordan and chat enthusiastically about the virtues of the gopro camera.  Riordan and justine were also both from south Africa, and he was a surfer.  So he has a much more practical need for a gopro than my nonsensical videos that I produce.  Riordan has a really fun energy with a great appreciation for laughter as well.  He has the ability to go on tangential jokes where you can just take a scenario with him and he’ll play it out with you til it gets to its most ridiculous point.  We had a couple good laughs on the rooftop of the house while mark barbecued.

pierre was also there (whom you know from the previous post on the boat canal ride), but there was also charlotte, yet another south African who shared some stories with me about Budapest when I mentioned I was thinking about going there.  She got really excited and then told me she had some transit coins that I could use when I go there.  She made a note to bring them to me before I left Amsterdam, which was very kind, considering she had only just met me.  We also

charlotte tells a story while justine and riordan listen intently
charlotte tells a story while justine and riordan listen intently

chatted a little about how she had spent some time living down in Houston, texas.  It had been awhile since she had been there, and unfortunately I’d only been there once for a wedding last year, so really all I could joke about was how hot it was down there.

But overall, I was struck by how open this group really was.  None of these people had known each other before Amsterdam and now here they were, sharing food at a house together, not bothered in the least that a stranger was amongst them.  I drifted along with the ebb and flow of the conversations listening to the stories, enjoying the laughter, trying to soak in each person as they spoke.  eventually the boys escaped to the rooftop for drinks and cigars and stories of ridiculousness, while the ladies stayed down inside and most likely talked about much more civilized, classy things.

the dam crewEventually the night had wandered off into the dark, and people began heading back to their own homes.  We thanked mark and marije graciously and headed back to sam & jenna’s, surrendering for the evening.


staying with the theme from the previous post, we’re staying with the barr brothers.  if the first track i posted hasn’t convinced you, this one will.  enjoy…