By: Dafne Holtland
Today is May 5th, the day we all gather to dwell upon ‘freedom’ in The Netherlands. Although, a physical gettogether is currently not really possible, since the biggest part of the Dutch is working from home, cannot host more than two people, there are no events and so no memorial services we can go to. Today, we are more isolated than ever, so it is time for me to go inwards and find out what comes up whenever I think of freedom.
Remembrance Day and Liberation Day were instituted because of the Second World War. 76 years ago Holland was liberated from the Germans. It’s a very long time ago, but the events are kept alive by stories. My grandpa told me how they desperately trapped little birds in the garden in order to have some food, and my grandma whispered how a German shot her dog Sada in front of her little girl’s eyes because she let him pee in front of the house after the curfew. However, World War II remains distant to me. I asked my grandpa, ashamed, about his vision towards Remembrance Day and he answered: ‘If you keep looking at the past, you cannot see what lies ahead.’ In some way I felt relief, as if I just found out I passed that test I was so fearful about. At the moment it feels more logical to me to look at all people that don’t live in freedom nowadays, despite all lessons we could’ve learned from previous wars.
When I think of freedom, I think of my friends from Syria and all the other beautiful and brave people from Syria and Eritrea I have met. Ten years ago they would’ve expected a war just as little as my friends and I do these days. And what kind of war: a destructive, inhuman war. These people have left everything behind to flee to a place where they might still have a chance, with no companionship but the fear about their own lives or those of their loved ones. The countries they ended up in, would rather see them go than help them out. They are turned into a problematic item on the political agenda, they are called ‘refugees’ and become a number. The asylum center where I worked for a little while as a volunteer, was literally a prison. There were three floors of cells that led into a big, high hall without any windows or daylight. You could see the residents behind the bars sitting or lying on their field beds, they didn’t have any privacy. Their talking, calling, crying and languages blended in the hall and formed one big, echoing cacophony. There was no way out.
‘Millions of women endure their life rather than choosing them’
When I think of freedom, I also think about the documentary Woman I recently saw. Women from all over the world tell about the position they hold in their culture. It annoys me that as a woman I can’t walk the streets with the same freedom and carelessness as men do (research of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has shown that 45 percent of Dutch women has ever experienced physical or sexual violence by a man), but after seeing this documentary, my own restrictions appeared to be minimal. There are girls in some cultures that, when they’ve reached a certain age, are circumcised and sewn up without anesthesia, there are cultures where a woman is forced to marry a -often much older- man, there are cultures where women are deprived from education. For many women their life is determined at the moment the second X-chromosome has entered. Millions of women endure their life rather than choosing them.
When I think of freedom, I think of how crazy my upstairs neighbours made me again today. A man, a woman and their firm, twenty five year old son. Since the beginning of the pandemic they are home the entire day. The man is a handyman, the woman is busy with the vacuum cleaner all day and the son loves to play loud beats. I also hear them talk with each other, low and loud. They simultaneously hold a monologue that never seems to be ending, while they shift the furniture. At least, that’s what the loud banging sound must be, otherwise I really don’t understand what they are doing. In the ceiling above our bedroom is a weak spot that really squeaks and creaks, and one of the upstairs neighbors is standing on it on purpose. All day, everyday. I think they drew up a schedule and follow each other up. Today, while hanging up their laundry on the balcony, the (not very) handyman dropped a sock in our garden, in the middle of the new delicate flowers I’d planted yesterday. The worst thing is that I cannot reprimand them about anything, while Frank and I are both musicians and love to play our instruments. They have undoubtedly been annoyed by us, too. At least we don’t drop socks on their balcony.
‘I have to do my best to realize which parts of my life contain freedom.’
When I think of freedom, I think about the tax authorities that would call me back today, but didn’t.
When I think of freedom, I think about the fact that it’s raining cats and dogs while spring has just officially begun.
When I think of freedom, I notice that it comes so extremely naturally to me that I have to try really hard to keep my attention from being distracted. I have to do my best to realize which parts of my life contain freedom. That I can be grumpy about the weather. That I have a garden (even in the center of Amsterdam) that people can drop their socks in, that in that garden I don’t have to trap any birds in order to eat something but that I can order whatever I want in just two seconds, that I live in a house with windows and daylight in every room, that I’m not just a number, but I have a name. That I can dream dreams that will not be entirely impossible.
My grandpa has a second love, and every morning he tells her: ‘We’re so rich, aren’t we? That we’re healthy, that we can think, that we can see. Everyone pretends it to be normal, but I will tell you a little secret: it isn’t.’