24th of February 2022. A cold Thursday in The Hague. Life was rumbling on as normal, between the tram bells and clinking beers, the faint chants of protesters echoed around Het Plein and beyond, “Stop war”, “Stop Russia”. A small protest, opposing injustice. A typical sight in the city of peace and justice.
The events that followed were far from typical. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has rocked Europe and beyond. Towns destroyed, families torn apart, economic collapse, and a loss of life reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours.
However, Ukraine and Russia are thousands of miles from the borders of The Netherlands. And the effects of the war on Dutch life have been minimal — higher gas prices, protests here and there. But for some, the effects of this war are much closer to home.
This story is a glimpse of the lesser-known side of this conflict. The hidden realities of Russians.
But who are ‘The Russian people’? They are mothers and fathers, friends and co-workers. They are tall and short, loud and quiet. They are proud and ashamed. And they are here in Den Haag.
The recent exodus of Ukrainian refugees is not an unfamiliar sight in the European continent. Ever since the 2015 European migrant crisis, there has been an influx of refugees settling in Europe. Three former refugees from Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East take us through their stories of leaving behind their homes as they reflect upon the familiarity of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
In this fragment you hear Mo Hersi, a 37 year old comedian and public figure from Ethiopia. Mo was only 3 years old when him and his family fled in 1988 from the violence in their home country amidst the Ethiopian Civil War.
We meet him in the library in Almere where he regularly performs his stand-up, and he talks us through his journey to the Netherlands. Although he was just a toddler when he arrived in the Netherlands, he remembers in great detail how his family travelled to Saudi Arabia before they made the trek to Europe. Leaving Saudi Arabia, Mo and his family arrived in Paris after which they travelled to Brussels by train before finally seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
‘We were at the refugee camp in Slagharen, in the East of the Netherlands’ Mo tells us. ‘It’s right across from an amusement park. An amusement park for ponies, I don’t know who decided to build a refugee centre across from a pony park he adds.
The pony park resembles a stark difference between the life Mo lived as a young refugee as opposed to his peers. He recounts how his mother would wake him up at 7 am on Fridays to make their way to the Slagharen townhall. Every week the refugees in Slagharen had to get a stamp, to prove that they hadn’t left the centre without permission. The stakes for getting the stamp were high, refugees who missed the timeframe on Fridays risked not having food for their families the following week.
This new world Mo lived in was vastly different than the life the civil war had so forcefully taken from him and his family. His father used to work for a diplomat in Ethiopia, so his family lived a very comfortable life pre-civil war. It is something not a lot of people expect to hear from a refugee.
It is the misconception that western people often have about refugees that is currently being challenged by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. TRT World published a video detailing the obtuse way in which various Western news reported have reported on the war in Ukraine. In the clip CBS Reporter Charlie D’Agata is seen saying that, unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, Ukraine is a ‘relatively civilized, relatively European’ nation. D’Agata has since apologized for his statement.
Words like those uttered by D’Agata hurt. Especially to other non-Ukrainian refugees whose experience in the Dutch refugee system are vastly different from the Ukrainian refugees.
We speak with Somia who is a 22-year-old student in the Hague where she studies European Studies. She was 17 years old when she fled Afghanistan with her family. As we sit down with her, she tells us how difficult it has been for her to restart her life upon arrival in the Netherlands. Although she is thankful for the things, she has gained in the Netherlands such as women’s rights and independence, the long and frustrating process still leaves a bitter aftertaste in her mouth.
Back in May, institutions of higher education in the Netherlands send a joint letter to the Minister of Education urging the cabinet to ease the financial burdens for Ukrainian students seeking refuge in the Netherlands so they can continue their studies as soon as possible. Somia has also seen this news come by as she has followed the developments of the Ukrainian crisis closely due to the nature of her studies.
‘It makes me angry, to be honest’ Somia tells us. ‘Because when I first came here, I also wanted to start, I was 17 and I wanted to finish high school, start my studies. I could have been finishing my masters by now.’ She adds. It saddens her she did not get this chance. Somia tells us how she used to bug organizations everyday to help her apply for scholarships. And although she is happy with her studies right now, she can’t help but feel like the last 5 years have been wasted years.
Although she does not begrudge the Ukrainian refugees for the help they are getting from the Dutch society, Somia does find it difficult to not see the Dutch eagerness to help hypocritical.
Somia is not alone in her feelings of being treated unfairly; being discriminated against. Mo recognizes this double-edged sword. As a former refugee, of course he feels glad that the Ukrainian refugees are getting the help they need, but he also can’t help but be frustrated with the discrimination refugees of colour face trying to flee out of the war-torn country.
In the long-run, the complexity that is the Dutch refugee system might be what will cause difficulties for Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands the same way it has caused difficulties for other non-Ukrainian refugees in the past. Someone who knows as no other what it is like to be at the whim of the Dutch refugee system and its uncertainties is Monjid. We meet him online as he squeezes us in his busy schedule finishing his thesis.
Monjid is a 33-year-old student in International Studies, specializing in Middle-Eastern Studies and has been residing in the Netherlands for 6 and a half years following his departure of Iraq. A few months ago he was finally appointed his own permanent accommodation in the Netherlands but getting to this point has been nothing short of rough.
It was midnight when Monjid fled his country, leaving behind his home and his family. ‘I didn’t know when I crossed the sea if I would be successful or not; if I will manage to cross the sea or not. If I will die or not” he tells us. He can talk about it now that he is safe and well but at the time of his voyage these uncertainties were the only thing on his mind.
Luckily, Monjid survived crossing the sea, however, the difficulties didn’t stop there. After he reported himself to the police the Dutch Immigration Service confiscated all his documents and for the next few months, he was thrown in a limbo moving from refugee centre to refugee centre as he was moved across the country.
After while he was appointed a temporary accommodation; a small room in a shared house. In this new accommodation, however, Monjid felt unsafe – for personal safety reasons we were requested to not disclose further information about this – and made a request to move somewhere else. the unfortunate encounter he had with the municipality official who was in charge of his case left him homeless with no health insurance and no address. Despite the fact that we speak to him online, we hear the frustration in his voice.
Monjid was lucky to find a wealthy couple who was willing to host him after being left to fend for himself for over a year. And this concept of luck is what is wrong with the Dutch refugee system according to Monjid. ‘There is a system for everything in the Netherlands but when it comes to asylum or refugees there is no system. ‘You are either lucky or you are not’ he tells us.
Mo recognizes the struggles Monjid tells us about. Aside from his own experiences as refugee, as ambassador for VluchtelingenWerk Nederlands – an organization which watches over the interests of refugees – Mo has first hand experience in the complex processes refugee organizations have to go through to in order to help asylum seekers get refugee status in the Netherlands. He also worries that the eagerness of the Dutch people to care for the Ukrainian refugees may only be short-lived, after which they will be subjected to the whimsical nature of the Dutch refugee system like everyone else.
Mo’s predictions seem to be spot on. As early as March, RTL Nieuws published a story reporting on desperate guest families coming back on their decisions to house Ukrainian refugees.
The Moei River separates Myanmar and Thailand. Since the coup, refugees have fled their homes to escape military persecution. Many cross this river and hide in Thailand. However, they are still not safe. If Burmese refugees are caught they can be jailed by the Thai government or deported back to Myanmar. The conflict is often too dangerous to even talk about openly on both sides of the river, and is therefore locally referred to as “the situation.” The danger and risk of speaking out lead to a lack of international attention. We, the writers of this story have been at that border and aim to bring light to Burma through three Burmese activists members of the Myanmar Film Collective, a foreign aid respondent and our own experiences. We need to demystify misconceptions about Burma if we really want to tackle the “situation.” All interviewees remain anonymous and the pictures are taken in Mae Sot last week by a trusted aid respondent.
Myanmar Film Collective
Three Burmese filmmakers shared their stories through the film, “Myanmar Diaries.” In the interview, they debunk some of the misconceptions that the international community has about Burma.
We have divided the interview into chapters: about the situation, The Rohingya Crisis, common misconceptions about the revolution, the People’s Defence Force and their motivation to create.
Foreign Aid Respondent
In this interview, V gives us insight into Burma from his perspective. He shares information about Burma now, Burmese in Thailand, the Rohingya crisis, the 2020 International Court of Justice trial and the response from the international community.
Us in Mae Sot
The following journal entry highlights our experience in Mae Sot near the borderline and the interviews with former members of the democratic party.
2nd of April 2022 – Tak bus station, Tak province. We grab a minibus directed to Mae Sot, the border between Thailand and Burma. People piled in, all the seats were full, and our bikes were squat within the aisle, nudging a woman with her bag full of groceries tightly in hand. The weather was hot, we hadn’t eaten enough that day, and the exhaustion of travelling was slowly creeping up. However, when we were on the bus, we were on the bus. Everyone was in the same boat, sailing towards uncertain land.
The journey between Tak and Mae Sot was majestically chaotic. Rolling hills, and curvy roads. We went up, up, up and then looked to our left to see a truck full of carrots tumbling down the road. Our hungry bellies wouldn’t have minded a few to snack on. We continued our journey, the woman next to us shifted slightly, pulling her bag closer to her chest.
We continued our way to the first military checkpoint. They came aboard and checked our passports. Our European ID cards were golden tickets, free passes to roam freely, others were asked to jump ship, like the woman with the groceries, the police checked her card, she was asked to leave, and I saw her dip behind a wall, not be seen by us. She exited and boarded again. Confused, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least, she was not taken. Is that the standard now? We are relieved when someone is not oppressed for their nationality?
After two more checkpoints, we made it to Mae Sot. The bus driver helped us manoeuvre our bikes and we watched as everyone drifted apart, continuing on with their lives.
Mae Sot felt different from Nakhon Sawan, Kampang Phet, Chang Mai, Tak: other “normal provinces” in the country. Mae Sot had a colder feeling, a feeling of tension and stress. We took everything step by step and went to the hotel. Afterwards, we met the foreign aid correspondent, further referred to as V. Our previous conversations with people undercover in Mae Sot had prepared us for this moment. We kept our heads down, we were normal tourists. Even though Mae Sot is not a place that has attracted too many tourists since the coup. We arrived at our hotel. Dropped off our bags, the lady was kind, a contrast to the stress of the city outside the hotel walls.
V greets us at the restaurant. He smiles, but clearly a bit uncomfortable- he has only arrived in Thailand a few days prior. He starts by explaining the rules: what we can say, how we should say things, and what not to say. Our conversation ends up being an exchange of code phrases, and undertone expressions. I am a blunt person, but today awareness of the subtleties was important. We said goodbye to V and wished him the best in the weeks he had ahead of him. We walked the streets, meeting drunken taxi drivers and angry men who were not too happy with our presence. Mario spoke through a wall to a woman, asking her help with directions, she smiled at us, bringing a calming presence. Communication was a challenge; however, we found a way, and she guided us home.
The next day, we woke early and prepared for a meeting with a member of the exiled democratic government, the one elected in 2020 and whose leader is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. V was able to set some principles, and now we were having breakfast with someone who was risking their life just to talk to us. He wore a round cap and a necklace that dangled around his neck. We greeted and sat down. He asked if he could sit cross-legged, ever since his days in the jungle, the cross-legged position is much more comfortable for him. It was difficult to start a conversation with a person that has lived in a situation that you have only read about. I felt my understanding could only reach a certain level; however, I was eager to hear his story, understand through his eyes and share his experiences. I was worried by simply asking for this meeting, it was too much. Am I risking this man’s life by just talking to him? There is always a risk he said. His calm, soothing presence did not expose the violence he faces every day. He explained the situation step by step, telling us about the other side, the border and life in Mae Sot. He did not speak with anger or accusations, he spoke with confidence, sharing his story and his experiences in the jungle and as part of the democratic government. Hearing the daily fear and injustice he faces turned my belly. I have the freedom to travel, to exist. This is a privilege that not everyone has, some have to run or hide, just to escape persecution. Some who are fighting for their freedom are met with bombs and military intrusions. Children, the elderly, men and women everyone is in this fight and blood is even drawn from the innocent. We thanked the man for his openness and bravery, and we bowed and parted ways. He left us with words to think about and act on at a later time.
We left Mae Sot a day later, taking our ride back to Tak, back to the outside world. The words and bravery from our new friends stuck with us, and it reminds us that we all need to stand strong and remember what is worth fighting for.
What can we do?
Burma is a closed place. It is difficult to gather information due to people’s fear of being discovered and persecuted. As people on the outside, it is our responsibility to reach out and share information.
Jasper Heijmans says he has a very intimate relationship with waste. He used to work as a garbage man in college, both driving the truck and working in the back, throwing in the trash bags. Growing up, 40 years ago, nobody separated trash – “we just started out with the bags and everybody just threw it out.” A lot has changed since then.
Nowadays, waste separation is the norm – often even the law. So is the proper disposal of waste. In Laak, the neighborhood in The Hague where we talked to Mr. Heijmans, a number of issues with waste separation and disposal exist. Inhabitants are annoyed and the municipality is alarmed. Who exactly is responsible, though, depends on who you ask.
Full containers and litter on the streets
Two of the biggest problems Laak faces regarding waste management are overflowing containers and excess trash on the street.
Although collection trucks usually arrive on time to pick up household waste, recycling containers are often full – overflowing multiple times a week. This leads to excess trash being left next to the containers, or in the worst case scenario, being thrown on the ground.
Grace Boekel, a resident of Laak, says “there is glass everywhere, everyday” around the recycling containers by Lorentzplein. “Giant bags of plastic are often placed at the side of the bins, and sometimes there are cardboard boxes everywhere.”
The containers are full maybe two, three times a week.
Others, like Yuri Meijer, also question why these containers are full in the first place – “they don’t seem to empty the bins as much as they should.” The paper and plastic bins are “full all the time,” leading to waste being disposed of improperly and it going “all over the place.”
Statistically, Laak has one of the worst problems with trash on the street compared to any other district in the city.
According to the municipality’s statistics website, Laakkwartier and Spoorwijk had almost five times more reports of waste-related issues than The Hague’s average in 2021.
Further, a survey conducted by Dimensus in 2020 showed that residents of Laak were generally unhappy with the cleanliness of their district. 37% of people believed their streets were getting more dirty from the period 2016-2020, while a significant 66% of peoplewere dissatisfied with the cleanliness of their own street.
“It’s a mess here,” says Boekel. Even the trash that’s put out for pickup by collection trucks can turn into litter. “There’s a lot of seagulls here that peck at the garbage bags on the streets,” and again, “it gets everywhere.”
Meijer agrees that the district “sometimes has problems with the birds,” although he believes that Laak is “generally” clean.
Whose fault the overflowing waste containers and littered streets are is subject to a lot of debate. In Laak, many inhabitants say it is their own responsibility.
Those cameras – mobile CCTV units positioned next to the recycling bins – are part of a pilot project of the municipality to combat the dumping of waste next to the bins. On a rotating basis, three real and two fake camera units are positioned at 19 locations in Laak and Transvaal over a period of six months.
We contacted the municipality about this. That only Laak and Transvaal are included in the pilot, said a representative, is because these 19 locations “are places where a large amount of rubbish was dumped over the past six months.”
Our question how individuals’ identities are supposed to be determined with the cameras in order to execute the threatened fines was left unanswered. Inhabitants of Laak, however, are generally happy about the cameras being there.
Still, the question remains what role the municipality plays in the issue itself. While individual laziness might play a role, some also argue that the government doesn’t do enough to help make things easier.
One issue, says Max, another resident of Laak, is the difficulty in accessing information, especially in languages other than Dutch. He is not the only one who thinks so.
We raised these issues with the municipality. In an email response, they asserted: “The municipality is aware that some people experience difficulties in offering their waste. It is therefore that the municipality did a pilot with communicating in different languages in Laak, Escamp and the City Center.” This pilot is a flyer with easily understandable instructions on how to dispose of trash correctly in Dutch, Turkish, Arabic, English, Polish, and Bulgarian. According to the evaluation of the project, the flyers were perceived well.
To our question whether the municipality is aware of the issue of overflowing waste bins – and inhabitants urging for more frequent pick-ups – the municipality responded: “Currently, the municipality has a system of dynamic collection. Many of the containers in the city have a sensor that, when a cluster of them is 80% full, sends a signal to our collector that the containers must be emptied. As such, the issue of containers overflowing should be significantly decreased compared to a few years ago.”
In the end, though, it is only together that the municipality and inhabitants can achieve change. Both are trying – be it individuals who pick up trash flying around or the city running communication campaigns involving locals, such as the campaign “Schoon Doen We Gewoon”.
A successful tool getting inhabitants and municipality to cooperate is the MyCleanCity-App and a corresponding webpage, with which users can report both trash on the streets as well as full or broken containers. Hannah Gläser, a student living in Laakkwartier-West, regularly uses the website to report misplaced waste. She says the process works very well: usually, after at most three days, the reported waste is gone.
Waste as a wider issue
Although surveillance is seen by many as a net-positive for Laak as a neighborhood, some see the municipality’s current policies as problematic.
Dr. Elena Burgos Martinez is a professor of Leiden University’s Institute for Area Studies, with political ecology as her area of expertise. She believes that targeted plans which focus on Laak’s waste problem are unrepresentative of the larger issues at hand.
There’s a tendency to think, from the perspective of other people in The Hague, that it’s just an individual thing that these people are naturally dirty, or naturally misbehaving.
Measures like the installation of security cameras pick out individuals who recycle their trash improperly. This is “convenient,” according to Dr. Burgos Martinez, “because when you blame the individual, it removes accountability from the institutions and the industry.”
In order to solve this problem, a different solution is required. Rather than looking at individual errors, the municipality should look at the wider set of issues that affect Laak – namely “racial discrimination, as well as socioeconomic status.”
When you look at Laak, don’t only look at the waste. How well maintained are the buildings, what are the living conditions of people there? Do you think people have a choice to wait once a week for the waste collection service? So they produce more plastic than other neighborhoods not because they want to, but because of the status and the discrimination they’re going through.
By focusing on inclusive policymaking that eases the burdens of racial discrimination and socioeconomic status, the issue of excess trash may also be mitigated. Dr. Burgos Martinez puts forward one such solution: making supermarkets like EkoPlaza more accessible for members of this community– ”why can recycling or buying products with less plastic only be for the upper classes?”
Many people in Laak see surveillance as a viable option for reducing the issue of waste in the district. However, a comprehensive approach that also tackles issues inherent in Laak, rather than the consequences of those issues that waste represents, may lead to greater changes in the neighborhood.
I learned how it feels to be able to walk in the streets and not feel fear.
At the age of 16, Raúl Caporal had to escape from his home because his family wanted to send him to conversion therapy in order to make him straight. Now, Raúl is the president of a shelter for LGBTQ+ people in Mexico City and changes the lives of those who, like him, have to flee their home or country because they are queer.
Now that with June, pride month has started, LGBTQ+ people get more visibility again. In the Netherlands there are a lot of organisations and events supporting LGBTQ+ issues but in other countries this is often not self-evident. Mexico is one of these countries, their laws concerning queer people seem more liberal than they are in reality. Raúl gives us more insight into his personal experiences as a mexican LGBTQ+ activist.
Raúl Caporal is a 31 year old from Mexico who identifies as queer. He shares his story while sitting by a canal in Utrecht. While he is talking, he frequently expresses gratitude for the Dutch spring that is finally letting the sun warmly reflect on the water.
Raúl arrived in Utrecht in March as part of the Shelter City program, an initiative that offers safe spaces for human rights activists from all over the world to recharge and learn useful tools for their activism work.
Raúl, speaking a mixture of Spanish and English, explains how refreshing his stay in the Netherlands has felt. While pointing at the rainbow zebra crossing near Utrecht Centraal, he confesses that he was never able in his life to walk freely in a city, without fearing for his life, until he arrived here. In fact, the main reasons why he had to leave Mexico for a couple of months were the constant death threats he was receiving and their impacts on his mental health.
In addition to that, less than a year ago, strangers broke into his apartment in Mexico City, supposedly to intimidate him to stop his work for LGBTQ+ people. Luckily, he was not at home at the time of the incident. He recalls feeling fear after the break in, but also a mixture of courage and anger which, instead of slowing him down, empowered him to continue his work.
Raúl became aware of the challenges of simply existing as a LGBTQ+ person in Mexico from a very young age. He had to escape his home at the age of 16 because, after coming out to his family as queer, he was overwhelmed by fear as his own parents wanted to bring him to conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice aimed at changing the sexuality or gender of LGBTQ+ people through psychological and physical interventions. Raúl explains that this practice does not lead to a change in sexuality or gender identity. Instead, it solely provokes trauma and irreversible physical and psychological consequences which are extremely damaging for LGBTQ+ youth. Conversion therapy is still legal in some Mexican states and, even when it’s illegal, the law is of punitive kind, meaning that the only possible consequence is sending the violators to jail. Most LGBTQ+ people do not report their families when they choose to bring their kids to conversion therapy because it’s hard to send your own parents to jail.
“Well, I left my home at 16 years old because I was rejected there. It took many years to get where I am today, when I can say that I have a good relationship with my family. But this was only accomplished after I achieved my own independence. There is something very important that I need to address: there is such a thing as robbed teenage years or robbed childhood. I call it like this because there is a lot of LGBT or queer youth, like me, who had to learn to grow up very rapidly after having to leave our homes at a very young age. This has been very tough and it made me face many risky situations and a lot of violence.”
Raúl found himself in a similar situation and, when his parents decided that he would have to go through conversion therapy, he ran away from home. When thinking about this part of his life, Raúl looks very serious and states that he feels robbed of his youth. Once he left home, he had to learn to grow very fast and had to become independent prematurely. He explains that it took him 10 years before he was able to talk to his parents again, only once he was able to completely achieve his autonomy and independence. Raúl’s family now recognises all of him, including his sexuality.
In the 10 years before he was able to reconnect with his family, Raúl worked in a lot of different fields and, at the same time, started to build his own safety network. At the age of 21 years old he finally encountered some organisations which brought him closer to the world of activism.
Raúl has two tattoos on his arm relating directly to his activism work and Casa Frida. He got the tattoo “I am because we are” in 2018, when he did not feel alone anymore. The second tattoo is the logo of the Refugio Casa Frida that he drew together with two other activists in 2021.
The Refugio Casa Frida was founded in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is named after a friend of Raúl. Frida was a trans woman and human rights activist who died in 2020 not only because she had cancer but also because she lived in extreme poverty. When the pandemic started, Raúl collaborated with human rights organisations to open a shelter. They already wanted to open a space for LGBTQ+ people before the pandemic, but when it started they knew that the covid crisis would affect those vulnerable groups even more than others. Raúl explains that he is sad and frustrated about Frida’s death but that it also empowered him to do more to help LGBTQ+ people especially youth, refugees and poor people to honour his friend.
The shelter welcomes LGBTQ+ refugees, sexual workers who are being exploited and HIV+ people and offers security, protection, support for mental and physical health and legal assistance. Casa Frida also works closely with the guest’s families. They primarily try to reconcile guests and their families and to debunk conservative myths around LGBTQ+ people.
Around 45% of guests of Casa Frida are LGBTQ+ refugees from South America who went to Mexico to survive but discover that their rights are not respected there either. Often the guests have to be taken to the hospital as soon as they arrive due to physical or mental health issues. Some of them even died before getting to the hospital.
The shelter is in the Iztapalapa neighbourhood in Mexico City, an historically discriminated area because of the amount of poor people that live there. It is the only shelter with the objective of social and economic reintegration.
The shelter can host 22 people at a time and they usually stay for about three months. 80% of the guests go back to society safely afterwards. So far, Casa Frida has hosted 340 people, mostly 18-20 year olds that were kicked out of their homes by family members. Raúl explains that the youth is still financially dependent on their families that hate them and that makes them vulnerable. As a result they get into bed circles, have to live on the street and get exploited. Casa Frida only offers shelter to people older than 18 because it is illegal to shelter minors but they also provide help for people that would rather live on the streets than in the shelter.
There is a lot of ignorance among the families that reject their kids but, with a lot of effort put into the process, in some cases the guests can go back to their families. These families even at times become partners of Casa Frida. Raúl says that it is beautiful when that happens and that he is proud of seeing that the concept of Casa Frida is working.
The people working at Casa Frida are firstly professionals and then activists, Raúl emphasises. It is their job to support the guests and other LGBTQ+ people and offer solidarity.
The biggest challenges the shelter has to face are funding and safety. It is difficult to find more safe spaces and they get no support from the Mexican government. Luckily they have a lot of international partners such as the Dutch government or companies like HP, Nike and Shake Shack. Furthermore, they get donations from individuals through the website.
Throughout the interview Raúl emphasises the need for more Casa Fridas. When he gets back to Mexico, he is going to visit Chiapas, a province in the south of Mexico, close to the border with Guatemala. He is planning on opening another Casa Frida there to further support LGBTQ+ refugees from South America.
Mexico does have some laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, but in reality these are barely enforced. The Mexican government treats LGBTQ+ people with hate, Raúl emphasises. “They are very conservative and don’t like the fact that safe spaces exist.” This hostility especially affects LGBTQ+ youth, who do not know where to go when their families turn against them. They suffer a lot of violence in school, causing them to abandon their education. Due to a lack of schooling they then struggle to find jobs.
The situation is slightly better in Mexico City. A lot of queer people move here to escape the violence of the rest of the country.This is especially common among trans women. They feel safer in the capital than they do in other areas. Yet, they risk being sexually exploited or getting involved in narco-trafficking.
Mental health issues for LGBTQ+ people are not addressed in Mexico. The suicidal rates among queer people are much higher than those of the average population. “It’s dangerous to be who we are,” Raúl shares. “The only way to survive is to become part of a community.”
My mental health wasn’t good. And neither was my personal safety. And [Shelter City] has been very helpful because now I’m much more stable and stronger so I can go back to Mexico with new energy and do many more things.
The Dutch government is a partner of Casa Frida and invited Raúl to come to the Netherlands as a part of the Shelter City program.
Shelter City is a global movement that stands side by side with human rights defenders who are at risk. They work together with cities, who offer a safe place to stay for activists so that they can take a break from their work. The goal is to offer support and re-energize human rights defenders. Shelter City celebrates its tenth anniversary as an initiative this year, it was founded in 2012 by the human rights organisation Justice & Peace. The Hague was the first Shelter City and by now they host activists in 20 additional cities in the Netherlands, as well as Georgia, Tanzania, Benin, Costa Rica, Nepal, and the United Kingdom.
During their stay, activists participate in a tailor made program. “Some want to attend classes at a university and for others resting and following yoga classes is the best option,” Aisha North, communications officer at Shelter City, explains. For Raúl, this meant attending classes at Utrecht University and having a chance to meet fellow human rights defenders. “I feel less alone now. I feel more stable, stronger and more energised,” he shares. He also values his new knowledge on digital security, personal security and advocacy.
“Shelter City meant finding peace for myself, making new friends and becoming part of a new community,” Raúl mentions.
Behind the glass window, Priscilla slides the gram of weed to the eager customer who scans his credit card on the opposite side of the glass. Located in the centre of the Hague, Demo’s coffeeshop is a frequent destination for people of all walks of life, all here to get a taste of this Dutch delicacy. But the industry has a dark secret.
In 2017 an experiment was proposed by the Dutch government in hopes of legalising weed in the Netherlands, called the experiment gesloten coffeeshop, in 2021 this experiment began. Such an experiment had hoped to legalise the supply chain, to allow government-approved growers to supply Dutch weed to coffeeshops. The Hague however, refused to join.
Both the municipality and the coffeeshops in the region of The Hague refused to take part in the experiment, making it the only large municipality to do so. Both parties cite the inefficiency of such a system.
In 2019, a motion was filed by Deputy Mayor Arjen Kapteijns to continue the discussion on this experiment, according to municipal records. In the same motion, the municipality reiterates the impossible nature of the experiment. It highlights three key points. Firstly, the necessary inclusion of all coffeeshops in the Hague makes this significantly difficult. Secondly, coffeeshop owners do not want to be included. Thirdly, the experiment was too strict.
Understanding the approach of coffeeshops is rather difficult in this regard. Because of its illegal nature, the discovery of their process currently is difficult. Obtaining pictures, or even understanding the resources they currently use to operate is almost impossible. Almost.
At Dizzy Duck, our team approached one of the employees, who gave us full range to take pictures within the coffeeshop. Further interaction with the owner allowed us to gain access to further sources, all of which allegedly felt abandoned by the municipality’s decision.
According to the owner, the experiment would’ve created a monopoly amongst the large coffeeshop chains, thus excluding the smaller coffeeshops.
Further exploration into other coffeeshops led us to Smokey’s. The bar is fitted with dark-wood panels, large mirrors and gold poles. In the gloomy atmosphere of this rustic-looking coffeeshop, our team was able to interview both the security guard and the owner.
The security guard, who goes by Keufie, countered the statements made by the municipality. For Keufie, one thing is certain: “the current legislation […] is destroying the industry and the family they have built in the coffeeshop”.
He continued by explaining, that there has been very little communication between the municipality, thus leaving the coffeeshops out of the loop.
Keufie is certain, however, that the experiment, as it stands, is not the greatest way of approaching the issue. His biggest issue is with the random assignment of suppliers. Coffeeshops want to retain control over their product, and their Unique Selling Proposition.
Upon further discussion with members of Smokey’s Coffeeshop, we realised that the issue is not independent of the experiment, but rather endemic to a larger, shaky relationship between the Municipality and the coffeeshops.
Ron, the Operations Manager of Smokey’s gave us his view on the experiment:
According to employees of Smokey’s, the fragile relationship between the coffeeshops and the municipality has continuously degraded. There is a clear communication issue between both parties.
At the beginning of this investigation, we held high hopes about the potential for further investigation. Interviews, in the beginning, were more accessible. Many coffeeshops were willing to discuss their struggle in communication with the municipality. However, as the investigation progressed, fewer coffeeshop owners were willing to commit or participate.
Interviews essentially fell through, without the ability to re-engage in conversation.
The municipality itself appeared as inaccessible as the latter conversation with coffeeshops. The systems established to allow discourse between citizens and the municipality were surprisingly ineffective. Even the documents we were able to access led us to the general call center.
When we called them this is what happened:
We were on hold for 45 minutes before the call dropped.
The root of the problem appears to be the lack of communication between the public, the coffeeshops, and the municipality. The root of the failure of participation in the Hague boils down to the lack of discourse between each party.
The dark secrets of the coffeeshops are tightly held, with the owners unsurprisingly keeping their cards close to their chests.
Story by Christopher Ohlsson, Syds Van Der Es and Otto Meinardus
It was August 2020. Indigo Van Houte was sitting outside her house in the afternoon sun. She was drawing mindlessly, with music playing in her ears. A neighbour stopped by, and they briefly said hello to each other.
When Indigo first started to draw, she had survived a brain haemorrhage and, as a result, was going through severe physical and psychological trauma. A brain haemorrhage is a type of stroke that happens from a vein bursting inside one’s brain and is also commonly referred to as a Cardiovascular accident (CVA). Back then, keeping her mind on what she was drawing meant that Indigo could keep her anxious thoughts away.
Now, three years later, she uses her art as a way to process or to de-stress from her life’s events. For Indigo, her subconscious drawing is not necessarily about closing her eyes or cutting out all her senses: “it’s more so that I make sure that my brain is busy with something else, so like listening to music or watching a series on the side“, she explained. In that way, her true subconscious thoughts and emotions come out onto a piece of paper. This makes Indigo’s art a raw representation of “what is truly going on, on the inside” and the best way through which her story can be told.
Accepting that the lemons might be sour
At the time that it happened a ten 20 year old Indigo had a lifestyle that many of us can relate to. She was in the second year at the nursing school, had just moved out of her parents’ house and was doing an internship at the liver intestine ward at the hospital. Her passion for dancing and a life-long dream of being a nurse and specialising in E.R (emergency room) or tropical disease post-graduation was especially important to her. She did not know it yet, but her life was about to change in a way that would no longer allow her to live her life the way she used to.
However, this is not a story about the hardship of being a young stroke survivor. It’s about resilience and the time taken to accept that some lemons might indeed be sour.
So, what actually happened?
It was the 16th of April 2018. Indigo had woken up feeling a little nauseous, with a headache and within the next two days she had begun having trouble seeing.
On the 19th of April, the third day since her symptoms had begun, her pupil was still enlarged, and she was beginning to feel even worse in her body. She did not think too much of it and assumed that it was due to exhaustion. She went to her shift at the internship, but as the day went by, her colleagues noticed that something was wrong and urged her to go and see a doctor immediately. Her GP immediately sent her to an eye doctor who then sent her straight to the Emergency Department, where she promptly went through the CT scan.
While Indigo lay in the CT scanner, awaiting her results, the realisation of the fact that there was something definitely wrong with her body started to kick in. She could no longer open her right eye due to the nerve paralysis. And while she did not want to think about what the problem could possibly be, she feared that it could be something that could mean that “she is either not going to be able to continue her life the way she always planned it to be or that she could not continue it at all.”
Because “in the moment when you’re lying in a C.T. scan”, she explained, “you know that after you will get a result and that it’s either going to be nothing or it’s something that’s gonna change your life”. And in that case, it was not nothing.
The first weeks she was in denial, “I think when you receive serious medical news, everything immediately becomes a bit of a blur”, she elaborated “You don’t want to deal with everything, so you just shut down…It takes some time for the wave (of realization) to truly come in”.
It was only later, in the rehabilitation centre that she realized the severity of the change that the brain haemorrhage was bringing into her life.
“With the stroke it wasn’t just about not being able to live alone or to continue studying”, she explained in an interview, “it was also that my left side was fully paralysed and my right eye lost its function”.
“Two sides of the same body. They should be working together but they won’t. One side is able to move and act normal, the other is paralysed and lost its function.”
Over-stimulation and dance
Indigo’s description of the drawings of the dancers goes as follows: “Dancing used to be my passion, my outlet and almost the way I presented myself. Since the age of 7 I have taken ballet classes, later complemented by contemporary classes. After I had the stroke, my brain was damaged and the over sensitivity for noises and crowded spaces is one of the main effects of the damage that is a daily struggle…The drawings are showing my passion and the most noticeable result of the damage for the outside world. For me there are many daily struggles, others only see the visible results.”
In its essence, dance served a similar purpose as art does now. It meant that Indigo could put “everything that was stuck inside her head out there…. It made (her) feel free”.
In July, sometime after she left the rehabilitation centre, Indigo went to a trial class with her old dance teacher. The intention was to watch and do a few simple warm-up exercises. But then it struck her that “In a dance class you have loud music, other people together in a small room, and a teacher either yelling or counting”, she explained. The “over-sensitivity to noises and crowded spaces “hit and all those external stimuli meant that her brain started to “shut down”. She immediately started having a panic attack, accompanied by a loss of eyesight and extreme physical pain in her body.
“And then you have to make decisions”, Indigo added “Is it something that I prioritize in life? Is it something that I do three classes of and then take weeks to recover?”
But the point is to accept “that you’re not losing the past” by giving up the things you once loved to do or the lifestyle you used to have. “The past is still there, but it’s not something (you) can build forward with.”, said Indigo. It is, indeed, a matter of accepting that the situation “can be sour but by accepting it you can make changes and develop”.
“This drawing shows the whirl my brain turned into after suffering a brain haemorrhage. Some days I get sucked in through extreme noise sensitivity, exhaustion, and physical pains while other days I can climb out and live life the way I planned. The point is, to maybe do a little less or plan carefully, in order to prevent over-stimulation and exhaustion and “make living the life I want to live possible.”
While the physical affects the stroke has had on her body still come up through Indigo’s subconscious way of drawing. “It is no longer something that triggers a lot of emotion”. It is the mental experience of having an invisible illness that does.
Two years after having experienced the brain haemorrhage, Indigo returned to her internship at the Stomach and Intestine ward. There, something really interesting started to happen. While people obviously knew that indigo had gone through a stroke, “they started to say that they didn’t notice”.
“Which might be a blessing”, she explained “because mentally and physically I can do a whole lot”. But then there is the curse part…
In June 2018, a couple of weeks after Indigo was released from the rehabilitation centre, she went to the beach with a friend of hers at the time. The beach, just like many other crowded touristy places, has a lot of loud sounds. All the stimuli meant that Indigo’s brain started to become over-stimulated. She felt “sick and anxious and just wanted to go home”. The friend replied: “we just got here, can you try to do your best a bit more?”.
“I was very upset because of the lack of will to listen and to try to understand and help me through”, she elaborated “Eventually I cut off the friendship.”
And that is the curse. It is the sensitivity of her nerves and its mental and physical effects on her body that “people do not see”. Or, sometimes, do not even try to. “It is when you take a step back”, Indigo added, “that people tend to start saying things along the lines of “but we didn’t think that it would be a problem”, “or can you just try harder”, “or don’t act like a child ”.
This drawing is the face off between what is really inside(black) and what is shown on the outside (silver). Keeping things shiny is and was a way of coping, but it developed an imaginable stare-off between feelings and looks. Almost like looking in the mirror when the reflection doesn’t correspond with you as a person. “
“It would be helpful if society started to realise that 1) people with invisible illnesses exist 2) an invisible disability is a real disability”, explained Indigo.
It is one thing for a survivor to accept and adapt to the fact that “their lemons might be sour”, but without those around them putting the effort in to understand and to accommodate to the fact that they might have different needs and ways of living, “things will just keep getting harder”.
This is what Leiden University student Farah replied to us when we reached out to her to ask whether she could share a bit about her religion with us. Faith is often seen as something very personal, but after asking around we found that most people are actually quite willing to talk about it if you approach them respectfully.
The pandemic has had an immense impact on all aspects of life. Religion, of course, is not an exception. With the celebration of Eid on May 13th, the holy month in Islam, Ramadan, has just come to an end. How did the one million Muslims in the Netherlands feel while practicing their religion during these unusual times?
To see how the pandemic affects the Islamic faith, we are first going back to the basics. The basic norms in the Islamic faith are the five pillars, which range from Shahada, acknowledging that Allah is the only god, to the Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. They all have been affected by Covid-19 in their own ways, our interviewees explain.
The first pillar is Shahada, or the profession of faith. By reciting the creed “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” Muslims express their full commitment to Allah and the religion.
Obaida considers it the most important pillar. “I think it’s the essence of Islam,” he says. “The rest of the pillars fall under it.”
Muslims believe God created the universe and continues to actively govern its affairs. This would mean that the emergence of the virus is an active creation of God. Some believe that the coronavirus was created by God to chastise humanity for consumerism, destruction of the environment and personal excesses
An interesting parallel can be made to Noah and the ark. This would mean that fighting the pandemic is futile and people should rely on God to protect the worthy and righteous, or in other terms, tawakkul. Especially members of the older generations believe vaccinations and wearing masks are unnecessary since God decides what their fate will be regardless.
Salem, a 75-year old Tunisian Muslim living in The Netherlands, also refuses to get vaccinated for this reason. When asked whether he is scared of the virus, he tells us that “the only one he fears is God.”
However, a large majority of Muslims counter this inevitable approach by arguing that while the emergence of the virus was not in human control, the spread of disease certainly is. They use this argument to encourage others to wear masks and vaccinate themselves
“We take every measure we can possibly take, and then we trust in God”
Obaida tells us about a particular story in the Quran, the holy book in Islam, where prophet Muhammad asks a man “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The man answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then replied, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.”“We don’t leave our house open.” Obaida adds. “We don’t leave our cars open, no, we take every measure we can possibly take and then we trust in God.”
The second pillar in Islam is Salat or the duty of praying five times a day. Farah tells us that praying gives her comfort when she has no one to run to. The location of the prayer does not matter much to her. “I have only visited a mosque in The Hague once because it is really far away,” she explains. “I usually only pray in my room.”
Women praying in the Mescidi Aksa mosque, during the lockdown.
Others, like Obaida, do prefer to visit a place of worship. “The last time I visited a mosque was yesterday, actually,” he says. He went with a friend who was going through some personal problems. “By looking at the psychology in the Quran we found some teachings that we could use in our own lives and I think that’s very beautiful.”
Mosques around the Netherlands have taken measures to contain the spread of the virus. The Mescidi Aksa mosque in The Hague now requires people to wear masks, keep 1.5 meter distance, and do the ritual cleansing at home. Only a limited number of people are allowed to come inside the building during Friday prayers, which Obaida explains as the Islamic equivalent of Christian Sunday masses.
Obaida also points out that his praying experience has changed because of the pandemic. “It is ethical in a prayer to stand next to each other, as a symbol of brotherhood, but with the corona measures, we can’t do that anymore,” he shares. “But the spiritual feeling is still there.”
Zakat is the third pillar of Islam, meaning a charitable act to those in need. According to the Islamic law, Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth are obliged to donate a fixed portion of their income. Zakat creates a bond and kinship in the Islamic community since it creates an opportunity of “giving” as well as interacting with people from different social classes.
Visiting the sick is also considered a good deed in Islam. In the case of COVID-19, such visits are not possible. Of course, checking up on those who are sick with phone calls, messages and social media is still possible and strongly encouraged.
Obaida admits that the pandemic took away the opportunity to give something to the needy physically. Yet, as a young student living in the digital era, Obaida does not see that the pandemic has largely affected zakat. “We can donate to homeless shelters and other organizations online”. During the pandemic, new ways have been found to collect and distribute zakat. Examples of these include the launch of the Zakat app, and Government COVID-19 relief campaigns. A majority of zakat administrations have also noticed an increase in donations.
Sawm, or fasting, takes place during Ramadan. Ramadan is in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, as well as the month that the Quran was disclosed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Ramadan lasts for 30 days. Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, which is celebrated by Muslims across the world, marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting. Under the pandemic, Muslims have experienced Ramadan two times. The first took place between April 24th 2020 and May 23rd 2020. This year, Ramadan started on April 12th and ended on May 13th.
“My family is here so I have that benefit, but I do imagine it being hard for those who don’t”
Muslims often break the fast with their extended family and friends. Muslims have relatively large families. The Quran inspires Muslims to be generous to kin and treat the elderly with compassion. Not following this order is a major sin. Many Muslims feel conflicted about the need to apply social distancing on one hand and the need to be close to family and relatives for comfort and support on the other.
With the curfew in place for half of Ramadan and the maximum of one visitor per family, Muslims, like everyone else, are not allowed to visit extended family anymore. This promotes a strong moral dilemma to some. “It’s either alone or with the family,” Obaida explains. “My family is here so I have that benefit, but I do imagine it being hard for those who don’t.”
Salem knows what that is like. “It is lonely,” he tells us about Ramadan this year. He usually visits his family in Tunisia, but couldn’t now because of the traveling restrictions. Farah recognizes that. Being an international student, she does not have her family around during Ramadan. “That’s what I really miss, actually” she tells us. “I’m actually doing the fasting with a friend of mine, so that’s nice, but last year was really tough because I was doing it alone.”
Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. It must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by all Muslims. A journey to the Kaaba, or house of God must be made in order to show Islamic solidarity and homage to Allah. There is a specific time frame for Hajj and this year it begins on the 17th of july and ends the 22nd.
The Hajj pilgrimage wasn’t possible for a majority of the Muslim population this year due to the Covid outbreak. Since adults complete the journey mostly at a later stage in life, this deeply affected the elderly Islamic community. Last year, Saudi Arabia only allowed those living in the state to visit Mecca, thus excluding Muslims living abroad. Now of course, everyone was limited in their travelling, religious or not.
With the strict rules for this year’s Hajj, such as mandatory quarantine and vaccinations, a lot of Muslims will miss out on this journey once again.
Obaida, who experienced a smaller Hajj, called Umrah, tells us that Muslims were very scared in the beginning of the pandemic. Like Hajj, Umrah also includes a journey to Kaaba, yet unlike Hajj, it can be performed throughout the year. “People were shocked at seeing the empty Kaaba, without people. They didn’t know what was happening.” Now he feels that there is a feeling in the Muslim community that the situation will be better.
Touching upon the recent debate on Mecca only allowing those who have received the vaccination in, he believes that it will cause more Muslims to get vaccinated. “Otherwise people cannot go on pilgrimage.”
Some Muslim communities refuse to get vaccinated since there is pork gelatin in the vaccin. Obaida looks at this differently. “In Islam, the consumption of pork is prohibited. I personally think injection and consumption is different.”
All three of us are currently completing our bachelors at Leiden University! We all set out on this project not knowing much about both the Islamic faith and the impact of COVID-19 on faith perception, but found ourselves ultimately inspired throughout the journey. In listening to our friends and strangers alike sharing their experiences with faith and the pandemic, we aimed to frame this article in a way that would showcase all of the beautiful aspects of this religion not often known to those outside of it. At the same time, we wanted to share knowledge on an impact of the pandemic that is also not known to those that do not practice Islam.
Giada walks down the street outside an elementary school on a Saturday afternoon to a friend’s house. The air is filled with children’s laughter. She notices a man with a dog standing, staring, willing her to make eye contact. She speeds up a little as she passes him. She keeps her head down, avoiding eye contact; she’s done this plenty of times before.
Her heart sinks when her usual tactics fail. He opens his mouth and utters a sentence which she’ll struggle to forget. “You’re really hot,” he yells at her, “maybe you could use that lovely mouth of yours to blow me.” She freezes.
This is catcalling.
What this man said to Giada falls under the umbrella of experiences termed ‘catcalling’—words yelled at women that cross into their personal space. But is what happened to Giada the same as being whistled at from a car?
Women around the world experience this problem on a daily basis. Everyday when Cat works out, should she have to change from her gym clothes into something more modest to walk home? Should Izzy have to deal with two men breathing down her neck as she leaves the movie theatre? Should Sophie have to wonder to herself when she wears something tight if she “could have done things differently?” Should Giada have to hear what she heard from that man while walking in front of an elementary school? The answer is clearly no; but even worse, this is something now normal to her.
Across the board from Cat to Giada, each woman’s story is unique yet ubiquitous. It begins as a disruption to their daily lives, but as time goes on and each call becomes background, the unusual becomes another expectation.
Before going out, women have to prepare themselves to be catcalled. This happens so often that they have a go-to strategy. Some women cover themselves up with big jackets, while others carry pepper spray in their purse. However, most of the women we spoke to chose not to do anything at all.
“I’m more prepared for it,” Cat explained, “but I don’t change anything I’m doing because that’s ridiculous.” In doing so, Cat doesn’t allow catcallers to hold so much power over her that she has to take time out of her day to change her clothes. Giada, on the other hand, actively takes precautions to keep herself safe.
If I’m walking home, I don’t wear heels because I can’t run in heels… and I know I might have to.”
Looking at what Cat, Izzy, Giada and Sophie were wearing shows that outfit choice does not make a difference. Whether it’s gym clothing, heavy winter gear, or jeans and a sweater, catcalling occurs regardless.
This behaviour has become normalised. As Sophie pointed out, “every other girl I know has gone through it,” but it’s not until you stop to think about it that you realise it’s disgusting. This is stopping us from questioning where to draw the line between catcalling and sexual harassment.
I don’t really think about it anymore. It’s been happening since I was like 13.”
Just because something is normal does not mean it is any less stressful, frightening, or problematic. What these four women go through speaks to similar narratives across the world. Under the umbrella of catcalling, things such as harassment, and possibly even worse, go by unnoticed on a day to day basis but get treated as dirt on the shoulder.
Women are forced to accept that they will be called out on the street by strangers, often regardless of what they do to prevent it. When ignoring it is no longer an option, stories like Giada’s are what end up lingering.
Giada was simply walking in a residential neighbourhood where children were nearby laughing and playing. Is her story still to be seen as something easily brushable; where do we draw the line?
Want to see our process? Check out our bloopers video!
In light of the recent farmer protests in the Netherlands, this story delves deeper into the person behind the protester, and challenges of farming now and in the future.
On the first of October of this year, a remarkable sight could be witnessed. Rows upon rows of tractors and other farm vehicles are making their way towards the country’s political center. Farmers from all over the Netherlands have left their barns in the early morning of October 1st to go and protest on the Malieveld in the Hague. The city’s mayor had given permission for a maximum of 75 tractors to position themselves on the field- in the end, there turned out to be at least 2200. The first planned farmer protest was a big success, and polls tell us a majority of 73% of Dutch citizens responded to feel sympathetic towards the farmers.
However, only two weeks later, protests take a different turn: during actions at province houses across the Netherlands, the situation gets violent in Groningen. A tractor crashes itself into the monumental door of the building. Several people get hurt in an uproar between farmers and policemen. Elsewhere, fences get run over. Public sympathy decreases while farmers’ discontentment is still on the rise. A third protest takes place a few days after this, again in the Hague. Foregoing their designated protesting spot, the farmers break through the barricades to reach the Malieveld once again. Additionally, tractors are driven into the city center, occupying important crossroads and taking a tour through some of the pedestrian-only shopping streets. Whether or not their original goal, the farmers have succeeded in one thing for certain: making sure the whole country knows they’re there, and they will not go down without a bang.
Hans van Beusekom is a former dairy farmer in Driel, a tiny town in the Netherlands. He is also regional manager of the organisation for agri- and horticulture, the Landbouw en Tuinbouw Organisatie (LTO). I have met up with him on his farm to discuss these recent protests, and get a better insight of what farming is really like here in the Netherlands.
The dairy farm Hans works on has been in the family for several generations. Nowadays it is just him, one employee and his elderly mother working there. Together they take care of the cows, the milking and the other odd jobs around the farm, though not for much longer. Hans tells me that by the end of the year, he will have stopped dairy farming.
His children are all in school or university, and do not have an interest in taking over the farm. It’s how it often goes nowadays, he tells me: taking over the family business, is not business as usual anymore.
Though this is one reason for him to move away from farming, there are other motivations too. Him stopping might be a symptom of a bigger issue, one that also played a role in the farmer protests.
Rules of the game
Farming in the Netherlands is thus heavily influenced by a set of regulations. To better understand these, it is good to know where they came from.
After World War II and the Hunger Winter in the Netherlands, politicians vowed for there to never be hunger again. To fulfill this, food production all over Europe grew very quickly. This eventually lead to a massive surplus of, for example, dairy products. To mitigate this, in 1984 the milk quota was established: farmers now had to pay for the rights to produce a certain amount of milk.
Due to globalization and a more global economy, it became more attractive to get rid of the milk quota again, to be able to compete better on non-European markets. Therefore, in 2015, the milk quota was officially abolished.
However, not even a year later, a new phosphate quota was brought to life, to lower the amounts of phosphate in our atmosphere, harmful to both people as well as the environment. Instead of having to pay to be allowed to milk, farmers now had to pay to be allowed to own a certain amount of cows.
One cow produces around 45 kilograms of phosphate throughout their life. At the height of the quote, farmers had to pay €275 euros per kilogram of phosphate: that’s already a whopping €12.375, just to own 1 cow.
Then there’s also the phosphate reduction, which forced all farmers to get rid of a percentage of the cows on their land. Per square kilometer of land, farmers are allowed to produce a certain amount of phosphate. When this number was lowered, especially farmers with smaller farms were being duped, having to give up part of their livestock.
Over the years, political inference has moved its interest from milk, to phosphate, to where we are now: nitrogen. And these are not the only rules that make farming difficult.
Farming has thus changed a lot over the years, with regulations constantly changing and prices dropping. Farmers now have to work much harder to earn less money than they did just 50 years ago.
Hans describes it like this: imagine you have a book of rules, that tells you how to keep a cow. When you start, the book is maybe a few pages thick. Then, maybe 10 years later, that same book now contains over a 1000 pages. That does not exactly make it attractive for new farmers to start, for children to take over from their parents, or for farmers to continue their work: more and more farmers, like Hans, consider stopping.
Nitrogen crisis or not, it is clear the future is uncertain for farmers. Whether because of the fast changing rules, the low gain against a high cost, or the issue of finding successors, it is becoming harder and harder to farm, and therefore a less attractive option for many.
What that will mean for the rest of us, time can only tell. One thing is for sure: we all need to eat… and without farmers, we can’t.
Vega is a young activist from Sweden. She is on a gap year and has a passion for arts and bold fashion statements. She has joined the Extinction Rebellion (XR) arts circle in The Hague, where she can help to design artistic protests and beautiful banners, doing her part for the acts of civil disobedience that characterise the XR movement.
Her feelings reflect the quiet unease bubbling away under the surface of society. A horror that older generations will not have to face, but that the young cannot escape. As the media begins to move from terms such as ‘climate change’ to ‘climate crisis’, it is already too late to prevent tangible effects from being felt.
The feelings of living with the knowledge that it is coming has a name: eco-anxiety.
“When I was perhaps 12, or 13, is when I first started to get to get to know about the climate crisis, […] I just felt very stressed and very anxious about it”
According to the American Psychological Association, gradual, long-term changes in climate can surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness or exhaustion. Eco-anxiety is expressed through feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to [one’s] inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.
The term itself was coined in 2011, too recently to make it into the DSM-5 the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychological Association.
Student psychologist, Mariya Shcherbinina, has encountered eco-anxiety increasingly in young people, usually under 30. It appears usually as a general phenomenon, rather than a psychological disorder, and often affects people who feel they have a sense of loss of control. Climate change, she says, cannot be fixed from a therapist’s office, but helping anxious people to regain a sense of control in other aspects of life can “reduce anxiety in relation to overarching things like the climate”.
One of the pieces of advice Mariya would advise for her young, educated clients is to limit their exposure to the daily devastating news about the climate if their anxiety is getting worse. “It’s not great to be reminded of it every single moment of your life, […] it’s impacting your mental health.”
Personal relationships and the way people/communities interact with each other can be affected by eco-anxiety. And yet, feelings of eco-anxiety are neither unfounded nor over-hyped by alarmist media.
Dr. Peter Houben, an assistant professor at Leiden University College, teaches Climate Change. According to him, climate change is not based on opinion, it’s about checking the facts of the measured data. The climate is changing faster than the natural cycles that were formed for the past 3 billion years.
We, humans, have adapted to live in a very small band of climate variability. The average global has increase by 1 degree (4 degrees in some areas) in the last 100 year. This moves our ecosystems and services we depend on (food production and water provision) out of a range where the natural functions have been adapted to each other. It will rearrange but the quantities and places where we sourced these resources will also change.
We will see changes in all aspects of our lives. Competition for essential resources will increase, which will lead to conflict. We already see early signs that could lead to this competition. For example in 2018, Central Europe experienced a 20-30% crop failure, which lead to a decrease in stockpiles. Consumers didn’t notice anything on the shelves but the stockpile decreased from 90 days to just 30.
If we are to try to achieve a more favourable climatic scenario for humanity, we must change our behaviour, which is an inherently difficult thing for us to do.
Institutions of higher
education, for instance, have the role to educate and build on the body of
incremental knowledge. Knowledge and information are different, often confused
but knowledge allows for responsible decision-making.
“It’s not great to be reminded of it every single moment of your life, […] it’s impacting your mental health.”
Mariya Shcherbinina, Student Life Councellor at LUC.
At a personal level,
everyone can change their lifestyle to become more sustainable and reduce the
burden of their contribution to the climate crisis. Dr. Peter says the climate
crisis has affected almost every part of his daily life, mainly the choices he
has to make. He chooses to go on regional or local holidays that can be reached
by train or car, instead of embarking on a flight to a touristic destination.
Food was another aspect that saw a lot of change in his life, the gained
awareness of where food comes from and the processes taken to produce that
“I thought about running away from it all because of the feeling of being disconnected, but I decided to join the environmental rebels to cope with my feelings of despair.”
Not everyone will be willing to make such drastic changes to their life, especially when it comes to traveling. But changes can be taken to offset, to some extent, the carbon emissions produced by your next flight.
Growing concerns over the climate is one of the driving factors behind the recent explosion in numbers for activity against climate inaction. One of the most prominent of these, Extinction Rebellion, grew from nothing to over a million people in the space of only a year, sparking acts of civil disobedience around the world to pressure governments into action on the climate emergency.
Vega is a 16 year-old Swedish rebel. She moved to The Hague recently with her parents and is taking a gap year before going into university. Vega started her activism in Stockholm at the Fridays for Future and the school strikes, through which she heard about Extinction Rebellion, which she decided to dedicate her gap year to.
She decided to join XR mainly because of their civil disobedience agenda, which sets them apart from other influential environmental groups. “These organizations [WWF, GreenPeace…] have been active for so long and even though they have done many amazing things, the organizations that deal with civil disobedience have received more attention and reaction.”
“When you do stuff that forces people to pay attention to you, they will. If they have the choice of ignoring the climate crisis they will. Because it’s a hard truth to face because its very harsh on your mental health as well because you are standing in front of a mass extinction.”
There are many sacrifices Vega has made in order to reduce her environmental impact. Her activism resulted in lower grades when she was at school, which hindered her possibilities of joining her dream university. She no longer goes on holidays with her family because she refuses to fly. Some might consider these harsh changes but according to Vega, they have only made her happier.
Many people are able to find solace through taking action with groups like Extinction Rebellion. Rae, a university student activist and a member in the national logistics of Extinction Rebellion, weighed in for us on her own views about eco-anxiety.
“What I find hard about eco-anxiety sometimes is that people talk about it as though there’s no way to cure it…obviously, if you have genuine mental anxiety about things, there’s more difficult solutions, but I think the way to cure it is to actually have some action, like do something about it, you know, because then you feel like you’re making a difference.”
Thirty-five thousand people walked past K.K. Badhan (64) every opening day of the Hague Market. Badhan was almost always as still as a statue, hidden behind the dense shelves, standing in contrast with the vibrant atmosphere.
Between two highly international neighbourhoods, Schilderswijk and Transvaal, houses The Hague Market (De Haagse Markt), an outdoor market claimed one of Europe’s largest. Over 500 stalls open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday inviting visitors in and out of The Hague, who look for a most reasonable rate, for an endless selection from any Hindustani spice to a USB-stick. In the middle of this melting pot welcoming people from all walks of life, is Badhan.
STANDING AT A DESK 9 TO 5
On the third walkway near the center of the Haagse Market are three household appliances shops that belong to Badhan’s boss. Badhan has been taking charge of one of the three stalls for over a year now. In his shop, people can find a massive variety of household products situating among the shelves and hanging on the wall: cookware in one corner, beauty products the other, just right next to the bathroom appliances, etc. Old ladies push their trolly-bag on wheels around to find the right utensils. The little girl yanks off from her father’s hand to stop by at the sight of a doll at the very back of the shop. The stands can cater to the need of even the most selective visitors.
Badhan stands remarkably behind his glass shelf where he places the cash box, as if he is the guardian of a citadel. His robust figure might scare off first comers, the ruby red turban and thick grey beard further overshadow his gaze.
Badhan rarely flashes a smile.
But once you get to know him, he can be one of the friendliest people in the market, who love small talks with passerby about any given topic, sandwiched among more his conversation with the customers regarding price inquiries. He talks with more liveliness than ever, from his pilgrimage to New Delhi every spring, to where to buy the cheapest items of clothing in Chinatown.
Standing from 9 to 5 is not an easy job. No chair is in sight in the condense space. The guardian of his citadel takes only one toilet break during the day when he quickly snatches something to chew along the way back. Badhan becomes evidently busier after his Pakistanian colleague quitted the job, whom he had been standing alongside for only less than a month. Badhan does not relent at the usual sight of colleagues who comes and goes.
The busiest hours are usually from midday to 3 pm. Facing an endless flow of people queuing up to pay, the man barely stops for more than a minute. If it is not for the crowd, he then puts his entire focus constantly tracking every shelf to stock up running-out products.
In the other hours, however, he can be unimaginably calm and still. But it is not to underestimate the workload of this merchant in the busiest market in The Hague. When there is no customer in plain sight, his gaze never leaves the CCTV screen placing right in front of his glass stand. Nothing he hates more than petty thefts. He is no way quick enough to catch all the teenagers stealing small items from all corners of the large space Badhan cannot always oversee. Fortunately, the incident does not happen very often.
His stand can be quiet, as quiet as himself. Badhan appears especially shy in stark contrast with the yelling merchants from the fish stalls or his neighbors blasting Turkish music from the amplifiers. Silent as he is, he speaks 8 languages, but all are “broken”, Badhan laughs off his unassuming achievement. Broken English and Dutch, but enough for him to express himself to the customers, with the assistance of a lot of hand gestures.
“Everybody needs me.”, he replies as he swiftly rearranges the items misplaced by previous customers. Outside of the official operating hours of the market, including the evenings in Mon-Wed-Fri-Sat, Badhan operates his repair service. He basically handles anything people order him to, from the creaky bathroom’s door at a friend’s daughter’s house to the floor of his neighbor that needs laminating.
WHEN THE SUN DIES DOWN
5pm. The irreconcilable contrast between the daylight scene of the market turned whoever passing by the market during its limelight shiver. Badhan’s stall and that of his boss were the latest to close down in the entire market.
Badhan finally could afford some rare minutes for small chit-chat with the other merchants. He could then put his guard down and truly smile with both his eyes. Badhan had been refusing to hold a full conversation during the busy hours. Then, he spoke with everything he could, his gaze, his hands and his whole body.
The linguistic talent indeed reflects his lifelong journey from India, to the Middle East, and now settling down in The Hague. Badhan traveled the globe after he received his Bachelor’s degree in Finance in Northern India. “Circumstances,” he again avoided a full remark. One thing was clear: the plight of corruption having taken place home drove him off, far. Seemingly, it was not that malpractice did not follow his footsteps.
Badhan became more active than ever, he grew as red as his turban. The current shop was not where he worked when he first made an attempt to be a part of the marketlife. Before, he had applied for a clothing stall without any boss, located right around the corner of his current stall. The market’s administration process kept him waiting for months at a time and refused to give him a permit in the end. A similar process happened in his second attempt to open a children’s shoe shop. When he tried to operate as a van driver for the merchants in the market, he believed he was also bullied for the same reason. Badhan looked straight and intently into the past: “They stole my stall, then they stole my car, parts by parts.”
Badhan looked straight and intently into the past: “They stole my stall, then they stole my car, parts by parts.”
Badhan pointed his finger at the people “who sit all day at the office”. His hand gesture was unbelievably fast as with his raising pitch. The usual calm and serene Badhan did not flinch for a second and talked non-stop, as if he has to speak for himself and for other silenced merchants who had had to withstand the injustice for years. His scattered English was enough to convey to us his belief that the market administrators were taking advantage of his insufficient Dutch language to pick up on him, and made up reasons to disqualify him from signing a stall. And he was not the only one, but all other vendors who were immigrants were maltreated coming to getting permits and with the rates of their stands, comparing to the other white Dutch stallholders.
NURTURING THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
Badhan took in another deep, unhesitant breath.
He is, nevertheless, happy, despite the circumstances. He secures a weatherproofing stand and has no major dissension with his boss and other merchants. He is able to keep himself busy and feed his family, and will retire in a few years. Most importantly, he is able to satisfy his spiritual living. We are just surviving, but not living, without a nurtured spiritual life, believed Badhan. Badhan has been praying every day since the day he could speak his native Hindi and visited his temple in Amsterdam every Sunday, a very rare day when he got a break. With his wife, Badhan went back to India every year to pay a visit to their priest.
Badhan managed to give a peaceful smile in the end. There was nothing more peaceful than observing him biking into the utmost serene darkness, to his well-prepared dinner at home with his wife, awaiting.
as told by a political scientist and former resident
A growing trend of authoritarianism in certain Central and Eastern European countries has been quietly stirring, with Hungary notably rubbing shoulders with Turkish president Erdogan and Russian president Putin. Though it can be easy to forget, countries, even the strongest of them, are made of people, and the personal impacts of a government’s authoritarian turn are far from trivial for the people being governed.
To understand the personal impacts that Hungary’s authoritarian turn has on its residents, I spoke to Kristin Makszin, an assistant professor of political economy at Leiden University College The Hague.
Kristin studied for her Master’s in Hungary, and started a family there, but realized through her political research that the country was headed in a direction that she was unwilling to support. Kristin found that the government increasingly interfered with her life, first by publicly smearing George Soros, a wealthy Hungarian who helped fund the Central European University where she worked, and then by dictating which areas of research the Scientific Institute, her other place of employment, could delve into.
Post WW2, Hungary was under Soviet rule until the 1956 revolution, which lead to an increased welfare state and liberalising reforms. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the transition to democracy began, and talks of EU accession made Hungary a promising case for post-communist democratisation. After joining the EU, however, the country took an authoritarian turn that continues today.
Although she was eager to tell me about her research in the region, I also wanted to hear about her personal experiences there. I asked her about some lessons she learned from life in Hungary.
Kristin had planned to settle in Hungary after marrying a Hungarian and having children there. She worked two jobs, was interested in her research and the research community, and spoke Hungarian. Although she was happy to settle in the small town outside of Budapest where her family lived, push factors kept piling up until the family decided to leave Hungary. To understand what drove that decision, I asked her why she left.
“I can really say that, had the government not shifted in the directions it shifted, I don’t think we would have left Hungary”
If I really want to be blunt, it was the government
The Central European University (CEU), where Kristin taught and did her PhD, was founded and funded by George Soros, a highly controversial figure in Hungarian politics. He was born in Hungary but left at 17, and went on to become a global philanthropist. Soros funded the Open Society Foundation, which supports the universal fight for freedom of expression, accountable government, and societal promotion of justice and equality.
Soros’ organisations are often attacked by less-than-democratic governments, and when Kristin started to notice that the CEU was being threatened by the Hungarian government, it hit her hard. “That did hit me personally, because I know it from the inside. I know it’s not some liberal Trojan Horse with Soros hiding behind it. There’s really free academic research going on there” she said, and continued “when that started becoming the major point of attack, it did affect me”.
The impact of the Hungarian government’s campaign against Soros leaked into Kristin’s professional and personal life, even affecting her children.
Kristin rejects the ideas that Hungary’s authoritarian turn was inevitable, and that a wave of populism is sweeping the world. She doesn’t buy the international contagion argument, but acknowledges that the pattern of changes in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region must be indicative of something going on. She offers her own explanation of what sparked these changes in CEE democracy.
In contrast to her current views, Kristin was actually hopeful about Hungary’s democratic future in the early 2010’s, but soon realized that the country was on a downward trajectory away from democracy. Listen below to hear her talk about the steps Hungary took towards authoritarianism.
Much of the public fear and anxiety brewing over Hungary’s authoritarian turn stems from concern over Russia’s influence in the region.
The idea that EU members like Hungary could be taking notes from, or even collaborating with, authoritarian powerhouses like Russia and Turkey haunts many proponents of the EU. To hear an informed opinion on the topic, I turned to Kristin.
With clear evidence of Hungary’s authoritarian turn, the role of the EU becomes questionable. From Kristin’s perspective, the EU becomes less influential over its members as it enlarges. “I think that by trying to overreach what was feasible, that put some cracks in the EU, so I’m not super optimistic about the EU as an institution” she said.
In the audio file below, you can hear Kristin talk about the future of the EU, considering the growing power of the authoritarian-turning member states.
Though Kristin does not believe that Hungary’s authoritarian trend spells the inevitable collapse of European democracy, she does warn that “if Hungary is the future of the EU, I’m not sure that’s an EU we want around”.
It’s Wednesday evening, and you’ve just left work to pick up a few groceries for tonight and the coming days. You don’t have a list, just an idea of what you want to feed yourself or your family and the basic nutrition you should be getting. You walk into your local Albert Heijn and join the seemingly chaotic mass of nightly shoppers. You may think your shopping patterns are practically random, but contrary to popular belief, there is a method to the madness.
The food industry devotes countless hours and resources to manufacturing the ideal supermarket structure to maximize shoppers’ purchases. This is the side of shopping that consumers rarely think of, and the one that grocery store employees focus on.
One of these employees who operates in the unnoticed realm of strategic shopping is Anton Pluis, a 21 year-old team leader at Albert Heijn who is pictured here. He tells me about the different strategies Albert Heijn uses to guide shoppers’ product choices.
“The positioning of products is really important and a lot of money goes to that”, Anton reveals, “Brands can pay for placements, for example Coca-Cola pays a lot of money to be placed between the frozen foods like pizza and bitterballen, stuff for a party. They pay quite a lot of money for that space because it does increase sales.”
While it may seem trivial to shoppers, product positioning in stores is significant to companies like Coca-Cola.
Of course, there is more to the story of supermarket food choices than simple store strategies. Nutrition is essential for a healthy life, and since stores can guide shoppers’ choices, I wanted to hear about how shoppers’ food choices affect their nutrition and health.
To shed some light on the nutritional side of the story, I interviewed Bernadette Keogh, a nutritional therapist, in her local Albert Heijn. Click the audio file below to hear her thoughts on the secret to mindful eating: moderation.
Attentive customers may notice that there is even a uniform store layout for all Albert Heijns: shoppers always enter into the fresh produce, then go to the pre-cut vegetables and salads, then the meat and fish, and then the bread. After this comes the dairy section, and then the paths with aisles of food items like cereals, sauces and chips, then the frozen section and finally, closer to the registers, are non-food products such as cleaning supplies.
Again, this layout could be perceived as unimportant, but Anton admits that “beginning with fresh products brings shoppers in the mood to buy, especially the smell of the bread, it makes you hungry and makes you want to buy more stuff.”
Anton reveals another measure employed by Albert Heijn to maximize profit: using your eyes against you. Stores know which products are the most popular and “We put those at the bottom”, Anton says, “then you have another point at eye level that you can influence, so you can put a product that is more expensive or something that you have too much stock of.”
Though no harm is meant by this, these simple methods often result in a benefit for the store, at the cost of the wallet of the inattentive customer. Of course this is expected, and Anton states the obvious fact that stores’ “first and foremost priority will always be making money,and I think that’s more than fair.”
Shoppers’ wallets are not the only thing affected by store strategies, their health can also be compromised. Bernadette had some insights as to why food choices are so important, and even how diseases can be prevented by a healthy diet. Listen below to hear her talk about the effects of food choices on health.
Some strategies used by grocery stores are actually helping consumers make more informed choices, like these sugar indicators at Albert Heijn. They use a range of 3 groups (low, middle, and high) to quickly alert shoppers about the amount of sugar in their chosen products.
This is not only helping shoppers make more informed decisions, but also influencing the products companies sell in stores. Anton tells me “Companies, as soon as the indicators came, started offering alternative products in each range of the sugar indicator.”
However, nutritional therapist Bernadette is not convinced that these sugar indicators are enough to inform shoppers of just how healthy their choices are. Hear what she has to say about this Albert Heijn strategy by clicking the audio file below.
Introducing these sugar indicators is a great step forward in helping consumers be more aware of the healthiness of their food choices, but customers can also find this information without the indicators.
Overall, Anton encapsulates it quite succinctly when he says “It’s a tool and its useful and its forcing brands to make less sweet items also, but it’s not an innovation, the information was already there.”
While grocery stores like Albert Heijn may employ the use of strategies like deliberate product positioning and calculated layouts to guide shoppers’ product choices, consumers could always access all the nutritional information by checking the labels themselves.
To get some insight into how the average shopper makes their food choices, I walked into my local Albert Heijn and asked some shoppers to answer a few questions about which influencing factors they notice the most.
The photo series below showcases some quotes shoppers gave me about their food choices along with pictures taken inside Albert Heijn.
One shopper I interviewed mentioned that “I kind of guess whether it’s healthy or not, and if it’s too processed it’s less healthy.” 6 out of 9 products in this shopper’s basket are processed.
Another shopper talked to me about the biggest factors of food choices for him. He said “I am looking for food that is healthy but also quick to make, those are my main factors when I go to the grocery store.”
A third shopper said about her food choices: “I have a Coke here, it’s not good, but sometimes it’s a reward to yourself. Once a week, but we are controlling our sugar intake.”
I asked another shopper if they looked at nutrition labels, to which they replied “No, because I think they are very confusing”. The nutrition label for this rice milk may seem confusing, but a quick glance at the ingredients list will reveal that the rice product contains more sunflower oil than rice.
This product is advertised as both quick and healthy, yet it contains 20 grams of sugar per serving. The daily recommended intake of sugar is 25 g for women and 38 g for men.
So the next time you’re on your way home and rush in to join the evening crowd at your local grocery store, see if you catch yourself being drawn to a flashy label at just the right eye level, or notice when you’re buying chips that, hey that coke right next to it might be nice too.
If it’s too overwhelming to think about all those store strategies and unconscious preferences, click below to hear some simple tips from Bernadette to help keep your food choices in line with your health goals.
Let me tell you about a moment of clarity I had very recently.
I was pushing through the packed halls of my university, just trying to make it to my next class of the day in one piece. Suddenly, I bumped into a girl I had never talked to before, yet still recognized by name: Sara Kemppainen, Class of 2020. Despite never having interacted with her in person, the immediate link my mind drew upon seeing her was successful, untouchable, daunting. I quickly ducked my head and mumbled a brief “sorry”, and this could have been where the moment ended. But for whatever reason her own apologetic smile stayed with me and abruptly I realized: I had never once talked to Sara, yet had still made up my mind about her in a split second. But more importantly, I had made my judgement based entirely on what I had seen of her online, on her social media accounts.
I too had had an interaction with an online avatar, not a human being. But I was curious to see who the latter was.
To me, Sara Kemppainen is young, Finnish and utterly committed to changing the world.
A first glance at her Instagram account shows she is wildly intimidating. An honors student at Leiden University College in The Netherlands, a fitness enthusiast, the founder and chair of her own association “WIL,” a hand-picked representative at the 2019 G(irls)20 Summit in Tokyo and an intern at a humanitarian tech company.
In other words: passionate, committed, seemingly unstoppable. And a calculated image meant for outsiders.
When she first opens her door, letting me step into her one-room apartment, it is everything I expected and more. The mood, the setting, the atmosphere feels as if nose-diving directly into a real-life Valencia filter. Every item seems to have an artistic purpose, be it the tulips on her dining table, the oriental carpet covering the floor, or the two patterned dresses hanging against the wall.
But Sara herself, the mastermind behind the image, is so much more than the cool and professional young woman I had originally anticipated.
She looks relaxed, at ease, as she goes effortlessly through the motions of making avocado on toast, granola and Greek yogurt while chatting aimlessly about this and that. She’s excited to talk to me, she says. Social media is something she thinks about a lot.
As we sit down for the interview, each with a mug of freshly-brewed ginger tea, I notice she turns her phone onto its screen before pushing it away from her. “Ready,” she smiles.
Sara, I realize throughout speaking with her, is incredibly aware of the benefits and the pitfalls of social media platforms. For her, it began after returning to Finland from a two-year stay at an international boarding school in Italy. The student community there had fostered wonderful connections, the Italian internet access less so, and thus social media had never played a role in her life. After all, everyone she had wanted to share the details of her life with at that time was constantly around her. Upon moving back to her home country however, things changed.
“Suddenly everyone had social media accounts, and then I kind of got lumped into it too,” Sara recalls, a thoughtful look in her eyes.
She enjoyed it at first, she explains. “Sometimes I miss the early Instagram days. In the beginning it was a lot more about visually representing life. It didn’t have to be accurate, or include everything you do. It was just whatever I felt like posting that day.”
Soon, however, the trends changed. What had at first been an outlet for artistic expression, quickly turned into a pressure-cooker of external expectations of perfection.
How much do I include? Am I being annoying? Am I putting too much, too little of myself out there? For a while, these were questions regularly at the forefront of Sara’s mind.
And not just of Sara’s, but of all of ours’.
To be active on Instagram today means to learn how to exist in multiple realities at the same time. We are constantly both within our experiences and outside of them. Being in the moment, while at the same time observing it, to assess whether or not it’s worth sharing with others. In a way this has made us publishers: always trying to find unique stories to tell and permanently aware of what the competition is trying to sell.
But this obsession with our online image, that carefully crafted personal brand we’re trying to communicate to the world, has skewed our perception of ourselves and others. We constantly feel the pressure to be our online avatar in every aspect of our lives, and when we fail to live up to it despite knowing this to be unrealistic, we take it out on ourselves.
We haven’t just lowered the walls between public and private. We’ve taken a wrecking ball and flattened those barriers, edited out any form of messiness left, and have accepted that to keep up the image we want others to see, we need to live a life of constant self-surveillance.
Sara’s experience with social media was set to take the same direction. But then she took four months off to travel the world with the program Semester at Sea.
“If there was something I should have posted about, it would have been that trip,” she smiles, nostalgia evident in her tone. “But I lost all my pictures.”
The series of unfortunate mishaps – a precariously placed water bottle next to her laptop, a push and a shove leading to a phone on the floor – ended up being a blessing in disguise however. “Even the idea of going through all those pictures, choosing and picking and editing. As much as it can be fun, it’s also a huge amount of pressure and work,” she explains. “I know what I went through. I don’t need those pictures to remind me.”
Since then, Sara’s perspective on social media platforms has shifted. Instead of wanting to paint the perfect image of herself, today she sees her Instagram account as a tool to keep her friends all around the world updated about her life. In a way, her profile is her modern-day diary; something to turn to when feeling the need to trace back memories and be grateful for the opportunities and experiences she has had.
Nevertheless, she knows that her profile does not accurately reflect her as a person. And it never can. “You’re always leaving a lot behind, because you’re not taking pictures of the times that are hard. And even if you are, you are still picking and choosing and modifying the way in which you portray your life.”
Instead, her Instagram account is a collection of moments, all adding up to the image of the person she aspires to be, that she likes and appreciates, and that she wants to make other people aware of.
Aware, but not pressured by.
“Comparisons on social media are exhausting. Someone will always look a bit further ahead than you are, a bit more organized, like they’re having a bit more fun,” Sara sighs. This can motivate, but it can also merely make you feel lost.
“Sometimes it feels like you need to represent all aspects of your life, and that shouldn’t be necessary,” she says. To her, it’s a question of intimacy, and she herself is in control of what audience, strangers or friends, she wants to share that with.
“If there’s one place in the world, Instagram is the one you can make what you want it to be,” Sara tells me. And she’s right. By double-tapping the posts we do, we choose the kinds of posts that are promoted to us.
The algorithm does not need to control us. We can control the algorithm.
When I ask Sara to take a picture of herself as she would for her Instagram account, she laughs before agreeing. I watch as she tests first this angle, then that one, as she moves from one spot of the room to another with better lighting. “This is a little confronting,” she admits as she goes through her photo editing process with practiced ease. “It’s kind of embarrassing how natural this feels.”
More than an hour has passed and my mug of tea is empty. But before I leave I capture my own image of her.
Sara Kemppainen is young, Finnish, and utterly committed to changing the world.
But she is so much more than just her Instagram account.
In July 2015, the Aruban Mitch Henriquez died a day after being arrested at the Zuiderpark in the Hague. Because he claimed to be carrying a gun, police officers held him in a prolonged choke hold, used pepper spray and hit him in the face. The initial pathologist’s report showed that Henriquez had died as a result of the choke hold.
This death enraged many inhabitants from the Schilderswijk in the Hague, a neighborhood with a history of tension between the police and its large ethnic minority population. In the days following Mitch Henriquez’s death, riots broke out in the Schilderswijk with protesters attempting to storm the police station.
Ever since 1893, when Journalist Johan Gram wrote about the poor living circumstances in the Schilderswijk, the neighborhood has been known as the most famous problem area of the Netherlands. Gram described the houses in this neighborhood as ‘thin and draughty cubes of carton’ where no one with the will to live should want to reside.
Throughout the 20th century, the neighborhood was known as a working-class district. However, from the 70’s onwards, immigrants started moving into the Schilderswijk which caused it to become a highly multi-cultural neighborhood. Currently, 9 out of 10 inhabitants have a migration background. The Schilderswijk retains its image of a working-class neighborhood, as in 2014it was the poorest neighborhood of the Netherlands.
The riots surrounding the affair of Mitch Henriquez symbolize the existing tension between the police and the inhabitants of the Schilderswijk. Corina Duijndam’s research into the attitudes of youngsters from the Schilderswijk towards the police showed that a significant part of the youth views the acts of the police as racist.
However, this does not
necessarily mean that the police from the Hague is guilty of discriminatory
practices. Since Professor Joanna
van der Leun from Leiden University concluded in 2014 that the Hague police
could not be accused of ethnic profiling.
A voice of change
However, there are many inhabitants from the Schilderswijk that actively try to move away from the tension of 2015 surrounding the affair of Mitch Henriquez. With his business called NextProjecten, Mohamed El Khadir (42) tries to bridge the gap between the authorities in the Hague and the youth from the Schilderswijk who do not always feel understood according to Mohamed, “whether that is justified or not”. After being born in Marocco, Mohamed moved to the Schilderswijk at age 6 and has lived there ever since. With NextProjecten, Mohamed coaches and empowers youth from the Schilderswijk so that they develop their talents and become more resilient.
For Mohamed, the riots surrounding Mitch Henriquez’s death felt like a step back from what he had been trying to teach the youngsters through NextProjecten. “Every night I was trying to talk sense into the youngsters that were involved in the riots. I felt like I had to start all over again, after years of coaching them. I was telling them to go home”, Mohamed says.
After the riots, Mohamed created a project to improve the relations between the youth, the police and the municipality.
If youngsters feel like they
have become a victim of ethnic profiling, Next Projecten helps them to file a
complaint against the police officer or to find a lawyer. As Mohamed has come
to recognize that without any formal complaints, no concrete measures can be
taken by the police.
Mohamed tries to teach the youngsters that “they should not only consume, but they should rather be actively involved so that they can take ownership of what happens in their neighborhood”.
However, the youngsters that
Mohamed works with are not only affected by their perception of ethnic
profiling in the Schilderswijk but can also feel hurt by seemingly racist
comments of Dutch politicians.
A recent example of such a
statement about Islam from a Dutch politician can be taken from a
promotional video of the Dutch national party the PVV. In this promotional
video from 2018, Islam is associated with violence, anti-semitism, terror and
“If politicians state that they have something against your ethnicity, you can either stay within your community or you can speak up. You can put your fist on the table and say that you are from the Hague, just like them; that you are also a Dutch citizen.” By encouraging youngsters to do the latter, Mohamed further bridges the gap between the youth from his neighborhood and the authorities.
An example of a youngster who has taken Mohamed’s advice to heart is a young man nicknamed ‘the director’. Like other youngsters that are coached by Next Projecten, he was a bit timid at first. Now he actually leads the talks of Next Projecten with the municipality. “I can just sit back and watch”, Mohamed says proudly. ‘The director’ currently is an active volunteer for Next Projecten next to his full-time job.
The face behind the work
When Mohamed went to youth
centers when he was younger, he already felt like the type of empowerment he
witnessed with ‘the director’ was integral to youth work. “All we did was play games
all day, which was fun. However, I did feel like something was missing. I
wanted to develop myself further.” So Mohamed took measures into his own hands,
started coaching youth and eventually turned it into a business.
When Mohamed was 17, he was about to get kicked out of school. “I remember the principal saying that he was sure we would make it in life, all of us, just not if we would continue down this path.” This advice became a turning point in Mohamed’s life, after which he started to change his bad behavior. He is glad to now be able to pass on the same message to youngsters from the Schilderswijk.
Now that Mohamed has incorporated personal development into youth work in the Schilderswijk, he is often thanked by the youngsters.
However, Mohamed does not want
to take all the credit. “It is a collective endeavor”, he says.
Shadows of the past
Nonethelesss, engaging in dialogue with the police is not always as easy as it seems according to Dean Arma (28), a student who works for NextProjecten. Next to studying social work at the Hague University of Applied Sciences, Dean also performs as a spoken-word artist.
Dean finds it difficult to have a positive attitude towards the police, due to his personal experiences. He admits that he has been involved with drugs and weapons in the past and that he has therefore often been in contact with the police. Based on these experiences, Dean feels hesitant about the effectiveness of dialogue with the police of the Hague.
The other side of the story
Mohammed el Arrag, a superintendent of the police in the center district of the Hague, specialized in culture and connection, holds a different view than Dean Arma. According to Mohammed, the police of the Hague actively tries to move forward and seeks to learn from past mistakes.
An important way through which the police now tries to improve the relationship between the police and the inhabitants of the Schilderswijk is through a project called the ‘Culturele Wasstraat’. Before police officers start working in the neighborhood, they receive a 2-month long training that introduces them to the diversity of the Schilderswijk. During this time, police officers talk to key figures in the neighborhood, visit locations such as prayer rooms, schools and shisha lounges and receive workshops about the different cultures that exist within the Schilderswijk. Mohammed describes this period as being an ‘integration phase’ for the police officers.
This is especially important because the Schilderswijk poses several specific challenges for police officers according to Mohammed. As the police needs to understand the many different cultural groups of the neighborhood, who may have different views of the police due to the situation in their country of origin. In addition, because of the neighborhood’s multi-cultural character, international affairs have an impact on the Schilderswijk.
Furthermore, according to Mohammed, the riots surrounding the affair of Mitch Henriquez did not only show dissatisfaction with the police but they were also an example of cooperation between the police and inhabitants of the Schilderswijk. As worried inhabitants wearing yellow vests were actively involved with trying to calm the protesters to prevent the situation from escalating further. However, Mohammed explains that this is only the tip of the iceberg, as there are many more initiatives in the Schilderswijk led by inhabitants who love their neighborhood.
Mohammed thus feels proud of the efforts of the police to engage with inhabitants of the Schilderswijk.
Just like Mohammed el Arrag of the police, Mohamed el Khadir of NextProjecten is positive about the future. Mohamed el Khadir lives and breathes positivity and resilience, exactly what he is trying to teach youngsters. When asked, he can’t think of an instance when he felt helpless or powerless. He names his faith in Islam as being a key factor in his outlook on life.
“In the end, you can accomplish more if you work together”, Mohamed says.
Walking down the streets of The Hague, you have probably heard Sun playing in the streets before. You will hear him before you see him since his voice fills up the whole street. Although he stands with just his guitar and sings mostly old songs from the 1960s and 70s, he lights up the mood of everybody around, like his name promises. Getting to know him, he reveals that he has gone through struggles before becoming a street musician, but has found solace in it.
Sun is a street musician from The Hague, claiming to be the „oldest and longest playing”. Before playing on the streets he was a music teacher, owned a music store, and even worked as a musical therapist. A hard time in his life made him dramatically change everything, and switch to playing on the streets as a street performer. Although he liked his prior job he was “fed up standing in the service of other people”; he wanted to live his life completely for himself.
“I reached the point that I couldn’t do it anymore, it became too much for me“
Adapting to his new life was not easy. He had lost everything including his income, insurance, and house to name a few. Going from having a lot of certainties in his life to none at all was a challenge. At first, he wasn’t always welcome, he was robbed and had confrontations with others. After being robbed and not getting defeated by it, but working on it, the message spread on the street: “You better not rob that stupid motherfucking Chinese guy because he will come after you. And that is the truth: I will come after you”. Looking back at his journey he feels acomplished, like he succeeded in making his own life for himself.
Getting help from the organization Kessler stichting and paying off debt helped him feel like a member of society again and not like he was “stranded somewhere on the line of life”. Reiki, a form of meditation and (as he explains it) healing yourself and others by “harnessing the powers of the universe”, has helped him a lot in that time.
Playing music in the streets is not always nice. When talking to Sun he speaks of the injustice in the city. He is running three lawsuits at the moment. At our meeting he hands me a stack of papers, stapled together and in a clear case, but heavy and noticeably gone through over and over again. There are certain laws for public places that for example forbid playing with an amplifier in certain areas, but Sun felt treated unequal by the police sometimes. When he was getting started he was more rebellious, getting fined by the police, but standing his ground and knowing his rights, but nonetheless feeling like other musicians got favoured over him.
He is aware that going to court won’t change what already happened, but he is searching for a permanent solution. Despite the confrontations with the police he also feels respected by them. He says he earned the respect because he just kept going, showing up and giving the best he could. The policemen can relate that it is hard to be on the street in all weather conditions and with the crime that is happening. He earned respect by not acting up when he was confronted with racism and staying “good for himself” and being a gentleman and a person who tries to create love for other people. He has made himself known by playing with good quality and performance. Not only on the streets, but also at weddings, parties, and even funerals, which he says is the biggest honour. Most people fear playing in front of a big audience, but he says he loves it, it makes him feel good, wanted, successful, and happy that people can feel his music. Playing music for a living is hard, but Reiki again helps him with relaxing afterwards.
Reiki always came up again in the conversation I had with Sun. His dream job would be a combination of Reiki and music and he sees being a Reiki master as an “old age insurance” when he can physically not play on the streets anymore. Reiki was with him before he became a street musician and he is certain that his Reiki and personality has saved him from getting angry at the police. Reiki not only calms him in confrontations, but in the vision of Reiki everybody is connected, which is why when he stands on the streets alone he feels like everybody is his friends.
It happens that those “friends” also pay him. He says the thing is to have joy from your music and be happy with your music. Earning enough money is not something he worries about because he knows the audience will see how happy he is. He is convinced that “if you meet somebody on the streets and you just feel what they want you to feel, you will grab your wallet”.
The next time you are in The Hague and the voice of Sun reaches you, just tell him that you are happy because you have heard his music and you will make his day.
When was the last time you were angry … and you showed it?
Most likely, women need to think a bit harder about that one than men. Although both men and women get angry about as much as the other, women tend to bottle it up a lot more than men do. That is because we are taught differently about emotions when growing up. “Boys learn to disguise their hurt and vulnerability as anger — girls, all too often, learn the opposite,” says Laurie Penny, a feminist journalist and activist from the UK.
Kids grow up learning that showing certain emotions is not ‘manly’ or ‘feminine’ enough. Emotions are gendered and we can see that when little boys for example are castigated for crying. They are told to ‘man up’ which usually means to show no weakness. In a New York Times article, the journalist Andrew Reiner describes a video that was shown in his course on masculinity. The video shows a young baby boy getting his first vaccination and while he is crying, his dad tells him to say ‘I’m a man’. ‘Don’t cry’ he says to him. Because weakness is reserved for girls. When girls on the other hand show that they are dissatisfied with something, adults either do not take them seriously or tell them to calm down, to be more quiet.
What this essentially means is to be less visible, to take up less space. While men learn to always be tough and strong and loud, women grow up to learn how to ask for help, how to be dependent and how to cry. Ilse, a 49 years old flight attendant, says that she thinks that this is just how it is and always has been. However, studies show that parents comfort their girls more when they are crying whereas they show less understanding for their little boys when they are sad. Boys on the other hand are allowed and even encouraged to be wild, to be over the line even. “Boys will be boys” is a phrase everyone probably has encountered at some point in their lives and has led to playing down sexual violence for example. Peter, a 70 year old dutch man, says that men did not emancipate and because of that they are less expressive and think less about the consequences of their actions than women.
But even if parents want boys to be more expressive, they are talking to them differently than to girls, says Harriet Tenenbaum, a developmental psychologist at the University of Surrey, England. She says that parents talk to their girls more about emotions with a wider range of words whereas with boys, they most often only talk about anger and negative feelings, if at all.
It is a cycle really when anger is associated with men. Anger is tightly linked with power, whereas sadness, the negative emotion usually expected of women when expressing unhappiness with a situation, is seen as dismissive. When men are asserting that power and showing their anger, they are seen as stronger and in charge. We can observe this in the professional world when looking at the gender gap in education and high-ranking jobs. Although boys score lower in high school and college, they make up significantly more percent of high-ranking jobs later in life. But while this system in the end works out for a lot of men, women have learned to comply to it, to work with it and to function in it. Both of these situations are problems one could get mad about.
We have a right to be angry, no matter what gender we identify with.
But yet another study shows that even if women were to show anger our angry faces might not be recognised as such. Multiple experiments have revealed that “an angry woman’s face is one of the most difficult for people to parse” whereas an androgynous face looking angry was read as a man’s face by most of the participants of the studies, writes Soraya Chemaly, author of Rage Becomes Her, a book that looks at the intersection of anger and gender in depth.
It is no wonder though that we are not trained in recognising an angry woman’s face. Up until recently, there was barely any footage of women being angry in movies. Lorraine Ali writes in the LA Times that “For years, television shied away from any depiction of female anger that wasn’t victim’s rage or simple hysteria.” Women in movies and tv-shows were simply not portrayed as being angry and justifiably so. We influence culture and culture influences us and when we are not used to seeing what angry women look like, we will likely not recognise it when they actually are.
It is important that we start taking a good look at angry women when we get a chance to. To look anger in the face. We have a right to be angry, no matter what gender we identify with. For anger is not only a normal emotion part of human life but also can contribute to a happier life.
This is what angry women look like.
It is scientifically proven that people living out a wider range of emotions are happier. This range is called ‘emotional diversity’ or ‘emodiversity’ and has emerged in recent scientific circles in order to investigate and understand the role of emotions on our health.
Emodiversity is a theory that compares the body to an ecosystem. It draws inspiration from biodiversity and its benefits and detects that though there are differences regarding certain markers of humans, overall we stay balanced the more emotions we feel in a day – just like in an ecosystem where every species has its own role and together they create for a more balanced system, says Jordi Quoidback, a psychology professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona who was the lead author of the study with more than 37,000 participants from all ranges of backgrounds.
However, it has not yet been investigated what causes what, merely that there exists a correlation. Future investigations, Quoidbach et al. in their article note, have to look at the long-term effects of living out a wide range of emotions. What they are sure of though is that emodiversity causes for better mental and physical health. In these studies, it did not matter whether the felt emotions are positive, negative or both.
Anger is a feeling. Hatred is an action.
Oftentimes, anger is related to violence and violent actions. When I ask Flora, a 21 years old German student, whether she thinks anger should be expressed she immediately links anger to knocking over trash cans and boxing against walls. She says she tries to distract herself from her anger which resonated with what Ilse expressed as well, doing meditation or other activities that let her forget her anger. In their opinion, anger is not a useful emotion.
This binary system deeming negative emotions like sadness, fear or anger as inherently ‘bad’ and positive emotions like joy or gratitude as inherently ‘good’ is “overdue for retirement,” writes Jane Gruber, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado. She writes that “negative emotions” are essential in our mental health and gives three different examples of why that is. Looking at it from an evolutionary perspective, she states that “negative emotions” help us recognise dangerous situations ranging from an accident to an unhealthy relationship. Second, she writes that “negative emotions” help sharpen our focus by facilitating critical thinking and memory. The third example of good impacts of so-called “negative emotions” is that the suppression of them does not make us happier. On the contrary, it leads to more distress and can result in substance abuse or overeating for example. Moreover, the suppression does not make the anger dissolve.
Anger can be useful. It can keep you moving and working when you want to give up.
Lior, one of the girls that are part of the photography project, uses her anger to create spoken word poetry. In one poem where she describes why she identifies as a feminist, she writes
Because I have had to learn In excruciating ways that we were handed different tools must obey different rules that boys will be boys that you were given a choice while we are constantly deprived of ours
Gruber also gives examples of “positive emotions” not causing greater happiness but the contrary. She writes that only feeling “positive emotions” and trying to maximise them constantly can lead to more self-focused behaviour which can relate to greater stereotyping of out-group members for example. Moreover, she writes that studies show that “positive emotions” can be associated with greater risk-taking behaviour and higher mortality rates. With this, she gives room to reconsider the duality of emotions existing these days and writes that “there is no intrinsic goodness or badness of an emotion”. Instead, we might try feeling all the emotions and letting them exist by for example voicing them.
One way to voice that specific emotion is swearing. Profanity is an emotional language and tightly linked to anger. We swear when bumping a toe on the table leg or missing a train. But while usually dismissed and enjoying a bad reputation, a study recently found that swearing might in fact make you stronger. Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University, UK, showed that participants swearing while holding their hand in an ice bucket could hold out longer. He thinks swearing might be a means of pain management and even empowerment. And even though swearing is tightly linked with anger, there have yet to be found significant differences between genders when swearing.
This might be a good way to start accepting our emotions and giving them space instead of pushing them down. And even though swearing has a bad reputation among some, it liberates your feelings, especially anger and frustration. Did you ever feel released when swearing after something annoying or bad happened? That liberating feeling of release is what lets your heart rate stay sane.
In the 2012 movie Premium Rush a bike delivery driver races through the noisy streets of New York. The movie poster advertised the action-packed story that includes corrupt police and human traffickers with the slogan Ride Like Hell. Walking through a big city today, one can find something similar: Food delivery drivers working for one of the large food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats.
These riders are obviously not criminals like Ride like Hell’s protagonist. But as The Times reported in 2016, the slogan Ride Like Hell may just be as fitting. Back then, UK Deliveroo riders received criticism for having dangerous driving styles and unsafe bikes. But why are they all in a hurry? And why are they allowed to work with unsafe equipment?
A Changing Business Model
When it was founded six years
ago, Deliveroo established itself as a student-friendly employer. They offer
flexible work hours that can ideally be determined by the riders themselves. The
first few years, riders received hourly wages, and extras for completed
More recently, Deliveroo riders have a down on their employer. But ‘employer’ might not even be the proper term. Deliveroo gradually cuts contract workers and instead employs freelancers. In the Netherlands this began in 2017. The new system forces riders to buy and manage their own equipment, to pay insurance for themselves, and to manage their paperwork. Furthermore, riders are having a harder time to collectively voice complaints or fight for better wages.
This year, a Dutch court ruled that Deliveroo’s ‘freelancers’ are to be considered employees. Deliveroo wants to appeal against the ruling, so as of now, the freelancer system is still intact. Riders have to pay for all their work-related expenses, get paid per completed delivery, and are in competition with other riders.
This competition comes from the
fact that riders with a good work statistic are more likely to receive the
working shifts they choose. This incentivizes riders to do as many deliveries
in as little time as possible. Ride Like
Hell comes back to mind.
Problems in Practice
The stress put on riders through
the freelancer system is visible. Last year, the
AD reported on a snackbar in The Hague that stopped working with Deliveroo.
The restaurant complained that the riders were rude to workers and customers as
they were only thinking in terms of “time is money”. Riders had repeatedly quit
the restaurant when finding out that they had to wait a few minutes for an
order to be completed. It was left to the snackbar to find a replacement for
the riders, and to get the food to the customer.
The riders’ behaviour makes sense
given the pay-per-delivery system. In their efforts to make as many deliveries
as possible, riders strategically adapt their behaviour. This is most visible
in city centres, or areas with many restaurants. Riders gather here as they are
most likely to receive new deliveries, being closer to the restaurants.
The changed behaviour of riders has created ‘grey areas’: zones where few restaurants are, and where for that reason few riders go. The above mentioned snackbar is among the disadvantaged, being located in one such area. This and the issues with riders were reasons enough for the owner to quit the service altogether. Nowadays they work with a dutch contractor who does their food deliveries.
For the purpose of privacy, the interviewees wish to keep anonymous and therefore their names have been changed.
Being an active hockey player, book lover and a dedicated student, Freya’s life completely changed when she became bed-ridden. She knew something was not quite right when the headache intensified and the tiredness took over her every day life.
Freya is now 22 years old, committed to studying at university and back on track to a ‘normal life’ despite the struggles experienced for numerous years. Her experiences with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome still continue to this day, yet the symptoms have subdued and she’s no longer bed-ridden. Some of the most prominent symptoms she continues to face are extreme tiredness, vulnerability to viruses, dizziness and migraines. Every day is different, some days she can’t get out of bed, other days she can. Due to this, she also has a reduced course load at university.
Freya was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2009. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) is an illness characterized by a wide range of symptoms. These can include muscle and joint pain, sleep abnormalities, increased vulnerability to the flu and viruses, severe headaches, cognitive dysfunction through brain fogs and impact on short-term memory. The most commonly felt symptom is the extreme fatigue; experienced not only post-exercise, but on a daily basis. The symptoms can range from mild to an extreme-bed-ridden state or worst case scenario, death. F
The severity of the illness varies per person and has the ability to change over time. Some may have the illness for less than a year, whereas others for a lifetime. There is no cure, the cause of the illness remains unknown and limited research is being conducted due to a lack of awareness and funding.
According to Fred Friedberg the president of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis International Association, Chronic Fatigue impacts millions of people around the world.
Yet, often people have never heard of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before. This means that sufferers often feel like their illness is invisible to outsiders.
What does the daily life of a sufferer look like?
Line of pills.
To combat a range of symptoms, different supplements including vitamins and/or medicine become normal to take on a daily basis.
Exposure to light, which could be as simple as opening the curtain to sunlight, can create or intensify headaches. This means that often rooms need to be kept dark.
Breakfast and supplements served in bed on a tray.
A Chronic Fatigue sufferer may be incapable of participating in daily activities such as sitting at the table to have meals.
Cognitive dysfunction can play itself out in the form of a ‘brain fog’. This is a period of time where thoughts go cloudy or memory is altered altogether. This can be especially difficult for students.
Sitting in a shower to avoid fainting.
Standing for prolonged periods of time can cause for light headedness and cause the sufferer to faint. Excessive periods of time spent in bed also causes for muscle weakness, making standing difficult at times.
How does it impact Freya?
Freya was lucky enough to have a group of friends who supported her, but it came with difficulties.
“Friends can think, you don’t want to hang out with me? No, its just that my body can’t handle this”
Freya’s parents were enormously supportive and made compromises to ensure the best circumstances for their daughter. Her father kept working whilst her mother became a full time carer.
“My mum couldn’t work and had the pressure to find out what was really going on.”
“My dad, he’s a real ‘take care of my family kind of guy’, so it was hard on him not to be able to do anything”
A Mother’s Perspective
Nicole explains how the impact of Chronic Fatigue
Syndrome spills over to the rest of the family in a variety of ways. Nicole was
unable to pursue work as she became a full-time carer for Freya, meanwhile her
husband had to keep working.
When Freya was bedridden, unable to eat or drink and could barely talk, they had a period of around ten months where they barely saw anybody. Nicole explained that “people around you don’t understand what’s going on… they just stay away.” This took a toll on Nicole’s social life and ability to do simple things with friends, such as grab a coffee. Nicole explained that “trying to organise a babysitter for a seventeen-year-old [wasn’t] exactly the easiest thing to do.”
If she were to be with friends, she would often place her phone on the table to be on call 24/7, just in case something were to spontaneously happen. Nicole mentioned that one friend would sometimes just come by with a home cooked meal and would just sit and listen, she said this helped a lot.
“People around you don’t understand what’s going on …
…they tend to just stay away”
At first, doctors told her that she may have post-viral fatigue, explaining “it’s like a cold, it will go away again”. Freya’s diagnosis came after six months of constant tiredness including a range of other things too, such as headache, a cold, flu-like symptoms and muscle and joint pain all over. However, symptoms continued to escalate, the headache never left and the fatigue became more extreme. Nicole began to realize the enormity of the problem once the doctor officially diagnosed Freya with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Her family doctor didn’t know how to treat her, so he sent her to a family paediatrician. The paediatrician looked at her lymph nodes, her thyroids and her blood levels, but didn’t know where to go further from there. Nicole explains that it was like witnessing someone end up in a “waste basket of cases, where you only end up in if the doctors don’t know what to do with you anymore.”
“[CFS is like a] waste basket of cases,
… where you only end up in if the doctors don’t know what to do with you anymore.”
The second paediatrician was specialized in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, well known and located in one of the biggest hospitals of the state. Whilst he was specialized in Chronic Fatigue, he took a simple approach to treating it through medication. A new type of medication was prescribed for every new symptom that would arise . This led to multiple different types of medications, leading to new side effects and little results. He concluded that it must’ve just been in her head as there was no other answer.
Is it psychological?
Nicole explains that a lot of the doctors simply told Freya it was depression, but seeing all the other symptoms, she just knew it went further than a mental illness. She explained that Freya was always willing to get out of her situation and whilst she did experience mental difficulties, it was simply unjust to label her situation as one it was not.
Nicole explainsthat one of the biggest misconceptions is that Chronic Fatigue sufferers are claimed to “put themselves in that position”. In a process of searching for answers, this was both dismissive and extremely damaging to not only the sufferer but the family as well.
Nicole was told by the paediatrician at some point that it was her own fault as a mother. With tears in her eyes, Nicole explained how painful it is to feel like you’re the culprit of your daughters illness. Not being able to give your daughter the answers she was after, was immensely difficult on the both of them.
This required Nicole to begin her own research, to look into alternative treatment and to dig deeper into the cause of the illness. Freya’s symptoms came directly after a HPV immunisation. However, considering the controversy surrounding vaccine side effects, doctors were hesitant to look into that as a reason.
Freya is not alone in her experiences of not being taken seriously. Chronic Fatigue patients often report not receiving the adequate treatment once they are diagnosed. A recentstudy conducted in the Georgetown University Medical Center, looked into the perceptions of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the Emergency Department, finding that two thirds of respondents reported that they wouldn’t go to an Emergency Department due to previous bad experiences or believing they wouldn’t be taken seriously. A high proportion of the 282 participants who took part in research conducted on Chronic Fatigue reported that they would often be told “its all in your head.”
Confirmed by Scientists and Medical Professionals
Whilst still limited, there has been more research conducted on the physical symptoms of the illness since Freya’s diagnosis. To name a few, according to the ME/CFS Research Summary by Jamie Seltzer, errors in cellular production, slowed metabolism, gut bacteria, changes in brain matter and a different gene function post-exercise have all been scientifically proven to be a result of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The search for a bacteria or virus that cause the illness has been unsuccessful. There are many theories, yet the direct causal link remains unknown.
How can you help?
Nicole particularly emphasizes the importance of bystanders in helping someone deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Spending all day in bed often gets lonely, therefore a sufferer often feels socially isolated. She stresses that it’s important for people to avoid judging and to “read about it and ask questions, just ask the person”.
When Freya was at school, kids would often tell her that they would be tired as well when they woke up in the morning, or they would question why she could sometimes show up at a party for less than an hour and not at school that day. The most important part of is to keep inviting someone to parties or social gatherings, this helps them feel less alone.
It’s extremely helpful to be open minded when they can’t make it or when they tell you today’s a bad day. The thought that they are not alone already closes a large gap between non-sufferers and sufferers.
helpful to be open minded when they can’t make it or when they tell you today’s
a bad day.”