Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Height ain't nothing but a number.

I move my step a little to the right. I still can’t see the instructor. So, I try moving it to the left. Still a no go. I’m in the back of the room. That is only half the problem. In any class I have taken since childhood I have gotten in the habit of being in the back of the room. Not because I don’t want to pay attention but as a way of being polite to the rest of the class. The norm is that if I’m in the front I’m blocking everyone’s view. In my belly dancing class in Kyrgyzstan I stood in the back of the room and over 30 bodies could still see myself in the mirror in the front, even if I couldn’t see the instructor.
It’s different in my new step aerobics class. Dutch/Fries people are tall! There are approximately 20 women in my class and I am only taller than two of them. And these two are Marshal Plan survivors! They didn’t get all their vitamins growing up. Also, they are currently in that stage of life where you are shrinking.

For the first time in my life I’m not tall. I’m not short either, I’m just average. I don’t tower over all other women. I have even gotten a slight crick in my neck while talking to some of the other women at the gym. On average Dutch people are the tallest in the world. The standards here are different.
While in Leiden visiting my British friend Sarah got touchy one night when I wouldn’t declare here to be tall. At 5’6 maybe 5’7ISH she wouldn’t be considered tall in the rest of the world. How could she expect me to tell she is tall here in The Netherlands. I ended up yielding on the fact that she was not short, but she defiantly wasn’t tall. She was average. I am a good 7 inches taller than here and somehow we are now both being declared average.

When we were in a jazz bar I commented on how some of these girls are just excessively tall. Sarah asked I was referring to a girl standing next to the bar. I looked over at her. Yeah, yeah… she is too tall! Sarah looked her up and down then looked at me. She informed me that she thought I might be taller than the woman. Holding my Heineken I slowly backed toward the woman and back to back with her. Sarah came over to judge the situation. She told me that I was in fact a good inch or two taller than the woman.
I was confused the woman seemed to tower over the crowd. Then I slowly realized that I was taller then they crowd. I noticed that even though we were in the back of the bar I could clearly see the performers in the front. How could this be? I’m not tall anymore, I’m average. I glanced over the crowded and the answer came to me. Most of the people in the bar were internationals. Students who had come to Leiden from all over the world. These weren’t local tallies, they were foreign shorties. For the rest of the night I relished in my resumed status as tall. I was able to reach over people to get another drink from the bar. I examined the musical instruments that hung high on the ceiling. I looked over peoples shoulders as they played trivial pursuit on a video game machine. I was tall! Then like Cinderella we left at midnight and went back out into the world where I was returned to my lowly status as average.

Windmills and Dirty Busses

When I was looking into places to spend this year I liked the idea of Europe. Europe seems so classic. It seems like the kind of place that classy people live in for a while. And after a year in Central Asia don’t I deserve a little class?
I did actually have a choice. On the same day I got offered the job here in The Netherlands I got offered a job in Belize. Belize, is a country in Central America that was set up by pirates. The Netherlands- has ships too.
I feel I’m not expressing the fact that I really do like it here. It’s nice and calm, neat and tidy, small and charming. I’m relaxed and after Peace Corps and Camp Shane I deserve not to feel stressed to my very core. I like taking long bike rides along the dykes. I watch the kite surfers, it is pretty expensive to do so I opt for watching rather that doing it(I admit I hope someday to save enough money to try it). I also like trying to learn Dutch, even though I rarely get the chance to use it. Everyone says they speak only a little English, yet they speak English as well I as I do.
I think there is something fundamentally wrong with me. I think I need to live in a place with an unstable government. I’m not talking Iraq level, but Myanmar is looking pretty fun right now. The Netherlands is the picture of stable. The hedges are all trimmed, the grass is all mowed, the windmills are a spinnin’.
Biking across the flat land that has been reclaimed from the sea, I imagine the dykes breaking and watching a big wave of water coming across the way.
Sick right?
I really do love it here.
It just feels too safe.
The Netherlands is like one giant suburb, and I swore I would never live in the suburbs. I check the papers regularly but there is no sign of global warming making the sea come over the dykes, just yet. Revolution… unlikely. Not, even a Madeleine McCann sighting in this country. Safe, peaceful, Dutch.
While sitting in my VW Station wagon waiting for the ship to pass and for them to lower the bridge I fantasize.
I think about being in a hot, overcrowded, dirty bus in some far off place with a unstable government, children with dirty hands begging for money that I must ignore, and old women who stare at me because without knowing it I have broken some cultural norm. Then the bridge comes down and I realize if right now I was sweating on that overcrowded bus with my shoulders curled into me, I would be fantasying about driving past beautiful old windmills and canals in my own spacious car.
Because when faced with danger I like to think of something that is unrealistically charming. When faced with charm I dream of struggle.
In a book I read recently they said everyone has a word that defines them. I think it is a nice idea to think mine would be sassy, compassionate, helpful, hopeful, humorous… you know something like that. For the first time in my life I feel content, yet somewhere in the recesses of my soul I’m not. So, my word my forever be… restless. If you have ever lived with me you know that is literal and figurative.


This is Lucas
We glare at each other from across the room. We both hold our breath. We are unflinching, time stands still as we both wait for the other one to make the first move.
This is a classic scene from movies. You don’t have to be some pale, film student wearing a black turtle next, and spending all your time at an art house to have seen a scene like this. It is the final meeting between good and evil, right and wrong, outlaw and sheriff. It can take places anywhere: a sandy lane in Arizona, a gritty street in New York, or even a roof top in Tokyo.
My scene takes place in the Blue Room of Rinia State(the house where I live, errrr live behind, is a national monument) in front of the toy cabinet.
He makes the elusive first move grabbing the fire truck. I make a sharp and quick second move pointing to the blocks, alligators, and cars on the floor.
“Lucas I swear…”
I trail off knowing if I say it in English he can pretend not to understand. I try in a mumbling clutter of Dutch words to tell him if he wants to play with new toys he needs to put the other ones away. It came out less coherent to him than if I had just said it in English. He looks at me, he looks at the red fire truck, and then to the other toys on the floor. He knows… he always knows. This isn’t new anymore.
Lucas is going through a few phases at once and they aren’t making him the most pleasant child to work with. He is going through a “know-it-all” phase, “I-hate-Carol” phase, and a “get-attention-all-costs” phase.
Little does he know, I have gone through all those phases. Hell I know I’m still in the first one and the last one I have been reluctantly growing out of for about seven years. So, lets just say I know the rules to these phases. Hell I may not have written very many of the rules, but I did come up with a bunch of amendments and some fabulous clauses.
Lucas isn’t a bad kid. A bit weird, maybe.. Okay…yes. But essentially he isn’t a bad kid. He is just going through some unpleasant phases for me. At least I hope they are phases. He has a hard time maintaining friends and he is in love with an eleven-year-old. He had several kids come over to play and they said they didn’t like playing with him because he didn’t have tractors. We got him tractors, yet I have not seen him and any other children play with them. He is small. He spends half of the week at one parents and half at the other. He has a speech impediment.
I just realized what I’m doing- making excuses for him. For his need to take his anger out on me. For why I clean up his mess after the fit. But come on! It’s not like I can say anything, I’m just the hired help.

1/2 off, full refund

I re-learned a lesson this past weekend. When traveling/living abroad if something seems to be going wrong or out of the ordinary- follow the lead of the locals.
I was down in Leiden this weekend-yes you are correct in assuming this is where Einstein studied and where the pilgrims lived. I was visiting my friend Sarah who is studying there, she’s a real Einstein(ba-da-dah!) My first night there we wanted a chill evening so we went to the Einstein CafĂ© and then to a movie. I finally saw the remake of Hairspray, this was a big for me since I am obsessed with the original. While standing in line to get our tickets some nice women behind us gave us a ½ coupon, which made the movie the cost it would have been if I had seen it in the States.
We were enjoying the movie when half way through the movie, mid-John Travolta line , the movie just stopped. I was outraged. I did the half-stand, half-sit move where I haven’t committed to full outrage or quiet seated outrage. Sarah pointed out that we only paid half price maybe we only get half a movie. I was checking our tickets to see if it said we only paid half price to see if I could get a full refund on the tickets. Then I noticed something- all the Dutch people were totally calm. They were getting up and going out calmly or sitting and talking calmly. Then they eventually came back with a fresh glass of wine or a new beer, calmly. I committed to sitting back in my seat at this point. After about 10 minutes the movie started back up. They do this for all movies so people can go and get a fresher drink. I’m glad I refrained from pulling the seat out of the bolts and hitting the manager while demanding a FULL refund. Instead I half showed I was foreign and half showed- I’m a quick learn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I promise you, that is annoying


That lil "song" is what is stuck in my head. Over and over it keeps going through my brain. I tried to explain to the 6 year old at breakfast how annoying it was and then to the two year old at lunch. I gave the 6 year old some slack because he doesn't know English. However, the 2 year old understands English and still wouldn't believe me that, that song is extremely annoying. The song plays at this very, no I don't think you can understand, VERY(!!!!!!) high pitched voice. It plays in a stuffed giraffe that bobs his head side to side with the music.
Logic and reason have not worked on these children. So, I'm just going to have to do the most grown-up thing after that.... I'm going to hide it while they're taking their naps.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Skinny

I'm going to have to stop cycling. It's doing bad things to my body. No, I'm not talking about my cut up leg and elbow, or my hurt back from my fall. I got the bike fixed-well almost. The gears won't shift, so I constantly have to ride in the highest gear.
All that is really not a problem compared to the fact that cycling everyday is making my legs... SKINNIER!!!!!!
OH GOD WHY?!!! NO!!!!!
Yep, everyday they are getting a little skinnier. I thought cyling would be good fo beefing up my legs some. I look at famous cyclists and they have nice beefy legs. I have to be the only person, other than my family memebers with the same infliction, who can not make their legs any bigger.
It's not that I want particularly huge legs, it's just I don't want to be what my old Chinese throwing coach said to me one day: "Carwal, you are sooo top heavy! I not sure how you stan on dose lil legs. I think wind come and knock you ova! ha.ha.ha!" I always figured it would be easier to beef up my legs by 15 pounds to maybe start evening them out with the rest of my body than it would be to lose a 100 pounds to match up with my legs. The only problem is if I lost 100 pounds some how I would lose 30 from each leg. Making my top and bottom half a still uneven match.
I would drive everywhere but gas is too darn expensive. Also, by bike I get to see things I would see by car. Last night coming back form the gym I took th long way home and got to go by a Llama farm. I was tempeted to throw my bike down and saddle one of them up and ride home.
Well, my butt has started to FINALLY get used to being on the skinny bike seat, my hands are becoming used to th grip of the handle bars, and to be honestly I'm getting in a lot better shape endurance wise. But skinny legs, come on!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My fleeting youth

This morning while I looked in the mirror and popped a zit(don't worry I already know your not suppose to do that, I just don't care) I saw IT! The first sign that my youth is on the way out. A GREY HAIR! What a cruel joke. Poping a zit, a sign of my extended adolesence, and a grey hair right in the front of my head, the sign that my youth is gone.
I'm trapped in ag limbo right now.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

flattening out

Since I have been in The Netherlands I have ridden my bike around 200 kilometers. Tomorrow I get a pedometer(is that what they are called?) so I can know for sure how far I am biking each day. There are plenty of bike paths all around here, which I throughly enjoy. Every once in a while, though, you end up having to ride on the narrow roads with cars. I was wondering why I hate riding on the road so much when all of a sudden it came to me.

It came in the form of my front tire being flat and as I leaned over to look at it a car went whizzing by. This promoted me to try and move a little more to the right which sent me off the road. When I tried to pull myself back onto th road the inner tubing of the front tire popped out. I went flying onto the road. I rolled over, and like something in a Will Smith movie, I had a low angle view of four motorcycles zooming my way. I grabbed the bike and rolled out of the way just in time. I imediately got the bike back up and start riding it. The bike was wobbling and I couldn't shift gears. Normally not being able to shift wouldn't be a big deal, but the only time you find inclines around here is to go on a bridge over a canal. I fell right before the bridge. I biked up it huffing and puffing, try to act totally natural.

As I got to the climax of the bridge I noticed that all the bikers that almost ran me over were parked and waiting for me. I looked straight forward. Refusing to make eye contact. They one by one asked if I was okay. While my elbow was dripping blood, my forehead was dripping sweat, my bike was wobbling, and my pride was shredded to an unrecognizable thread; I simply kept answering: YA,YA, YA!!!!!!! (yes, yes, YES!!!!!!) I biked as quickly to the falling action as I could.

I managed to make it 10 kms on the bike that way before it literally quit. The tire wouldn't budge. I ended up caring the bike for another 6 kilometers, yay for retard strength, before getting fed up with the looks and random shouts in Dutch. One farmer hollered, "YOU HAVE A FLAT TIRE!!!!," in English no question marks about it. I finally just chained the bike up to a small tree in someone's woods. I'm going back for it after I write this. Hopefully it is still there. I want to carry it the rest of the way in the dark.
Yeah, cuz that'll save my pride at this point.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Village

The village I live near is Oudemirdum. For those of you that don't speak Dutch that means, "Old...Mirdum" I don't know exactly what a Mirdum is, but three kilometers away is a New Mirdum. I'm don't know why they felt the need for a New Mirdum when I like the Old one better. You have to understand Oudemirdum is painfully charming.

Oudemirdum is a "The Village". When strolling down the quiet lanes of Oudemirdum you will go past: The Butcher, The Bakery, The Store, The School, The Flrist, and because it is The Netherlands- The Bike Shop. Of course there is no gas station anywhere in sight. There are even a couple of "/"s. The Restaurant/Hotle and The Pharamacy/Post Office. Makes sense, because who doesn't want to get hopped up on pain killers and then send out some postcards? In an agonizingly picturesqe village like this there can only be one break in the THE rule. There are two kerks, or churches in English. Same denomination but for whatever eason there are two of them. So, there is a Dutch Christian Reform across from The Bike Shop and one across from The School.

Sometimes while walking around the village at night I notice that there is one red light. I hav nevr seen The Prostitute or The Drug Dealer hanging out under it. It would be so ideally Dutch for this village not to need a whole Red Light District but simply a Red Light. I like to imagine them there, The Prostitute and The Drug Dealer, late at night. The Prostitute pulls out a slim cigarette from her purse, lights it and leans down to the window of The car to make The Deal with The John.

Here in The Netherlands The Prostitute and The Drug Dealer wouldn't be ruining The Country Chram of The Village, but simply embracing The National Pride in Dutch Liberalism.