Archive for the ‘lil’P’ Category

dreams do come true (IV)

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

Lil’P was sometimes asked if he was a royalty member because of his long name. His five long names were always subject of smiles when filling in forms and people always asked which was the weird country where one could have such a long name. Asking if people really wanted his full name also raised eyebrows so there was no escape from it. But there were a lot more cultural differences, some more peculiar than others.

Something that got lil’P confuse right at start, was the cheek kissing. While he was used to give two, one in each face – something he believe to be a standard anywhere – Dutch gave three. At first, it didn’t seem to be a big problem, actually it was a good extra, but that cultural aspect was about to become more tricky than he initially thought.
Assuming that only Dutch had differences on the cheek kissing, was his first mistake. Although Italians gave two as lil’P, they start with the left cheek – something lil’P found to be awfully confusing and counterintuitive. Almost as confusing as the ones who only gave one kiss leaving lil’P floating on the atmosphere; probably the same feeling Dutch must have when waiting for a non-existing third kiss.
So, what to do? Well, if it was Netherlands, then everybody should give three, just like Dutch, that seemed like a good solution. There, problem solved! Or maybe not – then he found out that some German don’t kiss at all and may see it in a offensive way. Things got even worse when he realized that some French guys even tried to kiss other males on the cheek which made a lot of people uncomfortable. Actually, even within the same country people could act in different ways regarding cheek kissing, so lil’P ended up, like most people, trying to do his best on those initial seconds when knowing someone new, trying to evaluate their movements the best way he could and act accordingly. If things went wrong, it was a good quick-start subject of conversation anyway.

Living with a bunch of foreigners was one of the best parts of it all. Soon the kitchen became a international meeting point where people spent a big part of their time hanging around, knowing each other better. After everybody got over the fact of be living in a place with a name that most foreign couldn’t pronounce correctly – Oranjerivierdreef, people started assimilating the gastronomic differences – finding a common taste was a challenging task in the first days, but soon they started trying other things and having some good (and sometimes very bad) surprises. Lil’P kitchen skills weren’t that good but apparently his Portuguese typical way of cooking rice with fried onion seemed to surprise everybody which wasn’t very hard to do since most people confessed not to know how to cook edible rice without a rice cooker anyway.
Shopping was also sometimes tricky but there was always a German around to help avoiding later surprises like the classics meat&sugar or reinventing the sour-milk concept. Everybody seem to got addicted to the Dutch vla pretty quick as the kitchen fridge soon became a display of all the varieties: vanilla and chocolate seemed to be the most popular flavours, but caramel, stracciatella and tiramisu also had some fans.

But the kitchen wasn’t just a place to cook and hang around – it was also where everybody could show their artistic skills. The building was very old and nobody really care what happened to the walls, as long it didn’t offend anyone, so the kitchen walls soon turned into a canvas. Some more artistic than others, everybody had the chance to express themselves on the walls, in particular, everybody had fun adding items to the things we love and things we loathe about life lists.

(to be continued)

dreams do come true (III)

Wednesday, January 5th, 2005

It was August and all Europe was going through an extremely hot summer. Even so, from above, the country looked like it had a recent flooding – there was water all over it! The canals, the famous dutch canals, were everywhere, not allowing anyone to forget that a big part of the country was bellow sea level. Airport included. It’s name, Schiphol, meant ship hell (or ship hole) because 400 years ago, there was a bloody ship battle fought in the water above the airport region. And that’s where lil’P landed. In the airport, not the water.

Bikes, bikes, and… more bikes. Believe me, there isn’t enough bikes on this paragraph to describe how many bikes that bike country had on the bike paths, on bike parking lots and on bike shops. Specially on the bottom of the cities main canals.
Lil’P first contacts with the dutch bikes was not a very pacific thing. On the very first walks around, he quickly learned to pay more attention to his back while wondering on the streets: there were killer bikes on the loose, and any absent minded foreigner could easily turn into an hit-and-cycle victim. And the bikes were nothing like his old green bicycle that had two tiny wheels, being the front one, a even smaller wheel; the typical dutch bike was designed for the tallest people on the world, the dutch.
Everyone rode a bike. Everyone. Kids going to school, old ladies going shopping, mothers taken their children to the kindergarten, even the executive guy with suite and tie would ride a bike to go to work. How women drove their bikes with mini-skirts was a mistery to lil’P.
As it was the dominant mode of transportation, there were bike paths everywhere, and of course, bikes had their own stoplight signs where always growing swarms of bikers waited patently for the green. There was no way lil’P would wonder around on that country without a bike, so, he went shopping for one.

Technically, it was a female bike since it had no frame, but cycling it, was like driving a very thin harley due to it’s high steering fork. Didn’t had a bell, but had some nifty misterious breaks and gears hidden inside the axis that worked flawlessly. Fifty euros, the guy said. It seemed like a good price so lil’P took it. Driving the first ride home, was an adventure – after the first 100 meters, every pedal started to produce a loud crank noise that called everyone’s attention and every stop to fix it, only made it sound louder. Eventually, lil’P got home and after a few adjustments, that never annoyed him again. On the other hand, he found out that a bell was a very useful thing to have but he learned with the dutch that if yelled loud enough dling! dling! dling! it would have nearly the same effect and that way, he could avoid some crashes.

Lil’P was told that he should spend at least the same amount of money on locks as he would spend on the bike. And the reason was obvious around the city: right after the drug smuggling, there was the bike contraband. Anyone walking around the city center without a bike would quickly be approached by weird blokes wispering fiets koop, eh?. Sometimes, trying to sell the bikes they were riding, but usually, they just asked five minutes to get it.
One effective technique to prevent this, was to paint the bike in such horrible colors and patterns that no one would ever buy such a thing. Pretty effective, it seemed. Still, the locks were necessary. At least two of them. One for the main frame and another for the front wheel, to make sure the bike would still be complete when it was necessary.

(to be continued)

dreams do come true (II)

Sunday, December 12th, 2004

Her name was Katia. She was Italian and her portuguese was almost as bad as her english. When sometimes they ran out of reasonable ways to explain something, that was when strange analogies would come into play. That would either get the message through or make them laugh. Nonetheless, they managed to understand each other. One of lil’P first mistakes, was to tell her that is was very likely to keep raining for the next months. She wasn’t expecting that and it took the smile out of her face. But that was nothing, compared with her astonishment about the pastas served in the few italian restaurants she had found: ma che c’è? cosa è questo?. She wasn’t happy about that at all.
Lil’P was Katia’s erasmus mentor. He applied for being a mentor as soon as he first heard about it. He needed to have a close look on how was to be an erasmus student. To be on your own, away from the home country facing the daily problems, the joys, the spirit, the sacrifices. On his mind, someone on this condition ought to be crying for help. He couldn’t be more mistaken. Learning to face the problems alone was part of the erasmus package and it wasn’t a sacrifice at all – it was one of the main goals. Another good thing about being a mentor, was that he had the chance to get the answers to all sort of questions about the too far away countries that he couldn’t find anywhere else. It was more clear what different people really meant and that, was just too appealing to be ignored. Lil’P new dream was starting to form on his mind.
So one night, after an yoga class, he and C. sat down and chatted for two hours about her 9 month experience (no, she haven’t been pregnant, she had been an erasmus student). By the end, lil’P smile couldn’t be any bigger. He decided that night. He was going for it.
Plans started to go bigger and bigger. Picking the destiny was like picking an ice cream out of a menu of a brand you don’t know very well. Despite all of them being sweet, you still try to pick the one you think you’ll like the best, but you always end up with a big set of them anyway.
Lil’P needed a 2nd opinion about the ice creams so he started to contact students from his university that were or had been studying abroad and poke the good and the bads about it. Eventually he started to trim down his ice cream list and it was time for lil’P to take the hardest step: to tell his parents about his intentions. At first, his parents didn’t knew anything about it. Despite all the hurdles he had to face on his own, it was hard for him to tell them about his decision to go to a too far away country. Sure, it wasn’t really too far away. Sure, it was only for 6 months. And sure, it was very important to him. But it was way too expensive for them.
So, what was the solution? A trade-off. Lil’P sold some his stuff like his scooter, the one that eventually replaced his green bicycle and was parked most of the time anyway. He also pruned his ice cream list and he finally decided which was the most yummy one. A place where everybody would be at least 25cm taller than him, and whose main language he didn’t knew a word of. It was perfect.
The green light from lil’P parents arrived only after he received the results of his application, but that didn’t stop him in the meanwhile. Besides all the fuss with the academic and bureaucratic details there were like a million things to take care of being one of them to buy plane tickets. It would be lil’P first plane ride.
In the last night, he almost didn’t sleep. His mind was wired to a different voltage already and all he could think were the next 6 months. From the inside, a plane didn’t looked that much. Just like a big BUS with wings attached to it, he thought. The take off was very early in the morning and when the pilot delayed it, even until then, lil’P was afraid his dream wouldn’t come true. The pilot claimed it was foggy in the destination – for lil’P, that could very well be part of some secret plan to finally call everything off and forbid him to reach too far away countries.
A couple of hours later he said on the speakers they were allowed to take off. The big BUS finally started to move to the runway. The moment the engines got full trust that’s when lil’P understood that that was no big BUS after all and that there was no going back. He was flying to his dream. Next stop: Utrecht, The Netherlands.

(to be continued)

dreams do come true (I)

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

Once upon a time, in a kingdom not so far away, there was this little kid with dark eyes and pink cheeks called lil’P. Lil’P lived with his parents in a small village where everybody was grown up, so most of his time was spent playing alone with his lego sets and making complex plans to build huts from old sheets, blankets and wood sticks. By then, his dream was to have a swing in his backyard.
Lil’P was told that the world was a big big place with lots of other countries with different people. When he asked how one goes to those countries, he got told that they were too far away. Dazzled with such answer, lil’P made extensive mental calculations about how long would he had to travel to reach too far away. Traveling, in lil’P case, was measured in riding time in the fastest transportation device he owned, his green bicycle. Soon he came to the understanding that those other countries ought to be really too far away ‘coz he got pretty convinced that if he tried to cycle there, there wasn’t even the smallest chance of being back on time for supper.
His parents weren’t much of travelers, not even on their own country. So lil’P grew up under the shadow of the too far away countries curse. He got older, got into school and got to understand better a few things by then. He learned that, for instance, where the too far away countries were, what the grown ups meant with different people, and that Santa Claus didn’t exist.
He soon realized that computers were his life. Anything that he came across related to those mysterious boxes received extra attention from him, it was vital information that he absorbed instantly. Having a computer was his new dream – he never got the swing.
He did get the computer, though. And some years later he got something that would change his life: an internet connection. Lil’P – who wasn’t that little by then – was wired to the world. Above all, he got connected to all those countries that suddenly weren’t too far away anymore. His bedroom now had two windows – one looking into a vineyard and another upon the world. Sure, it wasn’t the same thing as actually going there but it was enough to make him spend most of his time enraptured in tons of information available on his fingertips. And besides, he had realized long time ago that his green bicycle wasn’t going to do the job.
The first love lil’P had was for a song lyric – perhaps due to such uncommon fondness, and unlike anyone on his family, he wanted to go to the university. There was just too much to learn out there and he needed a bigger bootstrap than his parents had planned for him.
And so he did. The subject of study was obvious to him by then and it wasn’t hard to pick a university either. Living outside his parents home did scare him a bit at the beginning but it was just too exciting to be a real problem.
Not long after he joined the university he heard about this european program that allowed students to do exchange periods at universities in too far away countries. It even offered mobility grants. It was too good to be true. Or so he thought for a while.

(to be continued)