Countdown to a wedding

Anyone who believes that it is not possible to organize a wedding in six weeks let me tell you it can be done. So whose wedding you might be asking. Mine! After four years together Michael and I have decided to tie the knot. We are fortunate that in the Netherlands it is possible for same sex couples to do so and be legally recognized as a married couple.

So why six weeks? Well my sister had booked a bicycle and barge tour from Amsterdam through to Ghent as a “work perk”. This is one of the tours that her travel company sells, and as we all know good product knowledge is the key to successful sales. Thus she has to sample the tours that are on offer. Once word got to Mum and Dad that Tali and I would be together in Amsterdam they jumped at the opportunity to have us all together for the 1st time since Dad’s 70th birthday in 2009. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. Michael and I were not sure when we would have both our families together again in the one city at the same time so over breakfast one morning decided…”let’s do it!”

The first task is to register at the local city office (stadsdeel) that we are getting married (ondertrouw or under marriage). This gives anyone 14 days to object to our impending nuptials. Apart from needing to being the required ID, copies of passports of our four witnesses and their addresses, it turned out that I needed to bring my birth certificate. So, on my bike back home I went to collect said certificate for presentation. Fortunately my South African certificate had an apostil to prove that it was a legitimate document. Without the apostil the wedding would have been off!

With trepidation we waited for any objections (although no one were expected) after which we moved into high speed booking a venue, sending out invitations, planning our party and buying outfits. With one week to go almost everything is in place, including my sister in The Netherlands.

So there you go, it is possible to organize a wedding in less than 6 weeks. When is the big day you ask? Saturday 14th April. In my next blog I will share with you how it all went!

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Another day on the ice

I know that it was only a week ago that I was waxing lyrical about the beauty of the Netherlands in winter. Well today it is the turn of Amsterdam. Finally I was able to find the time to once again strap on my skates and go for a glide through the canals of Amsterdam; well some of them. The weather is starting to warm up making the crossings under the bridges a little precarious, however it was still an amazing day.



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Let the Wintertime Fun Begin

Temperatures have plummeted around Europe including the low lands. Last week I was in Paris for work where the temps dropped to around -10. My journey home was interrupted by snow storms which stuck southern and mid Holland. My train got as far as Schiphol airport where we were off loaded and told to make our own way to Amsterdam. Whilst waiting I checked the arrivals board at the airport to see that Michael’s flight from Kiev had been cancelled – I guess a night at home alone. I managed to make my home to find Michael arriving at the front door as I stepped out of the taxi. It turned out his flight never left Amsterdam.

Despite living here for 10 years I am still amazed by how beautiful the country becomes when covered by a blanket of snow. It gives a sense of purity and cleanliness to the city. It is wonderful to hear that cracking and crunching sound of ice under your feet and the crisp sharpness in the air that you feel with every breath. However the best thing has to be the ice skating. Finally I have joined the throngs of locals and purchased a pair of Vikings (supposedly one the better brands). Below are a few pictures of Michael and I at the outdoor ijsbaan in Landsmeer.


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Ethiopian Adventure – a great start to 2012… or Christmas 2004

When we told friends and families, that we had decided to visit Ethiopia the general response was either one of excitement or a stern ‘why?’. Now before we begin I want you to vanquish all of the preconceptions you may have about Ethiopia that have probably developed as a result of images of drought or of a war ravaged nation sensationalized on CNN, BBC, ABC, NOS etc. Whilst the tragedy of these events is true, the reality of today is of a proud nation.

As with many of our long haul holidays the tension started days before we had even packed our bags as we watched the passenger bookings on our flight. As many of you know flying standby is very cheap, however there is always the risk that you may not get on board. Luckily for us severe storms north of The Netherlands meant that enough passengers missed their connections plus we were moved “up front”.

One of the first cultural differences we experienced in Ethiopia was that the Christmas tree was still up and decorated in the Hilton hotel lobby. Before we left Amsterdam Michael and I packed up our Christmas decorations and thoughtfully disposed of ou

r tree by the curbside and had ritually said goodbye to Christmas 2011. It turns out that being Christian Orthodox locals celebrate Christmas in January, however Ethiopia also uses a different calendar, Ge’ez calendar. To our surprise we arrived in Ethiopia the day before Christmas eve…2004 with New Years only in September. Whilst it was great to see the city somewhat decorated it did mean most attractions were closed and we ‘had’ to spend Christmas day by the pool! Finally a Christmas that reminds me of home. Despite this we did spend a day walking around the capital Addis Ababa.

After three relaxing days of African decadence it was time to strap on our adventure boots and head for Abba Minch south west from Addis. Our first night was spent just outside of Dorze at an altitude of over 2,000m. From our beehive shaped huts we were able to see deep into the valley and along lake Chamo. It certainly made for a great start to this part of the trip.  The following day we returned to Dorze for a quick tour of the village and some of the local homes. The beehive huts which we slept in the night before usually house at least 4 people, probably a cow or two and has space for cooking.

One of the things that any traveller to Ethiopia needs to prepare him or herself for is the constant bombardment of people wanting to have their photo taken for the price of between 1 and 5 birr (1 ETB = 0.04 EUR). In some parts of the country it is quite overwhelming being mobbed for a picture, a t-shirt, my shoes etc. If I had said yes to all the requests I would have been left penniless and naked! Although I don’t have a problem paying for pictures, the benefits of tourism need to flow far and wide across the country, it is a shame to see children behaving in such a way. A number of the local adults and guides are concerned with the endemic begging culture that has emerged. Let the debate begin on this topic. The other ‘call’ of Ethiopia is ‘highland, highland, highlaaaaand’. This is a brand of bottled water and the kids want to have the empties as they use them to carry their drinks.

Putting all that aside we started the 270km drive towards Tumi. Our first stop was the local market followed by joining a convey of 4WD, looking more like a UN convey, to watch the Jumping of the Bulls ceremony of the Harmer People. The most disturbing aspect of this ceremony is that the women who are related to the boys who are to jump the bulls entice the other men to whip them leaving scars across their backs. You will see from the photos that this was not a show just for the tourists. According to the guide books (and our male guide) scarification in women is a display of affection and seen as highly sensual by the men. I’ll let the pictures tell the story. To be honest I found the cultural aspect fascinating and at the same time disturbing.

Day 3 and we left Buska Lodge for Omoratta along bone shaking road. Our drive took us to the  Omo river which can only be crossed by dug out as the bridge collapsed, well we never could find out when. On the other side are the Dhasanech tribe. This nomadic tribe move along the river heading inland when the rains come and flood the region, hence their portable housing. Before we had time to say hello and ask questions to learn something about the people and culture we were descended upon by the village all wanting their photo taken. Price: 2 birr per adult per photo and 1birr for a child. What is a shame is the learnt behavior to pose for the camera hoping to entice a ferangi (foreigner) to click and pay the required fee. Whilst I appreciate the need to generate income, I find the whole experience a little distasteful and in a way sad. Enough on this topic….

In the afternoon we followed the non-existent road, well more like a riverbed, to Murulle and the Murulle Lodge. The lodge is set up for hunters; need I say more about the owners and guests! Instead we were camping and had Elisabeth Sunday as our neighbor who is an amazing photographer. You can access her blog site here. Nearby was a Karo village with some of the best views in Ethiopia overlooking the Omo River. This particular village was much more relaxed, friendly and welcoming. It seems that the villages less frequented by tourists are more opening and generally a pleasure to visit.

The next day we had an early start to travel back along the road/riverbed before heading to Jinka. Ethiopia is full of things that make you shake your head and just ask why. As an example there is new road is being constructed however not yet finished – again no one knows when it will be. In the meantime the graded surface is covered with stones preventing any through traffic, apart from the nomadic livestock and motorcycles.

Day 5 and we headed off to see the famous Mursi tribe where the women wear the lip plates to stretch their lower lip and have expanded earlobes. The stretched lips are seen as a sign of beauty and women are encouraged to wear the plates when serving their husbands meals and during special ceremonies – or when the tourists arrive. I must say that I felt uneasy with the way that the whole tourist industry is developing in Ethiopia. Visiting the villages is more an attraction than an interaction between people and cultures. Michael and I had to make quite an effort with our local guides to find out ‘about’ the people. In the afternoon we visited the Key Afa market where we bought a few souvenirs with the help of a very entrepreneurial young man. For those interested the going price for a bunch of onions in 5 birr, 50 birr for a chicken and 500 for a goat. Afterwards we visited the Ari village where I felt more like the pied piper with the wonderful children. This village was so relaxed and we really got to spend quality time with the families. Very few tourists make it to this area. It was only recently that they got used to having the photo taken by a digital camera. Normally they have a photo taken in town and 4 days later it is available. The first time they saw a digital camera and their picture shown immediately they were frightened by the whole experience. Today things are different and the people extremely welcoming, especially when you spend time to play with the children. One of the things that the children are fascinated by are hairy arms and legs. In almost every village that we visited the youngest of the kids would come up and start gently pulling at the hairs on my legs. The fact that I have no hair on my head was also a bit of a novelty.

All in all Ethiopia was a great experience. I would highly recommend it as a country to visit, explore and be enriched by. You can jump to a collection of photos from our trip here or a series ‘People of the Omo Valley‘ that Michael and I took..

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Taking the plunge for the third time

Going Dutch…. Again!

I would almost agree with you if you suggested that I was a gluten for punishment or just a slow learner – perhaps both. Tonight I am heading down to Den Bosch to spend a week at the Regina Coeli language training school. After trying a weekly classroom based course and a private teacher I am now going to see if I can make any progress on my Dutch with a week intensive total immersion programme. This school is supposed to be one of the best in Holland teaching a range of langauges. It is also where Maxima, the Argentinian Crown Princess went to learn her Dutch – although she did have the backing of the entire Royal Household and the prize of being Queen.

For me it is all about having made a bit of a mental shift regarding living in Holland. To be honest this is now home, and I’m not referring to just having the house and being here now for almost ten years. When I look at my friends, most are Dutch with many of the expats that I met when I first moved here having returned to their place of origin or taken a new assignment. More and more I’m taking a deeper level of interest in national affairs and the impact that these (will) have on Michael and I. Finally I will also be able to finally understand some of the Dutch psyche – however I am not sure even a week of intensive language will help with that.

I’ll pen a blog when a return from the cloisters (the school used to be a convent) and let you all know how I went.

Picture Overload

This afternoon Michael and I visited FOAM photographic museum and their “What’s Next?” exhibition on the future of photography. I won’t take you through the various questions posed and ideas purported but rather just one of the exhibits by Erik Kessels. In an age where the photo has been turned into a digital mass media; where is can be taken and then shared with friends all over the world in an instant; we are bombarded with so many new images each day. Many of these pictures never make it to print. Kessels downloaded and printed 24-hours worth of photos from feeds like Flickr and Facebook and filled one of the exhibition spaces with the hardcopies of what would normally fit on a small USB stick. If you look closely enough you may see one of your pictures.

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Food for the soul.

This week has been one that is good for the soul, not quite as good as chicken soup but a pretty good substitute.

Gone Bush with the Kids

Last week Michael was away in Nairobi for Bush Camp; a camping programme for kids who live in the slums in and around Nairobi. The children have all had pretty tough and sometimes violent lives. Some are orphan, others responsible for looking after their parents some of who are suffering with HIV, others with parents addicted to alcohol.

The camp is organized through the KLM crew charity Wings of Support and involved volunteer crew looking after about 35 kids over 4 days. The kids in Michael’s group were between 6 to 10 years old. During the camp the kids get the opportunity to head out on a safari to experience close up wildlife that is effectively roaming in their back yard; run around and cause havoc and basically just be kids. If the 500 photos that Michael took are any indication, he, Washington and Francis had a great time. I think he has caught the camp bug and will be back next year.

International Coming Out Day

Tuesday 11th October was International Coming Out Day. The aim of the day is to raise the awareness of the challenges Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people face in coming out. In the Netherlands the day was focused on supporting employees to come out in their workplaces which has been shown to be a positive action, both for the individuals as well as the company. The following might not seem like much however it has taken a few years however I was pretty proud of what we achieved. After a number of years trying we I finally succeeded in having Shell fly the pride flag outside our main offices here in the Netherlands as well as have the launch of a national poster campaign held at our Pernis refinery. See – persistence does pay off.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving 

I’m not sure Paul Kelly had Kiva in mind when he wrote these words. Kiva is organization which brings together lenders and borrowers through micro financing. For as little as USD25 you can make a loan to help someone somewhere in the world improve his or her life. The great thing is that through Kiva the loan gets repaid and you are able to lend that money to another person and so on. Rather than me explain how it works, go to the web site with your credit card and start making a difference today – really, what is $25.

My first three loans are to Ethel (Philippines), Mnatsakan (Ukraine) and Nancy in Ecuador.  Simple effective and gives you a good feeling – what more could you ask for?

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40 years and Still Going Strong

I was recently asked by a friend if I would publish a birthday blog. I suppose that after reaching forty I should at least take a few moments to pause and reflect. Like most of you, apart from those infatuated with my web site, it has been a while since I put fingers to keyboard and shared my thoughts and happenings. I guess Facebook has taken over from blogging with its ability for quick rapid fire postings. I never have worked out why others really need to know where I have checked in or what I am listening to at that moment nor see a photo of the food that I have just ordered.

So with that off my chest I can turn to the last few months since my last post.

The most impactful event was the death of my grandmother in late June. With the help of my amazing boyfriend, KLM standby rights and a flexible boss I was able to get from London, where I was for work, to Amsterdam and on to Johannesburg all the space of 2 days. I was fortunate to arrive in time to be with Marshie, my mother and grandfather as she passed away. Whilst a sad time, it was also wonderful to know that she was loved ones at such a time and in the care of amazing staff at the hospital. In the days that followed Mum and I traversed the city dealing with African bureaucracy and paper work. In the end we did prevail. It was heartening to receive so many emails and messages of support from friends and family, a testament to what an amazing women my grandmother was.

The Amsterdam summer this year has been less than wonderful. By all accounts it has been the wettest, coldest, dullest summer on record. We only pulled out the BBQ three times. However I am writing this on the 1st day of October sitting outside in shorts with a beer in hand – go figure. Whilst most friends joined the annual mass exodus for the sun we stayed at home this year apart from the occasional weekend get away. We did however spend a week in Spain with friends. I’d love to show you the photos however our camera was stolen from our hotel room. I guess we will just have to go back next year. Being the holiday planners that we are, well Michael is, we have booked trips to Ethiopia in January and an Atlantis cruise in August around the Mediterranean.

Speaking of leave, a small aside. In Australia if you have worked for the one employer for ten years you get 3 months paid long service leave, basically 3 months paid holiday. Apparently it is a carry over from the days when colonialists were given time to return to the mother country (UK) to visit friends and family. It was felt that this was appropriate to do every 10 years or so taking 3 months round trip by sea. What a wonderful institution. Now, although I am working in Holland my employment contract is still with Shell Australia, this after 15 years I have accrued 4.5 months leave plus what I had saved before I left Australia. I am looking forward to the 6 months paid leave at some stage.

A few weeks ago I was in Calgary, Canada for work. I can safely say that as a tourist the city is one of the most boring that I have come across. As the host of the 1988 winter Olympics I thought the would be more to this place. I was so wrong. I arrived at lunchtime on Saturday and by early evening had seen all there was to see in town. To avoid going stir crazy I hired a car and headed to the lovely Banff National Park. Below are a few pictures of my day out and the bloody big truck I was given by Avis. The park itself is beautiful and well worth another visit.


Whilst in Canada I made the most of the stronger Euro (that was then, this is now) and bought an iPad. Walking into the store can be best described as entering a Hillsong church service or any other cult gathering. Over the top does not begin to describe the atmosphere however I did walk out in one piece with a new iPad AND nothing else. Although I detest Apple’s business model I am starting to love their products. it is great for Michael when he travel and I am writing this blog on it with that beer slowly going empty. We haven’t quite hit iPad war status yet over ownership and access rights.

Well I guess I better get to the issue of turning 40 this year. I am not sure who is struggling more with this occasion; mum who now has a middle age son, Michael who has a boyfriend in that next age bracket on survey forms (and 6 years older) or me. It was great to have my parents in town the weekend before my birthday. We spent the days catching up, walking around the city and eating away the hours. It was a wonderful time. I have let the day slide by without a big party or celebration, rather a never-ending series of dinners and drinks with friends – makes it all last so much longer.

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