Ten Reasons to See “Hamilton” in London

by Danielle Tomich with Suzanne Vine

(Just for fun, I've included song lyrics in italics, followed by a link to listen to the song. Just a few listens, and you’ll likely be enticed to make your travel plans to London.)

 

You might be hoping "Hamilton" is all hype so you can save yourself a lot of time and money. Well, I’ve got bad news for you. It’s the real “duel.”

“I’m about to change your life.” (Helpless)

 

In the musical’s opening, the cast asks about Hamilton, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” (Alexander Hamilton) One might ask the same about the show’s creator, Lin Manuel Miranda: how does the son of Puerto Rican immigrant get celebrated by the White House, win a Tony for best musical, win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and create a box-office phenomenon that’s slated to play on Broadway and London’s West End indefinitely? Immigrants: We get the job done.” (Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down))

Only in America. Indeed, "Hamilton" is purely American, from the racial diversity of its cast to the music: hip-hop, rap, R&B, and soul. “We need a revolutionary language to describe a revolution,” Miranda said of his choice for musical genres. But there is truly something for every musical taste, including musical theater and classical and opera references.

You may remember from your history lessons that Hamilton — whose mug graces the 10-dollar bill — was killed in a duel. In "Hamilton," the number ten (Ten Duel Commandments) figures prominently.

In that spirit, here are ten reasons for those (especially Americans) who live in Amsterdam — or anywhere in Europe — to see "Hamilton" in London. It’s a splurge for many of us, but oh, what a splurge.

 

 

Number 1: It's"Awesome! Wow!” (What Comes Next?) In the above video, the man in the screen-in-screen is "Hamilton" creator Lin Manuel Miranda commenting about the show on opening night in London. 

 

 

Number 2: What a great excuse to go to London (as if you need one). “Look around! Look around!” (That Would Be Enough)

 

 

Number 3: If it’s good enough for Harry and Meghan, it’s good enough for you and me. The royal couple saw the show on August 29 of this year. Prince Harry is a direct descendant of King George III, his sixth-great-grandfather. To the delight of the audience, and with no shortage of irony, the Prince sang the first two words to a song sung by his on-stage ancestor: “You say the price of my love's not a price that you're willing to pay. You cry in your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by. Why so sad? Remember we made an arrangement when you went away. Now you're making me mad. Remember despite our estrangement, I'm your man.” (You’ll Be Back)

 

 

photo: Fortnum & Mason

Number 4: “Why should a tiny island across the sea regulate the price of tea?” (Farmer Refuted) If seeing King George on stage puts you in the mood for a proper cup of tea, there is no shortage of tea parlors in London. It’s true that the tea in Great Britain is better than in America. I’ve heard it said that the Britons send the tea swept from the floor to the U.S. Perhaps they are still upset over the spilled tea? At any rate, choose any of these tea rooms and treat yourself to a delightfully British tradition.

 

 

Number 5: For an American, there’s something delicious about seeing "Hamilton" in the land of King George. Hamilton was, of course, instrumental in the defeat of the British Army in the American Revolution and establishing a country that would eventually surpass England as a world power.

I heard a lot of American accents in the theater the night we went, and it made me curious how popular the play is with British people. There certainly were a lot of laughs when we heard the King sing, You’ll be back. Time will tell. You’ll remember that I served you well. Oceans rise. Empires fall. We have seen each other through it all. And when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love." (You’ll Be Back)

I later came across the above news entertainment segment about how a London audience would react to "Hamilton." It includes part of an interview with the stars of the British cast, above. They weren't too keen on the interviewer referring to the British as the losers.

 

 

Number 6: The recently renovated Victoria Palace Theater is a beautiful place to be “in the room where it happens.” (The Room Where it Happens)

 

 

Number 7: It couldn’t be easier to get there. When you pop up from the tube at Victoria, the theatre is just a few steps away. No parking hassles or fees, no long confusing walks. “Meet me inside.” (Meet Me Inside)

 

 

Number 8: You’ll save a bundle on tickets, compared to what you’d pay in New York. We got great seats in the orchestra section for £100. (In today's exchange rates, that's $128 or €112.) Official ticket prices range from £32.50 to £200. They only take British money, so sing a song of sixpence.” (Stay Alive)

 

 

Number 9: You can actually get tickets. At only three weeks before the show, we were able to get tickets to a matinee. “How can you say no to this?” (Say No To This)

There’s a ticket lottery, too. “I’m ‘a give it a chance.” (Satisfied)

 

Let's face it, we could all use a few extra Hamiltons in our pockets.

Number 10: Tickets are exchangeable and even refundable. “What the hell is the catch?” (Satisfied) The first time I searched, about three weeks before our trip, I could only find matinee tickets. I bought one for myself but would have rather purchased two evening tickets so I could go with my husband, who was working during the day. The website said that exchanges were possible starting 10 days before each performance, so at that time I got on the website and found two evening seats together, which I purchased. To my amazement, I was actually able to get a refund on my matinee ticket! (Hint: when you’re in the Ticketmaster website and want a refund, click on “Hamilton” in the drop-down menu that asks the reason for your request. That takes you to a special section where Ticketmaster treats people like human beings. Thanks, Hamilton. “At least he was honest with our money!” (The Reynolds Pamphlet

 

Hopefully, by now you’re thinking, Then, by all means, lead the way.” (Helpless). Still not convinced? In the words of Hamilton, “I will never understand you.” (Story of Tonight (Reprise))

"Your Obedient Servants," (Your Obedient Servant)

D dot Tom & S dot Vine

Thanksgiving Dinner in Amsterdam

Is Thanksgiving Fake News?

by Rhonda Jimenez

Before we start making our shopping list for the XL Albert Heijn to find canned pumpkin and frozen turkey, let’s take a moment to take a closer look at our beloved holiday and its origins.

Did the first Thanksgiving happen in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts?

Actually, the first Thanksgiving in America occurred in 1541. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his expedition held a celebration of thanks in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. Many cultures during that time celebrated the harvest with a community meal including Europeans and Native Americans.

Weren't the Pilgrims strict religious Puritans who came to the colonies to escape persecution from England?

Technically, they came from Leiden, the Netherlands. When the eventual colonists first wanted to leave the Church of England, the Dutch took them in. Back then, in England, you could be fined for attending unofficial, non-state churches. The leaders found that Amsterdam had a tolerance for their religion and provided a great opportunity for business. They later moved to the city of Leiden to take factory jobs that didn’t require knowledge of Dutch. After about 15 years, the settlers became concerned that their children were becoming too secular and feared the congregation would soon give in to the sinful vices of the Dutch. Plans to move to the New England area of the U.S. were made.

What about the Native Americans?

According to Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s tribal historic preservation officer, it didn’t happen the way Americans have traditionally been taught (fake news back in the 1800s?). There was a treaty made between the natives and pilgrims and there was a meal to celebrate that treaty. The natives, ravaged by disease, needed to make an alliance as much as the newcomers needed their help to live off the land. It was more business and survival than unity and peace. It was President Abraham Lincoln who declared the first official Thanksgiving during the Civil War. He “made up the story about a feast between opposing sides joined in unity and celebration of the harvest,” said Peters. Lincoln wanted to sew a separated country back together, and created a story to inspire that spirit of unity.

But there was turkey, right?

Another well-believed misconception. Most experts believe fowl, ducks, and deer were consumed, but not turkey. Much of the traditional food found on today’s Thanksgiving table originated from the cuisine of the 1800s when the holiday began to take hold.

A Farewell to Summer and Son

by Danielle Tomich

“Mama, hold ‘mine’ hand.” (We never did figure out where he got that “mine” instead of “my”— maybe it was a foreshadowing of our feeble attempts to speak Dutch.) But as a child, our son Nick asked this often, and I was always happy to hold his soft, dimpled hand. Now 21 and over six feet tall, he takes my hand in his big one as we sit in the backseat of an Uber, speeding to the airport. I try to remember the last time he wanted to hold my hand, and the tears flow even faster. Now we both need a hand to hold. Neither of us wants to say goodbye.

Nick is returning to the U.S. to start his senior year in college. He just spent his fourth — and final — summer with us in Amsterdam. This goodbye is especially painful because it’s the end of several eras, none of which we want to end: the last of his carefree student summers, our last summer in Europe, and indeed the last months of our time living here. I don’t want to say goodbye to any of this, and especially not to him.

Time insists on marching on, but today I wished for it to freeze — like I have so many times before. Every goodbye, every transition with our children has been heart-wrenching for me. Luckily for us, and in spite of my reluctance to let go, each new era has been as good (or better) than the last. But I cannot bank on that. I know that there are no guarantees in life. It’s scary and sad to let go of this very happy time in our lives.

I am grieving the loss of our son’s everyday presence and the end of his childhood. And yet I look to the future with hope. I miss that little boy, but I love the young man he is now. I even get to hold his hand now, it seems, on very special occasions. I will miss those sweet, slow summers with him (and our daughter, too), but I am excited for him to start his adult life. I look forward to seeing what our new experiences together will be.

Shakespeare said it best: Parting is such sweet sorrow. The memories we made this summer make it hard to say goodbye, but the sweetness we shared is worth the sorrow I feel now. Bittersweet.

My favorite memories don’t involve the museums, churches, or vistas that we’ve seen together. The best memories are of times at home in Amsterdam. Hanging out on our rooftop, listening to music for hours, challenging each other to “name that tune” and talking about the memories the music brings up. Making dinner together, Nick teaching us as much as we taught him. Walking along the endless canals, talking about nothing in particular, trying to absorb it all. Enjoying his pleasure in living in this beautiful, historical place. Mostly, I remember the easy feeling of being with him.

That’s what I need to remember now: that I love being with him no matter where we are and no matter what our circumstances. The eras will change, but we will essentially be the same people. When we meet again for Christmas in Seattle, after we move to Boston, and wherever any of us go after that, we will still be the same family.

And, as my friends ahead of me in the parenting journey have intimated, he may be back under our roof sooner than I expect. That, too, will be bittersweet. For now, I continue to search for — and savor — the sweet and tolerate the sorrow. I know Nick and I will always be close, and that’s the sweetest taste of all.

Even so, I could use a bit of dark chocolate about now. And a hand to hold.

Expat Friends Stay in Our Hearts

by Vera Heijligers, Owner, Vera's Expat Resettling Advice

 

“And then she knew: that you could become homesick for people, too.”  —Beau Taplin, "Homesick"

Here we go again. This is the time of year that we say goodbye to friends, places, houses and countries. For some, it’s just for the summer; for others, it’s more long-lasting and therefore more difficult.

Nowadays we can prepare for all kind of transitions — we research new places, we join Facebook groups, we go on look-and-see trips, we listen to everybody, we use social media and the internet extensively — but nothing can prepare us for the feeling of sadness when we have to leave these amazing friends we’ve made in such a short time. But (and this comes with a big “B”), as I always also told my kids when we left again: "If we wouldn’t have moved there in the first place, we wouldn’t have met them!" This kind of became my mantra over the years.

For me, the best thing in my 30-plus years of expat life is definitely the friends I’ve made, even if most of the time we end up living in different places. Expat friends become — much quicker than at home, in my opinion — the family you need in a new place.

It takes some effort, though, to maintain these friendships. We are quick to think, “Why is it always me who has to keep in touch?”

Just get over it. Grab your phone, send a quick Whatsapp and make a Skype date to catch up: it’s like going for lunch or coffee again! Making the effort is completely worth it. You experience different moments of your life with so many different people, and those are moments that only they may know about. That connection is what makes those short and sweet friendships so special.

A best friend may not talk to you every day. She might live in another city or a different time zone, but she’s the first one you call when something happens that’s really great or really hard! The distance becomes minuscule in those moments.

As for the “stayers," try not to get overwhelmed when friends leave. Remember, if it had not been for their moving, you would have never met! And keep your mind open to meet newcomers. You never know what next gem of a friend you might find.

So long, everybody, and may we meet again!

Fashion-Forward? Think Green.

by Marloes van Raamsdonk of Lena Library

According to an article in the Daily Mail from 2011, the average woman has 22 garments hanging in her wardrobe she has never worn. Does this stop us from shopping till we drop? Apparently not. Seventy percent of Dutch women buy something they never wear every month. But what about the clothes which are never even sold? 21.5 billion garments were manufactured in 2015 but never sold, resulting in 1.2 billion brand-new items being destroyed. Only 35% of our textile waste can be recycled. What happens to the other 65%? Well, a garbage truckload of clothes is dumped or burned every second. Shocking, right?

Why sustainable?

Nowadays, we can’t ignore the downside of fashion anymore. We’ve probably all read articles on the topic or saw an item on the news regarding the poor working conditions in sweatshops. While we proudly wear our latest outfit, on the other side of the world men, women and even young children work long hours for less than nothing. Is it really worth another person’s life to look good? Imagine your kid sewing buttons onto cute summer dresses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there: think about the environment. Research done by National Geographic shows it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, which is enough water for one person to drink for 2.5 years.

The infinite wardrobe.

At LENA we don’t want to make you feel bad about wearing or buying clothes. On the contrary, we would like to show you ways to enjoy fashion AND be sustainable. Borrowing clothes means endless experimenting with style, shapes, and colors: mix and match to the max. You will always have something new in your closet. Imagine, summer starts and all you have to do is returning your winter items to LENA without the need to store them at home. Let’s be honest, houses in Amsterdam are tiny compared to the U.S.: why waste space on clothes we don’t wear?

Dreaming of a green future.

We want to make a change. Our first priority is to create more awareness and to lengthen the lifecycle of clothes. But we won’t stop there, we believe in thinking big, and we want to change the system. We aim for a world without waste, a world without scarcity: a circular fashion system. LENA library is our first step towards a greener future, but eventually, we want to be the sustainable link between fashion brands and providers of raw material. Worn-out garments CAN be recycled into new quality products without using virgin resources. We want to make that happen.

Fashion-forward, according to LENA:

  • Wearing beautiful clothes in a conscious and sustainable way.
  • A wide range of choice without an enormous walk-in closet full of clothes we never wear.
  • The excitement of new garments without feeling the need to own them.
  • Say NO to fast fashion or bulging closets and still look AWESOME.
  • We believe ethics and aesthetics go hand-in-hand.

Meet the girl bosses.

Four business-savvy women — three sisters, and an "adopted sister" — are ready to change the world of fashion. Open minds and tons of creativity lead to this first fashion library of the Netherlands and three years later it’s still a success. Due to their background in the fashion industry, they know exactly what could be done better. LENA wants to make fashion fun for everyone involved.

LENA & you.

Do you have garments you no longer wear but don’t know what to do with? We would be very pleased if you would donate these items to our library. Your clothes deserve a new life: karma points, guaranteed. Any ideas on sustainable fashion, entrepreneurship or business opportunities for LENA? We are very much interested in your input, so pass by our store for a chat and a cup of coffee. Together we can do more!

Would you like to know more about us? Take a look at our website www.lena-library.com (sorry, Dutch only).

Commemorating the Past: Liberation Day in the Netherlands

by Jennifer van Lent

Bevrijdingsdag (or Liberation Day) in the Netherlands is a unique experience, in part because so many Dutch citizens still remember that day on May 5, 1945, when the Allied Army liberated their country from German occupation. Gatherings are held across the Netherlands beginning May 4 (called Dodenherdenking, or Remembrance of the Dead), with the entire country dedicating two minutes of silence at 8 p.m. to commemorate the brave soldiers and citizens who died in WWII, as well as in other conflicts and U.N. peace-keeping missions. The memorials continue May 5 with parades and concerts across the country.

It is still possible to hear stories from those who suffered the hardships during the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45 and to listen to Dutch resistance fighters tell harrowing tales about sabotage and escape. My husband's Uncle Frans will never forget the Canadian soldiers who drove through their North Holland village that day, passing out to the children "the best chocolate I ever tasted." King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima honor Dutch veterans in Dam Square on May 4th, laying a wreath at the National Monument. Allied veterans from the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia still return to the Netherlands to take part as honored guests in parades, concerts and other memorials. 

As the WWII "Greatest Generation" passes on, it is more important than ever to remember our recent past and to honor those who fought and died in the many wars and conflicts of the past 100 years. Here are some suggestions for how and where to celebrate our hard-earned, precious freedom.

Dodenherdenking, May 4: 

Amsterdam, Dam Square: the commemoration typically starts around 7 p.m. (look at the local news for exact times), with a concert and speeches. The 2 minutes of silence begins at 8 p.m.

Opijnen American Cemetery, May 4: Eight American WWII airmen from the 91st Bomb Squad lie forever in the American cemetery in Opijnen, in the east of the Netherlands. For over 70 years, the local village has honored their memory by maintaining their graves and, on May 4, commemorating their sacrifice. The memorial typically begins around 6.30 p.m. (our club typically has members who attend the ceremony, so reach out if you are interested). 

Willem Braam of the Het Gooi Bevrijd Committee and his wife, Marianne

Bevrijdingsdag, May 5:

Het Bevrijd Gooi: This unique event brings WWII veterans to t'Gooi with a three-day remembrance and celebration to honor those who fought in the Netherlands for the Allied Army. The highlight is a parade of WWII-era jeeps, motorcycles and military trucks that wind their way through 11 towns in t' Gooi. One of this year's honorees is a 93-year-old veteran who will be traveling from California to take part in the celebration.

Oorlogsmusuem (War Museum), Overloon and Liberty Park: This is one of my favorite museums and a wonderful place to learn about the Dutch history before and during WWII. One of the oldest dedicated to WWII, this interactive museum has several parts, including the Dutch War Museum and George C. Marshall Museum ("a living museum”) housing a huge collection of military equipment, including planes, tanks and ships).

Concerts:

There are various concerts throughout the area, including:

Amsterdam: the Liberation Day Concert on the Amstel River in front of the Carré Theater is the highlight of the Amsterdam celebrations. If you have a boat, get to the site early and enjoy the fabulous music!

Haarlem: Bevrijdingspop. This is a FREE daylong concert in the Haarlem Hout: very fun, activities for families and adults, and great music! Best to take a train to Haarlem and walk 15 minutes to the event location. You can't miss it — just follow the crowds!

More resources: https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/festivals/overview-music-festivals/liberation-day-amsterdam

Keukenhof: Tiptoe through the tulips, and daffodils, and hyacinths…

by Danielle Tomich

If you’re lucky enough to live in Holland, with the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in your back yard, you’d have to be some sort of April’s fool not to visit at some point during the season. Here’s some information to help you plan your own tiptoe trip.

What’s up, buttercup? Is it all just hype? No. Consistently listed among the most beautiful gardens in the world, the Keukenhof is a must-see for anyone who enjoys flowers, gardens or convening with nature. Granted, the gardeners leave little to nature: these lush, manicured gardens are artfully designed by people who know what they’re doing. Graced with dozens of varieties of hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips that bloom at different times, the garden changes throughout the season. In fact, it changes each year: At the end of the season all the bulbs are removed and the beds are replanted with different varieties and designs.

More than gardens. The garden naturally has beautiful ponds, bridges, and water features, but it also includes children’s play areas, a windmill, great views of the tulip fields, sculptures, boat rides through its small canals, places to eat and, of course, gift shops. An unexpected delight in 2016 was an area of garden pots and decorations done in Dutch tile mosaics. And don’t miss the flower shows in the pavilions. Not your ordinary state-fair fare, these flower-based art displays are professionally done with great care and creativity.

When to visit. The gardens are open daily March 22 to May 13 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Whenever possible, visit on a weekday, preferably mid-week, either first thing in the morning or toward closing time. Check the schedules for the flower shows (in the pavilions), as they may influence your choice of dates.

Early in the season, before most of the tulips have come up, a heavenly fragrance floats like a mist through the gardens: the hyacinths are in their prime. They bloom in violet, pink, blue, white and every hue in-between, and they are often mixed in a bed-bouquet with an equally astonishing array of daffodils and early-bird tulips. If you’re lucky, the cherry trees will be spreading their pink lace canopy. But perhaps the best reason to visit early is to avoid the massive crowds. In its 69th year, the garden is expecting one million visitors this season.

If you go later, you’ll see the most tulips, both in the gardens and in the fields viewable from the vista spots. Timing is tricky (from year-to-year the peak varies), but the last week of April is a good bet. You can check out what’s blooming weekly on the garden’s Facebook page; they update the bloom status every Wednesday.

Rain is a good possibility no matter when you plan to go, but keep in mind that the soft light on those cloudy days will make the colors pop in your photos.

Bike the fields. For a completely different experience, pedal around the fields on a bike from Rent-a-Bike van Dam, located in the parking lot of the gardens near the main entrance. From March 22 to May 13, they are open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Not surprisingly, the strategy for beating the bike rental crowd is the same as for the gardens: go mid-week, early or late in the day. Or, take your bike with you on the train. More information on biking near the Keukenhof can be found on european-traveler.com.

Getting there. There is no direct public transportation from Amsterdam to Keukenhof; shuttle buses run from Schiphol, Haarlem, and Leiden. Combination tickets for the bus and the garden are available on keukenhoff.nl. On peak days, such as Easter and weekends, get there very early to avoid long queues. Other public transport options can be found on tulipsinholland.com. Driving is convenient, but parking can also get very competitive during peak times, so get there early. A taxi will set you back about €100 (one-way) for up to four people. It wouldn’t be Holland if the most convenient and affordable option wasn’t to bike. It will take about 2 hours each way from Amsterdam, so consider taking your bike on the train and biking from Leiden or Haarlem. Parking your fiets at Keukenhof is free.

Beating the crowds. Skip-the-line tickets might be a good idea during peak times. They are available from websites such as Get Your Guide.

The final bloom: Bloemencorso (Flower Parade). The annual parade makes its flower-strewn way from Sassenheim to Haarlem twice: in an illuminated evening parade at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, April 20 in Noordwijkerhout and a day-long parade on Saturday, April 21 as the floats travel from Noordwijk and arrive in Haarlem at about 9:30 p.m. On Sunday, April 22, floats will be on view at the Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem. Tickets for grandstand seats and more information is available on the parade website.

Whichever way suits you and your family or visitors, just get to these world-class gardens. And don’t forget your camera!

Three Ways to Expand Your Literary Horizons


by Jennifer Van Lent

As the tulips and daffodils start to bloom, my thoughts turn to one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy, sunny afternoon: lounging in my garden with a good book. For those of you who would like to expand your reading list, participate in lively literary discussions or find a place to leisurely browse for a new read, here are three ways to expand your literary horizons:

Join one of the AWCA book groups (or start a new one): Our own club has three amazing groups for passionate book lovers. Groups meet monthly in both Amsterdam and Haarlem. 

As a member of the Haarlem Club, I am excited about reading our March selection: “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne. In January, we had an interactive Skype discussion with author and Congressional candidate Nadia Hashimi about her book, “The Pearl that Broke Its Shell.” The Haarlem group meets in the evening on the last Tuesday of each month. 

Amsterdam has two book groups: the afternoon group meets the second Thursday and the evening group meets the last Monday of each month. Both these groups are well-attended, and the afternoon group is so large that they had to start a waiting list. The time is ripe if you feel called to start another AWCA book group in Amsterdam! (Any of the book group leaders would be happy to mentor; see the links above to the individual book groups for contact information.)

Meet an Author at the American Book CenterAlthough Amazon and bol.com are great, inexpensive places to order hard-to-find books, I am old-fashioned and love to browse through bookstores. A longtime Amsterdam favorite is the American Book Center (a.k.a. ABC), which regularly hosts "meet the author" sessions (in English). On March 17, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of Amsterdam restaurants and join an interactive discussion (with tasty recipe samples!) hosted by culinary journalist Laura Graves presenting her new "Amsterdam Cookbook." And when shopping at ABC don't forget to show your AWCA membership card to receive your 10 percent discount! 

Become a JAI Member: The John Adams Institute (JAI) provides an independent podium for American culture in the Netherlands. For three decades, JAI has brought the best and the brightest of American thinking from the fields of literature, politics, history, technology and the arts. Recent speakers have included Jennifer Egan discussing her book “Manhattan Beach” and Jonathan Taplin speaking about his book “Move Fast and Break Things.” The JAI Book Club meets once a month. For details, many of our club members are JAI members, and you can also ask AWCA member and JAI Director Tracy Metz for more information.  

So, if you are starting to plan your summer reading list or would like to share your literary thoughts with like-minded book lovers, March is full of great opportunities to start your literary journey! 

Women’s Human Rights in Rwanda Revisited

Story and photo by Lauren Mescon, FAWCO rep

 

In 2014, the FAWCO HR Team sponsored the first Strength of a Woman tour to Rwanda to learn about advancements in women's human rights in the country. Team member Lauren Mescon recently visited Rwanda and shares her experiences. While Rwanda has unquestionably made significant strides under President Paul Kagame's leadership, some accuse him of suppression of human rights to quell opposition and remain in power, and many Rwandan women remain marginalized. This article does not seek to reconcile these conflicts but rather to simply share Lauren's observations from her visit.

I was reading "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch as I headed to Rwanda last summer. The book was written in the aftermath of the genocide, which occurred during 100 days in 1994 when it is estimated that more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. The causes of the genocide are complex, stemming from the colonial system and an unnatural categorization of people based on their looks. I visited Rwanda to see the gorillas, but arriving 23 years after the genocide and three days before the national election opened my eyes to issues that, as Westerners, we only glimpse as filtered by the media.

The experience was nothing short of remarkable.

After the U.S. elections, witnessing Rwanda's election made me think of the campaigns from when I was a child: red, white and blue banners flying, live speeches and people excited about the opportunity to vote for their favorite candidate — not resigned to voting for the person they least dislike. From the capital, Kigali, to the remotest village with a single community center, there were campaigns, and banners, and kids with fliers, and street, bike and barrel decorations, all for incumbent President Paul Kagame and his party. Many critics question the "landslide" win of Kagame, saying it was impossible. My observations and interaction with local people indicated that it was possible; they seem to have a leader who puts them first and whom they believe in.

Which takes me to why Kagame is there in the first place: most of us were distant sideliners to the Rwandan genocide. Even today when I mention my trip, I get incredulous looks and questions about a vacation in Rwanda. After WWII and the horrendous genocide perpetrated on the Jewish people by the Nazis, the UN created a formal genocide policy, including a definition of the term and a requirement that all participating countries treat genocide as an international crime and take steps to stop it. Despite this policy, the world literally stood by and watched, as within a matter of weeks, up to one million people were exterminated. The world's indifference led Rwanda to a leader, Paul Kagame, who believes that Africa must look after Africa. Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the military organization that ended the genocide. He closed "refugee" camps where génocidaires continued to perpetrate their crimes, led his country through the reconciliation process, and leads it in his third term as president.

While the UN International Criminal Court set up a tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania to try the ringleaders of the genocide, Kagame and the government decided to use Gacaca courts. These courts correspond to traditional, village-based courts, where village elders and their communities gather for problem solving. Following the Gacaca process, the genocide suspects were taken to the villages where they allegedly committed their crimes to be confronted directly by their accusers. The trials were overseen by local people respected for their integrity and were designed for both accountability and healing. As expected, there was criticism of this process, but, with a country entirely decimated, prisons overflowing and the urgency to move the country forward, these Gacaca courts tried two million people as compared to the UN's trial of 62.

Rwanda has also made big strides towards gender equality — almost 64% of parliamentarians are now women. Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution, requiring 30% of parliament to be women, which has enabled women in the country to make economic advances. A Ministry for Gender and Family Promotion, a gender monitoring office, a commitment to gender-based budgeting, and in recent years, a strong emphasis on fighting gender-based violence, have led to increased gender equity. Women now have the same rights to inherit land as men. Girls are equally as likely to attend school as boys, and there is a Girls Education Policy and Implementation Plan in place.

Everywhere we went we saw activity, from the largest cities to the smallest villages: women walking up the mountains, carrying babies on their backs and items on their heads; men and boys with bicycles loaded with sticks or plastic jugs of banana beer. The country is spotless. On the last Saturday morning of each month, everyone aged 18 to 65 participates in a clean-up day, called Umuganda (community work). Everyone must participate, even at the highest levels of government. Each community determines the needs to be addressed that day. Each month there is also a sports day when everyone runs or walks or bikes and ends up in the community center together. Critics from afar love to find fault, and Rwanda is no different. But I can tell you that I found it one of the most uplifting and hopeful experiences of my travels. The people were some of the most gracious, warm and enterprising I have ever met.

The sights and sounds of Rwanda are not to be missed. It’s a country I hope you will visit and support. It is a country that offers examples not only for Africa but for the world: lessons learned when the world closed its eyes to the genocide and the countries complicit in its perpetration; the swift process of justice employed by the country; conservation efforts in the mountains; community days; the burgeoning tourist trade and the feeling of hope that this country, with a majority population of women and children, emanates in everything it does. Rwanda is a country to visit for the genocide museum, the people, the mountains, the gorillas; a country to watch, as it has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa; a country to emulate when it comes to women and gender equality. The government seeks to transform Rwanda from a low-income, agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy with a middle-income status by 2020. My money is on them!

Beyond Germany: Five Must-Visit Christmas Markets 

Kleber Square, Strasbourg, France

by Jennifer van Lent

Everyone knows about the legendary German Christmas markets - glühwein and feuerzangenbowle, the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store, bratwurst and currywurst stalls. For my family, Christmas isn't the same without visiting Bonn, Cologne or one of the many German markets located within driving distance of the Amsterdam area.

However, over the years, we have started to travel further afield during the holiday season, and we have discovered some amazing locations outside of Germany which help us get into the holiday spirit. I hope you find inspiration for a future trip and enjoy the mini-tour of — drumroll, please— my top five places to visit during the Christmas season.

Step back in time in Matera, Italy  

Many of you might be asking, "what and where is Matera"? While Matera in Basilicata (and I'll add Lecce, in Puglia) aren't the first cities that spring to mind for a Christmas location, I have included this UNESCO World Heritage Site as a must-visit due to the incredible Living Nativity Matera Edition presentation in the ancient Sasso district of Matera. Hosted by the city of Matera during December, over 400 volunteers re-enact the Nativity story in a setting which evokes ancient Bethlehem. It is an amazing and surreal experience to walk through the sassi (stone houses) of the ancient city. Christmas markets are located around town and also in towns across the region (ie. Lecce in Puglia). My husband and I stayed at the wonderful Locanda di San Martino in the Sasso Barisano. You need at least four days to visit and explore this hidden treasure of Italy. The easiest way to get there is to fly to either Bari or Brindisi and rent a car to drive an hour to Matera. This is a Christmas experience you will never forget.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - and he's in Helsinki

Helsinki is an off-the-beaten-path location for traveling at Christmas. With various markets - including a big Christmas market - located throughout the city, it is the only place where I have actually visited an outdoor fur market. Which - if you think about it - is logical in Finland. Add snow and cold, beautiful harbors and majestic buildings which mirror the architecture of classic St Petersburg, Russia and you have a perfect December holiday destination. The bonus when I visited in December: I actually did meet Santa Claus as he and Mrs. Claus arrived at the airport and were greeted by local television crews. My favorite place to stay is the Hilton Helsinki Strand.

Fun for Kids: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

London is a great city to visit any time of year, but at Christmas, one highlight for children from two to 92 is Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. It has it all in one location: ice skating, an ice bar (adults only!), attractions, beer tents, a Christmas circus....the list goes on. Once you have tired of the Hyde Park crowds (yes, it is crowded!), there are 101 other Christmas markets and holiday activities to keep you busy in the City of Dickens.

It's better in Budapest

Budapest is one of the must-visit cities for millennials right now, and during the holiday season, you can see why it is top of the list. The Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square (the main square) has its own unique Hungarian feel - fabulous handmade items and local crafts, great holiday delicacies, concerts, light shows, performances and more. The city is decked with holiday charm, dining is amazing (and often surprisingly affordable) and - if you are lucky - you might be able to soak in one of the famous outdoor spas under falling snow. It is an easy weekend destination: my favorite hotel is the Boscolo Budapest, but you can find a host of locations at any price range.

Seasonal serenity in Strasbourg 

Strasbourg at Christmas is high on my "Christmas market x-factor" list for many reasons:

  • the markets continue to Dec 30 (German Christmas markets usually end on the 23rd);
  • It's an easy drive or train ride (via a connection in either Cologne or Paris); and
  • with Strasbourg hosting its first Christmas market in the 12th century, it is one of the oldest, ongoing Christmas market towns in Europe

....and of course, the food and wine are just SO great!

Explore over 300 chalets and 20+ markets across the city. Every year, there is a "guest country" market which highlights its unique holiday traditions: this year, the host country is Iceland. Our family loved staying at the funky, half-timbered Hotel de L'Europe.

Thanksgiving Turkeys in The Netherlands

by Jennifer van Lent
Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash

Haarlem area members have a secret for roasting the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Instead of the hassle of basting the turkey every hour, worrying whether it's ready to serve or has been roasting too long, ask your butcher (or in Dutch, "slager") to roast it for you! 

Many years ago, I stumbled upon (the hard way!) how to serve the perfect turkey. I was celebrating my first Thanksgiving in the Netherlands with family and friends and ordered a beautiful, free-range turkey from her local slager, Rob. When I arrived home with the bird, I discovered it was too big for my oven! So Slager Rob saved the day: he roasted the turkey, filled with my homemade stuffing, in his roaster at the butcher shop. The result was a beautiful, tasty turkey without any of the fuss. Since then, each year Slagerij Rob has roasted turkeys for my Thanksgiving dinner, and his business has expanded to other area members.

His English is great, and don't forget to mention you are an American celebrating Thanksgiving. After roasting perfect turkeys for so many years, Rob has a soft spot in his heart for our holiday! Slagerij Rob has been roasting Thanksgiving turkeys for Haarlem members for 17 years and has shops in Badhoevedorp and Zwanenburg (plus a large catering business). Ask for Rob when you call: 020 822 2911.