Prayers of the capital

Irish Church. I light a candle, give the flame a good spot and sit down. Quietly, I don’t want to disturb.

Moved, that’s what I am. By this sacred space that I can relate to wherever I am in the world. And by the number of people coming in to make a prayer. Or maybe to express their gratitude. Or say sorry. Or even confess something. I pray for those who come for the latter as I think asking for forgiveness is unnecessary. Humanity is okay. 

A woman on her knees. Head down. It seems to take forever. The longest worship I have ever seen. It feels like a confession though. As if she is about to give up. I can almost feel her sadness and despair. Her negative energy towards her own deeds. For some reason I believe they were well intended.

Another woman, older, with click clack shoes. Greeting her known friends before she kneels and sits down. Is that a wig? Hmm. No! It’s beautiful, perfect for her.

A woman dressed in black, walking in with her Starbucks coffee and wrapped sandwich. I notice my judgements. Takes out her rosary and starts working her way through the beads. My judgements evaporate. She stands up, touches the altar, greets her friends too, kneels and leaves. With her Starbucks coffee and wrapped sandwich. 

A young man, younger than me. Kneels and sits. Takes his headphones off and his smartphone out. No messages? Puts it back in the pocket of his coat. Leans back when someone wants to pass. Why is he here? 

An older man. He was in before I got here. I can hear him breathing throughout my whole stay. I am getting curious and want to see where this noise is coming from. I turn my head to the side. He is asleep. Does he live on the streets of Dublin? Will he be woken up at some point?

The gathering of all sorts of people. The sound of generous coins in the offering box. The warmth of the candles and winter coats around me. The cold outside is fine to me when I can be in here, wrapped in the warm blanket of these people. The taste of silence. And the belief in faith. The belief that it’s good and helpful to be here and pray. Whatever prayer you have. I believe it’s a good thing. Here, right now, hidden in the middle of the bustling capital of Ireland.

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Humans of Moria

Tonight we will be reading books to the children in Moria, the camp that everyone knows from the horrible images on tv as ‘the prison’. I am with my colleague who stepped into glass while we were swimming with the woman’s group last week. She has not been able to walk nor work since then. She hobbles with her crutches and one arm in mine up the hill but she is happy anyway, she just really wants to do something for these people here and help out. Our stroll towards the family compound normally takes 5 minutes, but this time at least 15. Not only because she can’t walk fast, but mainly because we are held up by the refugees the whole time: What happened? You okay? Can we help? Shall I carry you?” Everyone is helpful and engaged. We look at each other and are surprised again over the amount of love thats hanging in this 38degrees air. The refugees spend their days in the heat, mostly staring purposeless across the barbed wire, waiting for news or a decision about their future. Most of them have been here for months without any news. The situation makes them desperate, those are stories that we hear everyday. But not today. Today everyone is doing whatever they can to help my colleague getting around.  There is even a volleybal area, just created, and there are 21 guys playing, and one woman dressed in a hijab. Girl power. We smile towards each other. Small things, big effect. When we get up the hill at our destination, we hang our bags on the barbed wire. It is weird but it starts to become normal as if we have never done anything else before. During the reading session, which is led by Afghani mothers, we both really enjoy what’s happening. The mothers read in Farsi to all the children who are sitting on a blanket on the floor, listening silently. This is what we aim for: facilitate that the refugees run their own educational and social support projects. It works a thousand times better than anything else and is much more sustainable. The women feel empowered and useful and of course, they can do this way better than we can! My colleague looks at me and smiles a smile filled with gratefulness. Sometimes it’s possible to forget the bizarre situation we are in and for a few seconds it is just really really really nice to be here.

Humans of Afghanistan

“We want to talk about colors!”, says one of the Afghan beauties. The whole group agrees. Well, let’s do that! The Afghan ‘woman’s group’ is a support group for young woman who join twice weekly and want to find support and relaxation. The goal is that they run the group themselves as much as possible. We are only there to facilitate. But tonight they have asked me to give some input. I give them a little class on ‘color psychology’ and ask them for the meaning of colors in their opinion. Our answers are quite similar. After I have explained the meaning of a few colors as simple as possible and we have written it down in both English and Farsi, I ask them which color has been most represented in their lives up until now. The answer “black” (the unknown, secrets”) is mentioned way too often in my opinion. Luckily a few of them answer “pink” (love, girly-ness) as well and explain that they feel loved by their families. So nice to hear. The next question is of which color they would to like to have more of in their lives. The answer is almost unanimous “blue” (peace and trust!) and “pink”. All of a sudden I feel really connected to them. I guess that’s why I came here in the first place – to give them a little of this because I feel like we should, can and need to do this together. I hand out a feather to each one of them in the color they wish for and ask them to hold it with both hands and close their eyes. We do a little wish-exercise in which they focus on the quality of the color and how to receive more of this in their lives. While they have closed their eyes, I look around the circle. There they are, the women full of talents and positivity, who came here with a longing for a safer life in freedom, but got stuck here at a camp where they should not have stayed for longer than 3 days in the first place.. They all are so special. I feel the tears burning behind my eyes. How much I wish I could take all of them with me back to Holland. All of a sudden my wish is more blue than ever. There is only one way to finish this exercise. Turn on the music, take off the hijabs and dance. Cause if there is one thing than unifies and relaxes, it’s music and dance. With a huge smile I say goodbye to these brave women. If they don’t get there and make it, I don’t know who will.

Humans of Iraq

A 20-year old boy walks up to our medical cabin. We have not seen his face before. He is here for a friend, who needs to see the doctor but doesn’t speak any English. He does speak English and wants to translate. He introduces himself as Fridoon and after the visit to the doctor he asks us if there is any psychological help available. As much as I as a psychologist wish to say yes to his request, we can’t since we are not allowed to provide any psychological care at this camp site. When I ask him if he is interested in translating for us for Afghani patients who only speak Farsi, he responds with enthusiasm. The next day he shows up right away. He appears to be an excellent help for us and all Farsi speakers that visit our doctors. We get to know him better and better over the week. He tells us about his trip to Europe that has taken him 6 months time. About the jobs he has done during his trip so he could stay alive but where he never got paid for. About the money he has lost on smugglers that made false promises about a crossing. About the severe physical torturing by smugglers as soon as he and others would speak their own language. And about the nerve-wrecking crossing two weeks ago and about the 4 people who fell overboard and drowned. These are all stories we hear more often here. But Fridoon also tells me something that I haven’t heard before. “My journey was horrible, so much inequality, discrimination, conflicts. But at that moment that we stepped on board of that boat with 40 people, we were one, despite our different nationalities, cultures and religion. We all had the same goal, getting to the other side alive. I felt warm, warmer than I had felt at any time during my journey before. We did it together, as one big family. It gave me hope for the future of this world.” And this is how the horrible stories can teach us something and give us hope too. There are so many refugees like Fridoon. Their stories are worse than we can actually take in from our safe harbors in the west. Let’s try to solve this together too. We ARE one.

Puzzled

Today I am making puzzles with a few teenage boys. De puzzles are meant for 4-year-olds but it doesn’t seem to matter for these boys, not even for the teenagers. They really enjoy creating this Lion King puzzle, whether they are trying to be cool or not. My new friend William comes and sits next to me. He is from Cameroon, speaks a few words French and is a beautiful sweet little child. We guess he is about 8 years old and wants to make the puzzle too. I give him the pieces. He picks up a few pieces, stares at them for a while and then decides to shove them to the side. All he does is gaze at the picture at the front of the puzzle box. I realize he doesn’t understand what to do with the pieces and maybe he even has never made a puzzle in his life before. I wonder what his life has been like before arriving here by boat in the middle of the night. Has he been to school at all? He points at the animals on the picture and his face lights up when I start roaring like Simba does. His little sister Bena is 2 years old. She is the cutest toddler I have ever seen, but we can all see she is struggling a lot. She can’t interact with others normally and keeps on hitting the other children and taking away their toys. And of course, therefore others don’t want to play with her. With us she is very clingy and she starts crying as soon as we focus our attention on another kid. She just wants to be held all day long and stay with us. When her mum comes in to pick her up, she jumps excited into her mothers’ arms. But her mother does not respond, nor hold her. My heart breaks when I realize that this mother can’t give her baby what she needs. She is probable exhausted and jaded from everything she had to go through to get here with her children. And still she has no idea how life will unfold for her and her two children in the next couple of years. Everything is unclear when you are stuck in Lesbos and your life has been put ‘on hold’. I am more then sure she too wishes it all would have worked out differently…

An offering to the Summer Youth Retreat

This personal piece was offered at the banquet of the Summer Youth Retreat, July 23th 2016, Dechen Chöling, France.

Ready for some serious self-therapy? Try living and working in a Buddhist community and staffing a Meditation Retreat. Success guaranteed.
Life throws lemons at you when you are ready to eat them, right? After working and studying intensively this fall, I felt it was time to move out of my flat in Amsterdam and leave my country homeless for some serious relaxation and exploration. Volunteering in Dechen Choling, Shambhalas main European Meditation Center in the sunny south of France, sounded sound to me as the start of my experimental journey. I saw a short description on their website with something about breaking habitual patterns and jade jade jade but why would I read that, I was more than sure that I was way beyond that station. I didn’t want to think about how it would be so that I couldn’t fall for too many expectations. I just went. My friends had more questions than I did. That could have woken me up from my ego trip but it didn’t.

I arrived in ‘the land of great bliss’ and it felt immediately like being on a honeymoon. The people in the community were SO lovely, kind and calm and it seemed like we were all there for similar reasons – a little fed up with the extreme longings of our western society and ready to become better persons to make a change in the world. Eating our delicious nourishing meals together, three times a day, on the sunny porch of a beautiful chateau, talking about life and it’s meaning, and my favorite topic of all: love. It also felt like this was a space to linger together for hours and hours. Besides all the time to relax, working in landscape felt great too. Dirty fingers, connecting with nature, learning new skills and pruning everything that needed space felt invigorating. At the same time I was pruning and weeding shit out of my own system and life too. It felt so amazing. And of course, meditating together for two hours a day and finding the GAP again and learning more and more about my favorite study: Shambhala Buddhism. My heart had opened straight away and I was falling in love with several of my new family members immediately. I sure had arrived in the land of great bliss and felt so at home that I felt like I wanted to stay forever.

But then the taste of my juice got sour. The universe, or should I say the dralas, decided to start throwing those lemons. It was like the reflection button in my mind had switched on and the off button was gone. Everything moment, every second, every activity, every interaction and every word I said was guided by a little voice in my head that showed me my soicent mille quatre neuf habitual patterns: “I always do this”. Whether it was being impatient with others, unrealistically goal oriented with myself, not feeling my boundaries, seeing everything as a competition, being needy for acknowledgement, looking for comfort and intimacy to avoid my own problems or very often being annoyed by others because they didn’t do what I thought they should be doing.. It didn’t matter. ALL of my patterns were there. Apparently these were no outside world problems. These were mine. And I had taken all of them with me to the land of great bliss. Who was I to think that I did not have any patterns that stood in the way anymore? Who was I to believe that I was better or further on the path than anyone else? It felt like my ego had hooked me and it was time to go for the only right solution – to drink the damn lemon juice. 

The sips were so sour that they made me cry. A lot. I needed time to be able to process it all and I spent hours on top of a broken tree that felt a little like me and that was willing to absorb all my tears and my sadness. I felt so many sensations in my body, mainly the ones that come with loneliness: emptiness. I felt small and alone. And I was. This was something I had to do by myself, even though my body was craving for someone else, preferably naked 😉 to hold me and solve all the problems that my mind had created by itself. I realized why I would always fall in love and took refuge in others when being on retreats and lived in bubbles in the past. I was never willing to go through these nasty feelings of emptiness alone and I was never willing to swallow the sour juice before either. But this time I was not going to spit it out. I was so thirsty and I was going to drink the whole damn glass of juice. 
By the time the Summer Youth Retreat had started, it felt like the glass was almost empty. I felt proud of myself and didn’t see my ego had apparently found a new way to mislead me. Obviously I wasn’t finished. It all started again, from the beginning with new and fresh patterns. Hah. This time, the FOMO pattern, my fear of missing out was a huge one. How could I take time off for myself if I wanted to be part of the group? I struggled a lot with my staff position too and became aware of unwanted narcissistic thoughts that maybe the retreat would be better off if I would have been in charge… My god, Ego, excuse me??? Could it not shut up, if only for half a day?? And another pushy pattern: how could I make sure that the teacher, MI’s and coordinators would think of me as the best staff member they’d ever had? Oh boy. There was not enough time to make it all happen! It was out of control. I was out of control and I hated it. Wasn’t I the flexible easy-going independent woman who I thought I was anymore? It all seemed so difficult all of a sudden and I felt tested so many times. This wasn’t lemon juice, this was a full on lemon attack. In my face. And I could not hide. There simply was nowhere to go.

Yesterday I managed to sit on the floor of my tent for three hours. I could not get up and had to give up and be honest. I had to say it out loud: I am struggling. I am tired. I need help. And I don’t know. Four sentences that had always embarrassed me in the past. I wanted to be stronger than that. Thank God I realized I was actually much stronger by admitting this. It was not easy but it did pay off. I was being honest. With myself and others. A big win. 

It created a GAP. One that was open for so many sensory sensations.  For LIFE. For you. For amazing experiences which I otherwise would have never been able to feel. (…) (If you have been to the retreat and you would like to have a copy of the highlights I shared with you, please contact me).

Leaving the retreat and Dechen Choling now makes me feel weird. I feel like I have been here for at least three years instead of three weeks. As if the learning curve was beyond vertical. I am ready to leave but I feel that all these experiences and these sensations deserve so much more time and attention then they did. I feel like everyone in this room deserves more time than I could give. All you beauties that came to this retreat, everyone with their own stories but all with similar intentions – finding space. It is amazing not to walk this lonesome path alone and I am so glad I had the chance to spend a week around you. 

Orhun, Mederic and beautiful Jessy, thank you for creating and holding the space. I can’t wait to have more lemon juice together with you in our future. 

Deep dark brown

Her eyes catch mine. Deep dark brown. In this moment it seems like I can see everything that her beautiful eyes have witnessed. Not beautiful. Probably horrible devastating frightful. Human beings at it’s most inhuman. Not to speak of the sounds. Or the feelings that came with it. Her eyes keep tracking mine. This little warrior seems to be looking for a yes. I wake up from the moment and hurry up with my nod, with a smile. She immediately crawls over the table on top of my lap and makes herself at home. Cuddling, joking, laughing, reading and speaking a few words of her newly acquired language. She sits here for over an hour and doesn’t leave until I really have to leave. Why does this hurt a little?

Next week. All children seem to have gone on a day-trip. I notice my own disappointment when I make my way out of the shelter. “This is selfish Anne”, I tell myself. “They are on a day trip, good for them”. My thoughts are not so kind today, at least not towards myself. I walk outside, feel the Dutch wind stroking the pores on my arm while I make my way back to my bike. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps and cackling coming from the soccer court. I turn my head and see two hands waving at me. Deep dark brown eyes. Two pairs this time. It’s her again, with her older sister.

“Book! You! Me!”. I nod happily and my whole being radiates my smile. Without any hesitation I drop my stuff on the courtyard and start playing. We run, laugh, giggle, score and let go of the ball. And I let get of my schedule. She points at her coat-less body and tells me to take of mine. I guess I am staying. Her fingers point at my bag full of books. We sit down on the courtyard, all three of us. She immediately crawls on my lap again and we go over the books together. I take out her favorite book from last week and she looks at me with joy. We try to read words and I give them search-assignments. Her older sister takes care of her the whole time – she definitely is the most supportive big sister a little sister could ever imagine. I observe how I am moved by the love they seem to share. Have they always been this kind towards each other? What were they like before they got on that boat?

We are the only ones outside today. The sun is on our face and it warms my whole being. Or is it them? I can’t stop staring at these two beautiful little beings. Little? No. They are so big in their kindness and compassion. In their resilience. In their love. In their curiosity and openness. They represent everything that we still need to learn.

My little warrior turns around as if she feels I am watching her with a smile full of admiration and delight. She smiles back and puts her little arms around my neck and pulls me towards her. Safe and sound. Finally. The world breaks open. Filled with hope for a better future for all of us.

Climbing to the top of the world

3:40 o’clock AM. “Wake up guys, time to climb up!”. Have I slept at all? No, probably not. But I am gonna rock this last leg of my trip. I am getting up.

I had the chance to postpone a possible highlight till the end of the trip: climbing the 3976m high volcano Acatenango. It’s nog only about this volcano, it’s more about its neighbour: Fuego, the active one. So on the previous morning, I find myself in a bus full of fit people, everyone is excited. When we drive towards the start of Acatenango, we can see Fuego erupt big time. Even the guide is overwhelmed and tells me that this is highly unusual. We might not even be able to make our way up, since massive eruptions like these are dangerous. Even though I am confident again after Nepal, I don’t want to end up in the middle of another natural disaster! But let’s just see how it goes. Cause everything changes always.

The first two hours are said to be the worst. I think I already agree after 5 minutes. It’s damn steep and everyone keeps on sliding away in the volcanic sand. The rented backpack they gave me is broken so it doesn’t fit properly and the winter coat that came with it is too small. Above of my own weight, the sleeping bag and matrass are dangling on my back too. Am I doing this? Yes I am. We reach the first stop and have to sign a paper to declare that it’s our own responsibility if Fuego’s eruptions get worse and we will be harmed. I ask the guide how big the chances are. He is easy about it and says that if the wind changes, we just have to come down as soon as we can. Okay, let’s do this.

It takes 5 hours on a tough trek in a beautiful surrounding. The sun is out, the rest of the group seems nice and I am eating my snickers bars again.

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What else could I wish for? Well, a horse maybe, to ride on. My god this is tough. It’s cold and steep. Two girls in the group have given their backpacks to the guides because they couldn’t carry it anymore. To me, that feels like failing and I just try to keep on breathing. It works. Everything is temporary, even this exhaustion.

Around 6PM we finally reach Base Camp. We set up our tents, make a fire and cook are cup noodles. The full moon comes up above the clouds on the left side of our view and the stars shine bright above us while Fuego keeps on coughing up bright red lava from the inside of our planet on the right side of our panorama. It’s smoke is black and looks like giant mushrooms.

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The total view is incredible and I can’t pick where my gaze is going. We burn marshmallows, take sips from the bottle of Guatemalan rum, sing songs and keep on “wow-ing” about Fuego’s eruptions. It is so insane and so unreal to be here and to see all of this. Life is just perfect and I keep on pinching myself. This is why I travel. This is living life to its fullest and I love every bit of it.

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Later on we try to catch some sleep in our tents, I share one with six guys. I really can’t sleep, I am extremely cold and still trying to take in all the beauty that I have seen tonight. It’s just all so amazing!

The next morning, only half of the group gets up at 3:40AM to go up to the summit to see sunrise. The guide told us last night that girls usually don’t go up. Well, screw that. I can do this. There is one other girl that is brave enough and I am grateful that I am not the only one! I am in the back of the group constantly, to be honest, I am the last one, but I have agreed with myself that I’ve won this competition already anyway. It’s dark, the trail is even steeper than yesterday and I keep on falling down, trying to crawl my way up. I have to take a break every two meters since it is so exhausting at this height. I keep on telling myself that with every step I take, I leave something behind that I don’t want to take home with me. But I find it hard. It’s not that I want to quit, it’s just that I want this hard struggle between my feet and the volcanic sand to be over.

And then, almost at the end, the first few rays of sun make their way through the clouds and I can see the top.

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For some reason, the sun seems to be my saviour, and I make my way to the top while I hear the guide shouting at me from above: “Anna, you are almost there!”. And I am. I take the last steps with pride, a shitload of pride. I can’t believe I have made it. The guys high-five me and I feel like the queen of the world. I am super proud of myself and extremely happy and excited. The smile on my face is big and bright and I can’t stop laughing and yelling.

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The view is stunning. The clouds and the sun make a perfect painting together with the several volcanos we can see from here, including the still erupting Fuego.

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It is perfect, just perfect. More than perfect. I let the sun warm my frozen body and I just sit here for a while, still with that huge smile across my face. I am so proud. So thankful.

I have made it. Not only to the top of this volcano but also across 6 amazing, challenging, unique, interesting and tiring months. It’s been truly inspiring and I have loved every minute of it, good and bad. Ups and downs together make the best mountains. And I apparently just love to climb.

Thank you Acatenango. Thank you world. And mostly, thank you people. It’s been an amazing journey.

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HUMANS OF BELIZE

Meet my new inspirators: Kevin (middle) and Stephen (right). World-improvers pur sang. We met on Kevin’s 25th birthday over a week ago. I fell right with my nose in the butter, as we would say in Dutch (; In the middle of the Belizean jungle I met my kind of people: conscious people with the wish, need and determination to make the world a better place. Kevin works as a counsellor with HIV-patients for the National HIV Programme, Ministry of Health, Belize. He works in a clinic in Belize City and goes out into the rural areas to do HIV outreach work: giving information, free HIV-testing and helping patients to cope with their life-long-struggle of HIV or AIDS. His friend Stephen should have ‘NGO’ as his middle name. He has worked for several in the past and is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights as we speak, but together with Kevin also just founded the Belize Youth Empowerment for Change. With this organisation they are improving the chances and opportunities for the youngsters in Belize. Everyone knows Belize has amazing beaches and reefs, but on the other side of the beauty, there’s loads of challenges here: discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, crime-related-pressure, early sexual advancement, physical and emotional abuse and racism. Stephen and Keving help out wherever possible and give the young Belizeans a voice. I am telling you, these guys are making the world a better place and I wish you could all meet them in person. And guys, just so you know, the world already ís a better place with you in it. Mesi & Damou!

You better Belize it!

Een kleine bootrit langs het eiland van Leonardi DiCaprio en je bent er: Caye Caulker. Ik klop op de houten deur bij een hostel en ben er al gauw achter dat hier achter in het water een hele oude boot ligt. En jawel, ook daar kun je slapen. Dat wil niemand, want de boot lekt en het is tenslotte regenseizoen. Dat hoef je mij niet te vertellen, ik regen inmiddels al een week weg en de zon laat dagenlang op zich wachten. Maar vandaag hebben we geluk: een strak blauwe lucht en perfect weer om die voetjes weer aan wat zon bloot te stellen. Kom maar door met die boot! Het is lekker basic en heerlijk stil op mijn boot. 5 minuten later lig ik op de pier van ‘the split’: het mooiste stukje van dit eiland. Door een orkaan ontstaan, het eiland in 2-en gespleten door het natuurgeweld. Doe mij zo’n visburger, ik hou het hier nog wel even vol.

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Zwemmen in een aquarium

De dag erna ga ik op pad, met een eco-friendly tour richting het prachtige Hol-Chan reef. Hier kun je waanzinnig snorkelen, het is het grootste reef na The Great Barrier Reef in Australië. Het was even zoeken naar het juiste bureautje, want al die snorkel-debielen hier voeren de haaien zodat wij gekke toeristen er tussen kunnen zwemmen. Oh en dan mag je ze ook even aaien. Ga toch gauw fietsen. Sinds wanneer is de oceaan een veredelde dierentuin geworden? Hoe lang wachten we nog op gedrogeerde zeekoeien zodat we daar ook even knuffelend mee op de foto kunnen? Ik doe hier niet aan mee en gelukkig is er 1 bureau die ook niet meedoet. Heel groot op een schoolbord aan het hek: WE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS! Hier moet ik zijn, ik ga met jullie mee! Gids Zack maakt de slogan waar, sterker nog, ik krijg steeds op m’n kop omdat ik te snel zwem. En als ik zo hard flipper, dan komt er zand los van de bodem wat over het koraal heen valt en dan gaat het dood. Supergoed dat ie me er op wijst en me uitlegt hoe ik ook in het water een geduldig en goed mens kan zijn! Ook vandaag is weer een prachtige dag en we vertrekken vroeg zodat we er eerder zijn dan alle andere vis-voerende-boten. Het is on-ge-lo-fe-lijk wat ik vandaag te zien krijg. Ik heb nog nooit in mijn leven op zo’n mooie plek gesnorkeld. Dit is een wereldgroot aquarium! Het water is kraakhelder, het koraal prachtig paars en oranje en ik kan niet stoppen met staren naar de visjes. Het is niet te beschrijven hoeveel moois ik zie. Ik weet niet eens waar ik moet kijken omdat het zo zo veel is! Af en toe zwemt er een zeekoe voorbij, dan weer een zeeschildpad en even later een gestippelde rog. Ik hoef niets te doen, alleen maar boven het koraal te hangen, me te laten dragen door het zoute blauwe water en de rest komt vanzelf. IK WIL HIER NOOIT MEER WEG.

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Op het punt waar de haaien zitten, hoeven we niet eens te voeren want ze komen vanzelf naar ons toe. Zwem ik daar ineens tussen tientallen haaien en andere happende vissen.

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Het is wel even spannend maar ze doen echt niks, behalve naar me kijken. En ik kijk dapper terug. Het is een dag om echt nooit meer te vergeten, dit was m’n meest indrukwekkende snorkel ooit. Ter illustratie even een kiekje van mijn nieuwe liefde, de yellowtail damsel-fish. In het echt ietsie liever dan op de foto.

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Honden redden

Na zonneschijn komt regen (ook in mijn boot overigens) en dat nèt op het moment dat ik op het punt sta om naar mijn NGO-meeting in Belize City te varen. Het is een dikke vette tropische storm en de meeting wordt gecanceld omdat niemand kan komen vanwege het weer. Maar de zon schijnt in mijn hoofd, want dat betekent dat ik naar The Dog Rescue Center kan! Naast het hostel ligt een enorm Pet Park naast de honden-opvang.

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Ik maak kennis met Scott, een lieve Amerikaan en eigenaar van 32 huizen en hotels over de hele wereld, maar eigenlijk is hij het liefst hier bij zijn honden. Hij heeft het centrum opgericht omdat hij het niet aan kon dat die honden hier zo slecht behandeld worden. Op dit moment zijn er 14 te toffe dogs die je de hele dag kan knuffelen en uitlaten. Geen puppy’s, want die worden altijd meteen geadopteerd. Begrijpelijk en goed! Scott is vet blij dat ik er ben, want met het slechte weer is hij de enige die de honden uit wíl laten. Nou kom maar door, ik kan wel wat dierenliefde gebruiken. Ik moet oppassen dat ik niet met een hond in m’n backpack naar huis ga volgende week om die vervolgens ongewenst aan ons pa en ma op te dringen. Ik wandel met Thunder (die veel te sterk is en mij alle kanten op trekt), Franky (te snoetige pup van 7 maanden met een gedraaid oor), Popeye (mijn grote liefde die precies weet hoe ze vrouwen om haar poot moet winden met haar gejank als we even geen aandacht geven), Krispy (die het vertikt om door de plassen te lopen), Bush en naamloos (die dwars door mn t-shirt heen in m’n arm bijt omdat ze mee uit wil). Popeye, mijn verloofde, wil wel met me op de foto:

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Ik plas bijna in mijn broer als een van de veel-te-welwillende Beliziaanse mannen langs fietst en zwoel naar me roept: “I wish I was on a leash baby!”. Aan aandacht geen gebrek, wederom. Na 6 wandel/ren-tochtjes volledig verregend te zijn, zit mijn taak er op voor vandaag en kan ik terug naar mijn natte boot (linksachter op de foto).

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Wet, wet, wet

Ik blijf nog 1 dag langer om de laatste yoga-les van het seizoen mee te pakken. Het was een verademing om begin deze week weer eens een fatsoenlijke Vinyasa-les te kunnen doen! Maar ja, ook die laatste yoga-les wordt natuurlijk afgelast vanwege het slechte weer: toch lastig zo’n down-dog op een glibberig dakterras in de regen. Balen!

Als het daarna toch weer even droog word, klim ik met mn amigo Ben in de kayak om de zonsondergang te bekijken. Hij is mooi.

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De volgende ochtend staat de verplaatste NGO-meeting met Kevin en Stephen op het programma, waarna ik met hen mee het veld in ga om HIV voorlichting te geven. Maar als ik wakker word, hoor en voel ik al hoe laat het is. Mijn bed is nat van de regen en zo ook mijn voeten. En er komt geen einde aan. Ik check in op m’n mail en lees hoe zowel de meeting als de HIV dag zijn afgelast. Nondeju. Hier baal ik echt van! Niks aan te doen, het geeft maar weer eens aan hoe zinloos het is om te plannen als je op reis bent in tropische gebieden. Het weer bepaalt. Als het een beetje droger wordt, stap ik op de boot richting vasteland. Dit keer met mijn enorm knappe secret crush doctor Andy uit Nieuw-Zeeland die met me mee gaat naar de clinic waar Kevin werkt. Ik wil Kevin nog even opzoeken ook al kan ik niet met hem aan het werk vandaag. Hij is aangenaam verrast als ik op zijn deur klop (na een lange zoektocht door dit lokale kleine gekke ziekenhuis) en hij vertelt ons alles wat hij kan vertellen over de manier waarop ze hier met HIV omgaan. Als counselor komt hij natuurlijk van alles tegen, schrijnende verhalen, maar gelukkig heeft hij vanuit de VN supergoede handvatten om er op de juiste wijze mee om te gaan. De gratis condooms komen op tafel en ik bloos van oor tot oor als Kevin een handvol in mijn en Andy’s zakken stopt. Ik pas vriendelijk voor Kevin’s demonstratie met de houten nep-piemel. We nemen afscheid met een enorme knuffel en dit weer zo’n goodbye die ik lastig vind. Kon ik hier maar blijven en wat doen.

Glitters in de bus (en in mijn ogen)

Ik neem ook afscheid van m’n arts met teveel grenzen en stap op de bus richting het zuiden van Belize. Het is heerlijk om weer in de lokale bus te zitten en te kletsen en grappen met de lieve donkere kindjes en hun ouders. Spreuken op de wand zoals: “There is no luck like Belize luck” en “Take your litter so Belize can glitter!”. Ik hou ervan! Ik zit naast een man die bij defensie werkt en we hebben een open gesprek over de corruptie aan de landgrenzen en het verschil met Belize. Ik ben echt zo dol op dit land, dat ik voel dat ik eigenlijk niet weg wil! Ik vertel ook tegen iedereen hoe verliefd ik ben geworden op dit land, ondanks of misschien ook juist wel door zijn uitdagingen. En de mensen zijn zo zo zo fijn! Iedereen glimlacht dankbaar als ik hen vertel hoe mooi mijn weken hier zijn geweest.

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Wet & wild

De volgende ochtend neem ik de boot richting Guatemala. Ik ben echt verdrietig merk ik. Dit land heeft me zo gegrepen. Op het bootje tovert de captain ineens een groot zeil uit één van de kastjes. Of we die even over ons heen willen houden. De komende anderhalf uur. En ja, dit wordt wat ja. De boottocht is WILD. Met enorme hoofdletters. De boot ketst alle kanten op en neemt de golven mee de boot in. Ik moet lachen, ik hou wel van wat spektakel, maar meerdere mensen in het bootje zijn niet lekker of bang. De captain blijft ondertussen maar schreeuwend met mij praten en probeert me te overtuigen om zo de boot ook weer mee terug te nemen. Er is geen land zoals Belize, maar er zijn ook nergens op de wereld zulke upfront overduidelijk-geinteresseerde-available-mannen (met veel te grote kleren en een veel te grote mond) als in Belize! Daag flapdrol, ik ga terug naar m’n andere liefde, Guatemala! Want daar mag ik nog een laatste keer van watervallen af springen, de zee induiken, genieten van de jungle aan de rivier bij een eco-farm aan Rio Dulce ennnn…..mijn laatste wens van de bucket-list afstrepen: vulkaan Acatenango beklimmen (bijna 4km hoog) om ieder uur de actieve vulkaan Fuego te zien uitbarsten. Dreams DO come true!!!!