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Het Withstraat Dagboek: Keuken Sessie #1

Red lights shining off the wet surface on Scheepstimmermanslaan, Rotterdam.
As the dusky light descends over Rotterdam, I am woken from my late afternoon slumber by squally rain hammering against the small window pane of the droom room. When I look out of the window a little while later, the darkened city streets have been laced with rain, there smooth surfaces reflecting the lights like a perfect mirror glass.

It is still Friday 14th February 2014 and we’re preparing to go out for our evening meal. After yesterday’s stamppot, we’ve opted for the slightly more popular idea of heading to the Bazar on Witte de Withstraat for a meaty halal feast beneath the beautiful Middle Eastern light fittings.

We stroll along the rain soaked streets with the student group representing every possible point on the spectrums of both happiness and excitement. Pia is also being a bit on the slow side. Having moved out of the Maritime Hotel this afternoon and into the Love room at the hostel, she has clearly been sleeping deeply for three hours, despite me not even making her walk for miles this year.

We arrive at Bazar and get directed downstairs to the basement for the first time ever. The rationale is simple; it is Valentine’s Day and the management don’t want our posse ruining the many romantic meals taking place around the building. I can’t really blame them as a thousand cameras and iPhones emerge from pockets and the ubiquitous ‘I’m at a restaurant with my friends’ selfies start getting taken. The noise is phenomenal and at times unbearable – heads turn, and with a look of resignation, turn back.

After the meal we dismiss the group and set a curfew, ground rules, a perimeter and one group, made up of a Nigerian boy, a Somali boy, the Triplets (three girls who seem inseparable) and the Couple dart out of the door quickly. The six of them are dressed like the cast from either Saturday Night Fever or maybe just some 1970s B-movie. Its all white jackets, big lapels, leather and roll-necks. The Twins make their excuses and go tram-spotting or memorising the routes somewhere. 

One group of students decides to stay back for Pia and me. After finishing our coffees, we head towards Schiedamsedijk, making a ridiculous amount of noise as we progress past the old working boats in Leuvehaven bobbing in the darkness. We reach Erasmusbrug, take a few more photos and then wander along Willemskade in the direction of the hostel.

On the way I hint to the students, albeit accidentally, that I might leave work this year. The Eritrean, Senegalese and Grenadian all immediately raise objections, saying “But who’s gonna bring us back next year?” I don’t really have an answer for them, but reassure them by telling them that it is not definite – this despite downloading an application form for another school that morning

After an hour or so of relaxing at the hostel, playing table football, and winding each other up, I decide to do a headcount. Pia, also known as ‘The Incredible Sleeping Woman’, has already hit the hay and I conduct my duties alone. It becomes clear that we are missing our group of Saturday Night Fever impersonators. I keep a vigil at the top of the stairs, watching the comings and goings through the front door with a small gang of students, all of whom seem angrier about the curfew-breaking than I am. Braids are flicked, teeth are kissed, and expletives uttered.

Eventually, around 1am we give up our watch and retire to the kitchen, realising that we’re causing a noisy fire hazard on the stairs. The kitchen is located right at the bottom of the building and is for the communal use of all hostel guests, although we do a pretty good job of colonising it. We talk about anything and everything. It is an opportunity to hear the hopes, dreams and fears the students have about their futures, both in an immediate and longer-term sense.

Bazar: a favourite eatery and a regular on the Rotterdam itinerary.
On a whim, I go and check the boys' room for any sign of the curfew-breakers. Sure enough, as I knock the door, I hear a rustling sound, followed by worried whispering and eventually the Nigerian boy opens the door, revealing a series of six ever-whitening faces.

The story, as it transpires, involved taking a taxi to the ‘Turkish area’ of town (wherever that is), before being caught out by their tram passes expiring at midnight (already after curfew), the girl from the Couple being unable to walk and thus having to be carried home as no taxi would take them (surely an over-dramatisation) and nearly getting into an altercation with a random member of the public (the most likely part of the story).

I go through the usual list of teacher clichés: “disappointment”, “let yourselves down”, and “thought you had more respect for me”. I then leave them to think about what they’ve done and hear the expression “I’ve never seen Tom pissed off before” come from inside the room.

Returning to the kitchen, someone has had the idea to get one of the beaten-up guitars from the lounge area. None of the students can play it and so I take it, playing whatever comes to mind. Songs by Rihanna, Beyoncé and my Ed Sheeran/Passenger-inspired acoustic version of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ go down well, with everyone singing along as if they were at a drunken session in a small bar.

At two separate points the Somali boy and Nigerian boy come to offer their apologies, with the latter offering a freestyle over ‘No Diggity’ and a can of Chocomel as compensation. The group who kept vigil grudgingly accept the apology on my behalf as I continue playing.

At around 3am I decide to pull the plug, suggesting that everyone gets an early night – a bit of a contradiction at 3am. Tomorrow morning we head to Amsterdam on the train. With a little protestation, the students skulk off to bed, I head back to the droom room and fall sleep within thirty seconds, can of Chocomel in hand.

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