Sunday, May 11, 2014

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Een Nieuwe Straat voor Ons

Sleep: Something that can often be in short supply on a college trip to The Netherlands.
One joy of teaching is that literally nothing stays the same for a long period of time. Even if you take charge of a group for a few years they change so much over the course of two years that the young adults you wave goodbye to are almost unrecognisable.

It is Thursday 13th February 2014 and I’m sat in my room – named ‘Droom’ [trans: ‘dream’] – on the third floor of Hostel Room on Vollenhovenstraat in Rotterdam. After two years at the Home Hotel we’ve finally decided to try somewhere else to take our group of students.

This year’s group of students easily matches the diversity of the previous years’ visits and we have representatives of Somali, Dutch, Eritrean, Pakistani, Afghan, Nigerian, Grenadian, Senegalese and Georgian extraction, along with a fictitious girl everyone calls Sharkeisha. As with previous years, I am accompanied by Pia, whose attendance, I concluded prior to departure, was safer than the alternatives.

Our journey started at silly o’clock in the morning, but not stupid o’clock like last year. Everything went reasonably smoothly at the airport, give or take the last-minute signing-up for the frequent flyer programme to get free luggage allowance meaning a rather angry French member of staff nearly had a melt down. In fact things were so smooth we nearly forgot that one boy hadn’t even arrived at the airport.

A short hop over the North Sea later and we were already driving along the A4 towards Rotterdam. Here, trying to be efficient, I decide to sort out the sleeping arrangements for the dorms – who will be with whom in which dorms

Before my bright pink pen has even had the chance to touch the paper, I have an audience. Two eagle-eyed Eritrean girls – we’ll call them ‘The Twins’ for reasons I’ll explain later – are watching every twitch in my hand, trying to read my thoughts. Despite the pressure, I put down my initial thoughts. After ten seconds there is an objection.

Pia, wading into the discussion offers her ideas on the subject. A few moments later another Eritrean girl and a Somali girl join in. I’m struggling to regain my authority as Sharkeisha jumps into the situation. Before I realise it, we have something akin to diplomatic conference taking place. 

It makes sense though. There are thirteen girls and just three boys and clearly my knowledge of the most current friendship groups and cliques is a little out of date.

Waiting to cross Van Oldenbarneveltplaats, Rotterdam. Taken by Pia.
Hostel Room itself isn’t very far from our old base at 59a Witte De Withstraat, but is in a much quieter part of the city. It's opposite Veerhaven, a mooring point for small private yachts and just around the corner from a good café called Loos. For the students there is little in the way of any of the infamous distractions nearby – there’s just a supermarket where some students have their first experience of Dutch checkout assistants [we’ll say no more than this].

Things are going well with checking in until the hotel manager says, “but there is one room that is wet.”

“Wet?” I ask, presuming that their has been some form of flood.

“Yes! The floor is wet and so she [Pia] will have to sleep somewhere else.”

Naturally the thought of having to deal with thirteen female students without female back-up fills me with dread. As I stand there, images flash through my mind: hair extensions and hijabs flying everywhere; screaming and high-pitched giggling penetrating the walls; painting the boys’ nails whilst they're asleep.

“… Is that okay?” The manager asks, waking me from my nightmare. “We have booked her into the Maritime Hotel just around the corner.” Relief floods my body at the realisation that if it all kicks off, Pia is on the next street and it’ll only be for one night.

“Yes. That’s absolutely fine.” Pia responds for me.

Later that evening, we decide to get dinner from the Hostel as it’s their 'meal and a drink for €5 night'. They offer to make a halal version of the Dutch dish stamppota mixture of sausages, bacon, potato, spinach and the like. As it turns out, to make it Muslim-friendly for my students, a boiled egg has replaced the sausage and bacon. 

The strompot is not universally popular and just a few brave souls attempt it – myself being one of them.

The main complaint seems to have been a lack of seasoning, but I am aware that the main reason is that a McDonalds was spotted on the walk around town earlier and some students are plotting a return. Pia and I acquiesce to let them out and head to Wijnbar Het Eigendom on Witte de Withstraat for a bit of peace from the strompot conversation. 

After dissecting last year’s visit, and comparing the characters on the trip this year to those of the past, we head in the vague direction of Willemskade to drop Pia off at the Maritime Hotel. The air is milder than usual and it’s a relief considering London teenagers’ aversion to fresh air.

With a busy day ahead tomorrow, I suggest to the students back at Hostel Room that they retire to their rooms to ‘slaap lekker’, knowing fully that they’ll all likely be up until 2am, at least.
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