Monday, November 11, 2013

Five lessons learned from the camino

Even though I had promised to keep you all updated of my progress during my walk to Santiago de Compostela, I did not. Surprisingly enough, I really did not feel like sharing my experiences while I was still walking. I just wanted to enjoy the moment, and take time to digest everything. And guess what? I MADE IT! I walked about 650 kilometers and arrived in Santiago strong and deeply touched (read: crying like a baby).

It was the most amazing experience! For 28 days I walked. I got up between 6 and 7, had a cafe con leche with toast or a chocolate croissant and went on the road. Every day I walked 20 to 30 kilometres in about 6 hours. Every day I sang this song, waking up some of my fellow pilgrims:

People ask me if I have seen the light in Spain or if I have turned Christian and the answer is that I haven't. However, I did pick up some pieces of wisdom from the great people I met along the way. Here are five lessons I learned during my camino:

1. If blisters are your worst problem, your life is pretty good
On the camino life is brought done to the basics. You walk, eat, sleep and walk again. What you need is a strong and healthy body. If you have a blister (or two, or three), walking suddenly becomes a lot less fun. Even though I walked out of a village crying behind my sunglasses because of my blister pain, I could still see that this was not the end of the world. So, I said thanks. Every day. For all the good stuff in my life; the fantastic people I met, my own strong (!) body, the support from my friends and family back home. It's good to be able to see things in perspective.

2. Always trust the yellow arrows
Every day you follow the yellow arrows that are painted on walls and trees everywhere. Sometimes they appear just as you start to get worried you may have missed a turn. Steve Jobs says he connected the dots looking back, meaning that his choices in life only started to make sense to him afterwards. The yellow arrows on the camino made me realise that it's important to trust that things will make sense. In the end we will arrive somewhere cool knowing that what mattered was the journey, and so when we feel lost we can trust a yellow arrow will eventually appear.

3. Unfollow patterns
A rigid kind of discipline ruled on some parts of the camino. There was one hostel where the staff came barging in at 6.25 saying that we had to get up and have breakfast, because we needed to be out the door by 8. The lady even squeezed my friend's toe saying that she slept way too long! The routine was: get up, pack your bag, tape the toes (or any other hurt body part), and walk. Walk fast so that you could arrive early at the next hostel and secure a bed. Some people were quite stressed and after two weeks I decided to not be stressed out by them. Yes, I got up early and walked my part every day, but I realized I did not want to just do what we mostly do in our daily lives; go with the routine and forget about our purpose.

4. Let go
My first days on the camino I spent fantasizing about throwing away or sending back items for my backpack as it was breaking my back. It was about eight kilos and I wanted it lighter. It kept me busy for hours and hours in a row. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Until I did. After that, I hardly felt the bag during the last weeks. Somehow I had gotten used to the weight and was able to let go.

5. Make friends
My camino was about many things, but more than anything it was about making friends. I met some fantastic people I hung out with a lot. We had great conversations, lots of fun, went through hardship together and became camino families in the end. I cannot wait to go again...

Here my friend Vicky and me sing 'We are going', the song she sang introducing herself at the firsthostel we stayed at.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Slowly turning into a pilgrim

It’s still hard to believe, but I am off. The past weeks, I have prepared; finished my work, went on a couple of walks, had a physical therapist look at my knee (there’s nothing wrong with it!) and bought or borrowed all the necessary stuff.
Everyone has been very supportive and have been telling me how cool and couragious I am for doing this. I am not sure whether this is particularly helpful, because I feel quite intimidated. Me, unexperienced and not sportive, trying a thing like this. Well, at Rotterdam airport from where I write you I already overhear other ‘pilgrims’ talking and I feel excitement run through my vains. I am ready for it, so yes: I am really doing this! My objective: go with the flow, listen to my body and be in the moment. That’s all.

Even though I tried to keep it light, I carry 7 kilo’s (I aimed for 5). Honestly speaking, I am a bit disappointed in myself. In my opinion I have let go of any idea of wanting to look good and still don’t know which of my stuff I could get rid off, weightwise. For those interested in the details, this is what I have with me:

A lightweight sleeping bag
A silk sleeping bag (in case it gets hot, I can send home the sleeping bag)
One pair of long trousers
One pair of shorts
One pair of threequarter running tights
One pair of ‘fishermans pants’
A legging
One t-shirt for sleeping (cotton)
Two shortsleeved shirts
One longsleeved shirt
One armless top
A windstopper
A fleece sweater
A raincoat

My walking shoes
Extra soles (more support)
Walking sticks

A hat
A shawl (that can also serve as a sarong)

Shower cream

Arnica pills
T3 oil
Nose spray

Blister band-aids
Magic desinfecting powder from India
- in ziplock bags inside a waterproof pouch

Travel pouch
A little black Moleskine book
My iPhone
Extra battery
Security pins (for hanging laundry)
Water pouch

I will soon let you know which things I have left behind :)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

An ode to Marieke

In the past two weeks, through work, I have met four amazing Dutch women, all by the name of Marieke, albeit written in differently in one case (Mariken). Over lunch in Costa Rica the father of my colleague asked me what that weird name was we kept on repeating. He thought we said 'Marika' which in Spanish is colloquial for 'gay'. But in Colombia (or at least in Cartagena) they use it to refer to anyone, not always in the most positive way. In the Netherlands, however, it's a very normal name. Whether you think it's a weird name or not, Mariekes rock!
An assignment Marieke made me do.
Marieke is a passionate Design Thinker and devotes all her time to helping people think differently in order to come up with solutions to their problems or to invent new things. She told me she does not separate working hours from leisure time, because she loves what she does so much. Mariken bursts with energy and great ideas. She is an entrepreneur that brings people together in order to make the world a better place. Our first encounter lasted three days, as we kept on running into each other. Nice detail: she was the 200th 'liker' of Meer Lieve Brieven. Marieke is a player. Not with men, or well, I don't know her that well yet. Playing and helping others to play more is her thing. She's started the 'Speelkwartiertjes Club', an open group of people that play a fifteen minute daily game online on her cue. Dutchies: Join us! Marieke lives in Costa Rica, but she was born and (partially) raised in Indonesia. She abandoned the world of do-gooders to work in the private sector for a while, but is now back to facilitate workshops differently and to get people out of their comfort zones.

Thank you, ladies, for inspiring me. This one is for you.

*This is not even mentioning some of the other cool Mariekes I know. For instance: Marieke founded Ubuntu and now teaches fantastic Kundalini yoga classes in Amsterdam.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pessimism as a driving force?

Recently, I wrote about my granddad Tjibbe, and how much he enjoys his daily dose of sambal. Even though Boersma's indeed like it hot and in general have quite a good dose of self mockery, we are also a bit heavyhearted at times. I know this might be hard to imagine given my mostly (often, sometimes) cheerful disposition. But I think it can be said: We Boersma's are a bunch of pessimists.

My dad with my sister Ayla, pessimists?
Just last week I went out for a very lively and tasty dinner with my dad and I realized that he seems to have given up on the world - in the sense that he cannot see what he could contribute to change course. I had quite recently also almost done so, but have slightly regained faith (because of initiatives such as Your Lab and podcasts like this one by Chris Turner on TVO). To be honest, I am in part to blame for my dad's dark outlook on the future; I gave him 'Guns, Germs and Steel', a book by Jared Diamond describing how humans have been pursuing commercial gain and bringing forth destruction since the beginnings of history. I have not yet read the book - even though every time I see my dad, he tells me to. So, I guess I should. I did already read another book by Mister Diamond and it did not really cheer me up.

Goofy and happy (with drop, THE best Dutch invention ever), yet downright pessimists
While riding my bike home, I realized that yes, the odds seem to be against us as a humankind. We have created islands of plastic, are consuming much more than the environment can handle and have created an economic system that seems beyond repair. Of course, my dad is right in many ways: we cannot all live lavish lives and solve our global issues at the same time. I know he's right about the hypocrisy in me, in so many of us - we do want it all. But, instead of sitting around waiting for the world to end, I would rather do something more fun and rewarding. It could be organizing massive street games so we can go down playing. Or something to try to prevent the end of the world from happening anytime soon.

One of my recurring thoughts is to start a re-fill shop. This would be a place where you can come with your empty bottles and fill them up with shampoo, dish soap, olive oil or soy sauce. You can bring jars and fill them with rice, pasta, salt or dried beans. It'll be a tiny little thing, but heck, it's something. So, let's get to work. Who's with me on the re-fill shop?

Only if you can handle it: Jared Diamond on "Why Societies Collapse?"

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mind my business, please. Don't worry, I will yours!

You know, I have had it. I am fed up with weird behaviour. Yes, 'weird' may be a rather subjective term, and yes, there is also a good type of weird - so allow me to clarify. Taking the train in Holland every day confronts me with some forms of human interaction, which to me seem wrong. Just plain wrong. People try not to sit near to each other, keep interaction to the lowest possible minimum and often are not even polite. It's awkward, unfriendly or even rude. I have started writing sweet letters in the first place to remind myself that we can also choose to be nice to each other. Just because we can.

A good kind of weird! (by Miriam van Oort)
Just now, I was on the train with my mother (after visiting my grandmother, a 2,5 hour train ride, one-way) and a girl in the four-seater opposite us, had her feet on the chairs in front of her. A lady came in and asked her very friendly if she could take them down. The girl responded "Why, there's enough space on the train, no?" and when the lady insisted that shoes on chairs made them dirty and that the girl's reaction was not very social, the girl replied "Don't have anything better to do than bug me? Don't you have a life?". I then could not take it anymore and was reminded of my pledge to mind other people's business. I said "Stop acting so weird! The lady asks you nicely if you want to take your shoes down". The girl put her earplugs back in and pretended we all were not there. 

I am sick and tired of this. I don't want to be part of a society in which people interact this way. The girl's behaviour was weird, but what I find even weirder is that normally, no one would support the complaining lady. They would pretend not to hear anything and simply look away. THAT, to me, is the weirdest part! Maybe my pledge will get me into trouble (in this case, I knew there were two guys behind us and I had made eye contact with the Spanish couple in front AND I am taking Chinese boxing classes - in other words, I was not scared of an attack) and maybe I will not keep my pledge when it concerns a group of four big men - but I just want to make a plea:

Please, let's mind each other's business again… Let's stand up for one another, take care of one another. Yes? Okay, good.

Footnote: Right after this incident the train conductor informed us that a passenger was having a heart attack and that he needed a doctor. The Spanish guy appeared to be one, so we went to help out (Me as the translator obviously. What else?). There were two other doctors on the train (how is that possible?), but I was happy with my pledge now. By telling the Spaniards why the train wasn't moving (and minding their business), he could have saved a life (in this case, hopefully others did). 

About the situation of my poor grandma, the state of our Dutch healthcare system and the way our society treats the elderly, I will rant some other time. But I did shed a tear about it. Sad.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Boersma's like it hot

Meet my granddad, Tjibbe. He served for four years in Indonesia from in the forties. Yes, during this time the Dutch colonial government violently tried to hold on to its colony. Recently (sparked by photos of mass executions), discussions arose again about the amount of violence used by the Dutch. There is quite some re-writing of history be done.

The young Boersma in the Dutch Indies
However, my grandfather speaks only with a happy spark in his eyes about the time he spent in the Dutch Indies (the Dutch still considered Indonesia as the Dutch Indies until 1949). He signed up voluntarily and even falsified his father's autograph in order to be able to go. He loved the climate, the people, and the food. These days his health does not allow him to eat anything spicy, but there is no way the doctors (or my grandma, for that matter) can make him stop eating sambal (Indonesian hot chilly sauce).

Sambal in the soup

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Flying perfectly - 5 tips from a flying Dutchwoman

I hate to brag, but I have perfected my long distance travel experience. Perfected it. This realisation came to me after a lady next to me on the plane made me itch as I saw her bumping in against everything with her three pieces of carry-on luggage and after overhearing an elderly Italian lady curse (Che cazzo! or did she say Brutto figlio di puttana bastardo?) when a security officer asked her to take her shoes off at the boarding gate security check. We humans learn slowly and I guess I just got fed up of making the same mistakes over and over again. I figured you all might as well benefit from my learning process :) 

So, here are the 5 things I think you should do to have a fantastic long distance flight! 
  • Travel Light 
Stick to the rules and bring no more than the amount of kilo's you are allowed to take (This includes you, my Indonesian friends!). Don't overpack and 'think it will be okay', because you will end up being nervous at check-in, or paying for overweight. Just buy yourself a good bag which will not allow you to pack too much stuff. I have been using Tatoinka's business roller for at least seven years now and it rocks big time. Besides wheels it also has straps so it can be used as a backpack in case of emergency. The size can be adjusted and it has a small backpack that can be zipped on and off on the front. I love my bag. Usually, I take around 18 kilo's with me, wherever I go. 

This is what I brought when leaving to Colombia for six months

  • Don't be afraid to look like a hippy with a hangover
When I hop on a plane, I usually look like a hippy tourist, even if I am travelling for work. Yes, I look slightly ridiculous, but hey! I want to be comfortable and warm above all other things. So, I wear a 'harem' pants (as my mom calls them. Is this even their official name?), a long sleeve shirt, a sweater and sneakers. This way I also don't need a belt, which saves me time at the security queue. For women it's very important not to wear tight pants during a long flight. I hope you girls know why, so I don't have to go into details here :) I always bring a big scarf, which I can use to hide under if I want to sleep or when I get cold. Oh, and socks! I bring a pair of thick socks… I hate cold feet.

No harem pants in this case, but certainly easy-going...
  • Hydrate
Don't bring bottles of water on the plane. You know this. So why is that still many people do it? Every single time! Well, the intention to drink a lot during the flight is a good one at least. Make sure you drink enough. Take every opportunity for drinking something, because flying really dries you out!  A positive side effect of drinking a lot is that it will make you get up and pee. Move! Do some exercises while you're at it. Also, bring moisturiser to keep your skin hydrated, it suffers during the flight. 
  • Keep it simple
In order to make sure you can get through the baggage and body check, don't wear jewellery, belts or shoes with steel in them. Also, just bring one piece of carry on luggage. I usually bring my backpack and a tiny purse where I keep my passport on the plane. If you have a laptop with you, take it out of your bag at the security check, please!

Do bring a pillow, an eye-cover and a shawl to keep it comfy!
  • Drink tomato juice, eat ice cream and enjoy!
Apparently, our taste buds go crazy in the air, so enjoy it! Drink tomato juice or other things you usually don't like. Explore to see what happens! Don't drink too much coffee or alcohol - these will dehydrate you even more. KLM's in-flight service usually offers something salty (crisps or noodles) and ice-cream after 8 hours or so. This really doesn't make any sense to me, but I always secretively look forward to the ice cream. 

Oh, and enjoy the feeling of arriving at your long awaited destination! 

Granada, Nicaragua

Monday, February 4, 2013

The journey starts today

How it happened, I am not sure, but somewhere around Christmas I had suddenly made a decision: This summer I will walk the last part of the camino to Santiago de Compostela. With the last part, I mean the 800 kilometres from Saint Jean Pied de Port. People that have known me for a while are seriously flabbergasted. Am I, Amis Boersma, telling them I will go walking for a month? Yes, I certainly am. "What is the matter with you?" a friend recently asked me after I told her about this plan and these esoteric explorations of mine.

Well, one of the answers to this questions could be that I don't know perseverance. The word just does not appear in my dictionary. I have never learned to persist, especially when things get hard. I have never understood why you would continue to climb to the top of a mountain, when you're already exhausted halfway. On hikes, I could always easily just turn around and go back down. When I was meditating at a Buddhist monastery in Indonesia last year, I realised how my mind objects to physical pain and how quickly it seeks a way out. I began to see the relationship between physical power (and pain) and the power of the mind. Hence, this plan to go walking. 

Of course this particular pilgrimage always spoke to my imagination. Last year, the Belgian television aired a great show interviewing people on their (often spiritual) journeys. Some of my friends have walked the camino several times and have told me all about their experiences. They are advising, coaching and guiding me now (yeah!). And, as my friend Luis told me a month ago: my journey starts today.

So, I have already bought myself a pair of (ugly) super-shoes and have started training right here in Holland. I will be taking you along on my journey the coming months. These are my first steps. Hooray!

Several people have told me about 'The way', a movie by Emilio Estevez, in which his father (both in real life and in the movie), my favourite actor, Martin Sheen (whom we should all know as Josiah Bartlet in West Wing) walks the camino. This was never his intention, but he ends up finishing the walk his son started and spreading his son's ashes out along the way. I watched this movie just now and it makes me want to start the walk right away!

A funny (albeit cliche) element in the movie is the pot-smoking, drugs dealing, loud and blunt Dutch guy 'Joost from Amsterdam', who ends up being a sweetheart (of course).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Esoteric stuff? Yuck! Or...

I will be honest with you: I am not the most open-minded person when it comes to esoteric stuff. Sorry if I disappoint you. I have a pretty good reason though: At primary school my best friend's mom was with the Bhagwan. There were pictures of the man (also known as Osho) all over their house, including on the toilet - where he stared at you while you were peeing. One day the mom held a ceremony to also include me as a member and gave me a mala (a beaded necklace) with Osho's picture on it. The mom, the house and the movement scared me to death and I didn't want to be initiated to this sect at all. You can imagine that this whole episode in my life traumatized me somewhat. Ever since, I have not been very open-minded when it comes to meditation or people going to India to find their inner selves.

The eyes of Osha aka Bhagwan 

Lately, I have (luckily) realized that I was limiting myself and fortunately had the opportunity to try new and (yes!) esoteric things, and now, I can't seem to stop. The coming months I plan to write a bit more about this spiritual journey I am on. So, be prepared!

'What happened?', you may wonder. In September, I participated in YourLab, a program that is almost impossible to describe. Yet, I will give it a try now. Crap, I know that it will sound way out there which is not what I want it to. But well, after YourLab things all started making more sense. I feel a stronger connection to other people ('I didn't think it was possible for us to interact in this way. If only we had been taught this at High School...' a fellow participant told me). Most importantly, I feel more positive about the future of the world (more about this soon).

But what is it? It's a program of two weeks or four days, for young people, to learn about themselves and their place in the world. It sounds like something I would like to start for myself one day. So, I wrote them and asked if I could participate (despite my age = older than 'young'). Potential participants met with each other and the organizers one Wednesday afternoon, and I was slightly skeptical (read: very unsure about participating). They told us to bring comfortable clothes since we would be working out a lot. "I hear lots of talk of yoga, but what are we actually going to DO?" I asked. My mom and a good friend finally talked me into it, saying it would be great to start something unknown (thank you!).

From the first minute I entered the room and met the other participants on Day One, I felt at ease. There was trust and good energy, despite people's nerves. Two weeks filled with impressions and emotions passed by at the speed of light. But they continue to last until today as well. I learned basic stuff: That it's possible to care for someone you don't know, if you open your heart. That we are more than just our minds and two typing hands; that we have bodies we can and should use, bodies that say a lot about us. In the two weeks, I did Aikido, Tai Ki Ken, Yoga, Meditation, Family Constellations, Transformational breathing, dancing and singing. With the group we made 'art' and came up with ways to use an empty building in the Southeast of Amsterdam.

Alexandra and me doing Tai Ki Ken (Chinese boxing)

The main things that stuck with me were:
  1. (from Tai Ki Ken), be square on the inside and round on the outside - in other words, stick to your core self, but be flexible so you can interact with others. 
  2. You can change your state of mind by changing the state of your body, by grounding more. 
  3. There is an amazing power deep inside of us, which is hidden underneath layer of stress. If we peel off these layers (through transformational breathing), we can connect to this power. This was the most amazing experience for me. I suddenly felt this strength, this determination, this love inside of me, that had me high for a day or two. 
  4. We all have our own unique dance and voice.
YourLab showed me that I was not really in touch with my body nor with my soul. I tend to over-think everything and - even though I am a sensitive girl - I lose track of what I feel. I think everyone can use YourLab time at some point in their lives. I used to always say this about psychologists, but I don't believe that anymore. I don't think it's so important to try to understand rationally how your psyche works. On the other hand, I do believe it is important to value the body, mind and soul that you have and to feel how it is connected to other people. How's that for esoteric? Ha!

This is what a fellow Your Lab participant wrote (in Dutch).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

More Love Letters and a bit of Amelie

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine sent me the TED video below. As I am a huge fan of TED, this is a very nice thing to do for me (in case you were wondering). In this particular video, Hannah Brencher talks about how she started leaving notes throughout New York city a while back. She was depressed at the time and found comfort in writing love letters to strangers. Before she knew it, she started a movement which is now called 'The World Needs More Love Letters', and I just joined them.

For years I have dreamt of doing something similar; organise a dancing flashmob on a train, paint a quote of something I believe in on a city wall. I dreamt of being more like my heroin Amelie Poulain, doing good in the weirdest of ways. But I never quite dared. Hannah's idea however matches me perfectly: it's easy to do unnoticed and I love to write. So I got started last week... I was very nervous writing my first letter and even moreso when leaving it on a table at Starbucks in Amsterdam. After tucking away around ten letters on trains, cafes and inside books the past week, I'm getting the hang of it. The fact that I have already received two responses from very enthusiastic people makes it all the more exciting. Together with a friend, I started a website to collect all comments and make it easier for other people in Holland to join in. The next step now is to start writing letters for people who need them, not only to random strangers. Do let us know if you know of anyone, or if you want to join us! You can reach us at meerlievebrieven (at)

* For people in the US, the team of More Love Letters has everything ready for you to start writing today. Just visit their website and get started.

I just realised that I haven't yet (UNBELIEVABLE) dedicated a blogpost to my favourite (and most viewed) movie: Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain. I watch it once every year, at least. Well, here are two scenes of her doing good in her own funky way. A separate blogpost about this magical tale will follow. It will.

Amelie helps a blind man and shows him her world. I also helped a blind man a few weeks ago at The Hague Central station, which is a complete mess, and tried to make it as funny as I could ("I'm not sure if you appreciate being grabbed by a strange women, but I promise; I mean well!"). It still wasn't quite like this though...

And, one more... Later on in the movie, Amelie paints some quotes from the book, written by her friend Hipolito, on the walls of Paris' streets.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Looking back: My 15 most played songs of 2012

Happy new year, my beloved reader! I wish you a terrific 2013 filled with many good things, such as sunshine, brownies and music. Hopefully it is not yet too late to look back on 2012 and share my musical highlights with you. Yes, I know, I should have done it about two weeks ago, but I was busy eating too much delicious food with my family. Sorry about that.

2012 was a great year for me in many ways. I spent half of it in Cartagena de Indias, a city that made me dance many a night away. But no matter my physical location, I will always have my music with me. These are some of the songs, and artists, that I spent most of my time with this year, sort of in chronological order. Thank you friends for adding to my supply! Did I forget any?

Lykke Li - I follow rivers
Classy lady, great voice and beautiful videos

Maria Gadu - Tudo diferente
I just cannot get enough of this music!  

Mayer hawthorne - Can't stop
Mayer is a modern-day soul man, we need more of these guys!

Hector Lavoe - Todo tiene su final
Hector actually deserves a separate blogpost... This one song does not do him justice.

Juan Luis Guerra - Ojala que llueva cafe 
First heard this song in Spanish class learning about the subjunctive.

Joe Arroyo - La Rebelion
No night in Cartagena nightlife goes by without this song...

Diomedes dias - Amarte mas no pude 
My guilty pleasure.

J Alvarez - La Pregunta
Speaking of guilty pleasures... Yes, yes, I know this guy is a nasty sexist, but I can't help wanting to dance to this. 

Luis Enrique - Yo no se mañana 

Monsieur Perine - Sabor a mi
I had the pleasure of seeing both Monsier Perine and Bomba Estereo live at a festival. Both great bands that made the crowds go crazy.

Bomba Estereo - Pa' Respirar

Lianne La Havas - Au Cinema
This lady has made my year. Since I missed her performance in Amsterdam, I am hoping she'll come back soon.

Marques Toliver - Magic Look

Ben Howard -  Only love
Usually I am not so into white guys with guitars, but in this case... I am hooked. Cannot get enough of this voice, of this song, of this video.

Rihanna - Diamonds
At the time of posting this song has 127 million views - so I guess you have all already seen it. I do believe about 1500 of those views were mine. Yes, maybe I should be ashamed, but I'm not. I also love Beyonce. Ha! This songs just calls for dramatic dance moves in front of the mirror. Seriously, it does. Give it try!