Recovering in Amsterdam
When I was hospitalized for three months in Holland in 2019, the highlight of each day was spending the afternoon hours with my husband. It was the only thing that kept him going, he told me much later. Although our daughter had flown to be by his side for the six weeks I was in the ICU, R was alone in an Amsterdam apartment for the subsequent six weeks of my slow recovery from a near-fatal ruptured arterial aneurysm. The time he spent with me in what became our community of nurses and other hospital staff was precious to us both.
When I felt well enough to leave my room for an hour or so, my husband wheeled me down to the hospital’s wide ground-floor thoroughfare, past the cafe and the pharmacy to the small serene chapel around which OLVG hospital had been built. The magic of the nuns who were the original nurses had stayed with the place. We sat in silence for a bit, simply breathing and being grateful for my survival.
Afternoons in Oosterpark
As my recovery proceeded, and at the urging of my nurses, R would roll me across the street to the beautiful expansive greenway of Oosterpark. Simply experiencing the world of normal people living their lives was a healing process, and being in the fresh air for people watching, flower gazing, and fresh air breathing was a tonic.
Dutch Emancipation Day, Keti Koti Festival
On Sunday, July 1, the dark skinned tea lady who brought me my breakfast told me about a celebration that was happening in Oosterpark that day. I had gotten to know that she was from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America that had retained its Dutch heritage in independence. It was Emancipation Day, she said.
New signage at the park’s entrance stated that it was the Keti Koti Festival.
Keti Koti, a phrase from Suriname meaning ‘Broken Chains’, is a free celebration of liberty, equality and solidarity.IAMAmsterdam
The park was a sea of African print. Men in dashikis, women and their daughters wrapped head to hip in scarlet, saffron, and geranium green. Drum bands surging along the broad walkways followed by clapping and whooping revelers. Food vendors hawking sweet-scented meat pies. Observers paying homage to the West African slaves captured by the Dutch to work in their New World properties and to their freedom, their broken chains, as depicted in the park’s emancipation monument.
“Why doesn’t America have an event like this?” I asked my husband. “I mean, I know when the emancipation proclamation was written, sort of, but we don’t have a day that forces us to acknowledge that we had slavery. And that it ended. And until we do, we cannot begin to acknowledge and end the oppression of Black people in our country.”
It took the killing of George Floyd, and the massive public demonstration by Black people across this country indeed in Amsterdam as well as many other places around the world to, remind me last year that there is such a day on the calendar. It is called Juneteenth, a day that commemorates June 19, 1865 the day Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas to enforce the emancipation proclamation, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s act had taken affect.
New York State, my old employer, made Juneteenth a state holiday last year.
This new public holiday will serve as a day to recognize the achievements of the black community, while also providing an important opportunity for self reflection on the systemic injustices that our society still faces today.New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
It took another year of civil rights demonstrations, the ouster of Trump from the White House, and the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for Congress to enact the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making Juneteenth a national holiday.
A day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take — what I’ve long called “America’s original sin.” At the same time, I also remember the extraordinary capacity to heal, and to hope, and to emerge from the most painful moments and a bitter, bitter version of ourselves, but to make a better version of ourselves.President Joe Biden
It turns out that just having a holiday is not enough. My hospital roommate, a white woman whose alcoholism had caused her to tumble off her social pedestal, disdained the idea of attending the festival. “This is not for us,”she sniffed.
Keti Koti gives us not just a chance to celebrate the abolishment of slavery, it also celebrates the Surinames community and all the colour and pomp they bring to the Dutch way of life. Without them and their ancestors, the Netherlands wouldn’t be what she is today.In all we do, let us respect them, honour them and do all we can to make sure that history never repeats itself.Beejonson, Dutch web content blogger