Travel Tuesday: When We Experienced Holland’s “Juneteenth”

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


Doing the Right Thing

The governor of my state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is “counting on people to do the right thing” about social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. In the next breath, he shrugs off the young crowds at the bars, saying “people are going to do what they’re going to do.”

Do we do the right thing when we do what we do?

The answer is, as it often is, it depends.

Years ago, I was part of a wellness program run by Albany Medical Center and Dr. Drew Anderson, Director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Lab at the University at Albany. Dr. Anderson introduced me to the idea of making the right thing easy, and the wrong thing thing hard.

Set the clock to wake up early. Have your exercise clothes ready. Have more fresh fruit than less processed snacks at the ready. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. It’s a good way to structure your own behavior.

Things get sticker when the impact of our individual behavior spills out into our community. Sometimes, a physical reminder of the right thing helps reinforce the behavior, like placing doggie poop stations at strategic intervals in my community. (The Lopez Commission imposed mask-wearing on Kumba to help him resist over-reacting to other dogs. It’s working. He’s a dear.0

Kumba’s mask reminds him that other dogs are not a problem.

Suggestions are not enough when it comes to keeping society safe. Regulations ensure that houses in Florida are built to withstand hurricanes or storm surge. Laws have established speed limits, seatbelts, and airbags to make driving safer. When it’s a matter of public health, national security, or other overarching principle, the people we elect to represent us in government step in for the collective good.

Absent any action from the governor, the Palm Beach County Commission has finally mandated masks. The Palm Beach Post had urged them to do so in this editorial that ran the day before the vote.

No, this is not an overreach by the government. No, it’s not unconstitutional. And no, it’s not a question of your personal rights being taken away. It’s well-established law that elected officials have the right – no, the responsibility – to take actions to protect public health.

The Palm Beach Post

The Commission made doing the right thing easier. With our case numbers leaping ahead of most states, you know that my family is sticking with masks if we have to interact with the world. I have been transforming pillow covers into masks. It takes me a long time but is comforting, and I can see why knitting, darning, sewing have long been idle time activities. (Another weight management strategy: when your hands are busy, you’re not using them for snacks!)

Compliance isn’t universal, and not wearing a mask won’t land you in jail, although it carries a fine.

Four days after the Commission’s ruling, scores of partying 20-somethings made for an alarming headline: PANDEMIC’S YOUTH EMBRACE MYTHS AS CASES SKYROCKET.

“I think it’s a hoax, and I think that it’s just the flu on steroids.” She then giggled and walked into the restaurant without a mask covering her mouth and nose.

John Pacenti, The Palm Beach Post

These people are part of Generation Z, the age group that mobilized for gun reform after the Parkland shooting, and that have more recently marched in Black Lives Matter protests. I choose to believe that most of these young people, like us old people, believe in collective behavior for the common good. We’re just at home doing the right thing while the media interviews the partiers.

Stay safe, wear a mask, and be well!