|Isaac Israel. Portrait of a Wounded Soldier (1882) Rijksmuseum.
Depicts a Belanda Hitam (Zwarte Hollander) originally from Elmina, Ghana
decided against Barcelona or any other locale that I envisioned I could
be mistaken for a prostitute simply on the basis of my dark skin and African features. Though I toured Rome in 2008 solo without any issues, this year my mental strength has been wavering what with the absurdity of NYPD’s racial profiling, the Trayvon Martin trial,
and the many people I encounter in my professional life who simply
cannot get past my skin colour (or perhaps my gender but most likely
both) to recognize the white coat I wear, the stethoscope around my
neck, the name embroidered on said white coat that incidentally is
followed with two letters M and D in that order, not to
mention the hospital badge that I wear that should hint as to why I’m
not entering their room to empty their urinal or get them off the
With this mental fatigue brought about by racial injustices and prejudice, the asinine Republican war on women, the insinuation by people who do not know me but proceed to scold me for not complying with their idea of an Nzema/Ghanaian/African/Black woman I have often wondered if there are other places in this world for me to live in first as a woman, and second as an African (not just as a person of colour). I have never favoured the United States, and have always thought that my life would have been happier had I been left to continue growing up in Europe. Now, would I have had the opportunity to become a doctor? Who knows. But one can be happy without being a doctor, and without going to the finest American schools, and without brushing shoulders with academic elite right?
I wanted to go to Amsterdam as an escape thus I did not create a fierce itinerary as I’m apt to do and actually I feared I would be a little bit bored. I was prepared to just go to the park or a café daily and catch up on my literary adventures. But despite my professed mental fatigue, I did decide that I just needed to see where the immigrants of Amsterdam lived. I don’t know, maybe i was hoping for some mangoes. So I plotted that one fine day, I would get up, go to Centraal station, hop on the #54 train and descend at Bjilmer 30 minutes later. I knew it was the diverse part of Amsterdam and I knew I would blend right in and possibly be no longer a tourist. But I was also nervous because I had read about its notoriety for crime and drug trafficking so I wasn’t entirely sure I was up to it. .
|Gerrit Schouten. Diaorama of a slave dance (1830) Rijksmuseum|
I admit that I was disappointed and truthfully, angry, when no mention of slavery was made during the Sandeman tour of Amsterdam we took on our first day. The guide just kept talking about how the Dutch had become the major international trader in Europe (of spices!) in its heyday and I just kept getting angrier. I wonder if he was truly daft or if it was purposeful sugar-coating. Again, on the canal cruise, the audio tour talked about the magnificient Dutch trade in sugar and spices and such contributing to the marked transformation of Amsterdam… but at least the boat captain, who had taken to supplementing our audio guides uttered the word slaves when he talked about the trade that made Amsterdam so rich. Do the Dutch not know how much they have benefitted from this peculiar institution?
|Paul Gauguin. Among the mangoes at Martinique (1887) Van Gogh Museum|
So that was my state of mind by the second day in Amsterdam. I declared to N’ku that I was going to find and go to the ghetto and she bet with me that there was no such ghetto. Hmm! Every place has a ghetto right?
On our third day, we visited the Rijksmuseum and came across a section on the imperialist Dutch. It was now N’ku’s time to be angered by a book encased in a glass cabinet from which you could read a Dutchman’s account of the terrible treatment of African slaves in Suriname. I was sadly amused by a letter in that same cabinet granting slave-holders in the Dutch colonies compensation for the loss of their slaves after abolition. I wondered if the slaves themselves got any compensation. Simultaneously, I had a flashback to the “Who Do You Think You Are?” episode featuring Paula Deen in which she was torn apart not so much about her great-great-grandfather having slaves but rather him losing everything (ie. said slaves) after the Civil War and becoming destitute. And I’m supposed to be surprised that she romanticizes life in the antebellum South? I can imagine that American slave-holders would also have wanted compensation for their losses were it not for the Civil War. The absurdity of life and white privilege in this world, truly, sigh.
|Amsterdam museum holding|
They take their leave soon afterwards.
I am ready to leave the park after this encounter but N’ku wants more. So further in we Go. We come across a clearing of people barbecuing, dancing, hanging out, and smoking so we sit at the fountain to take it all in. N’ku remarks, “this is the most Black people we have seen so far” and I quietly concur while making up my mind that perhaps I don’t need to see the ghetto after all. Perhaps, this is good enough, and was there not a fruit stand near our apartment with beckoning mangoes on display?
So now the sun has set and we are leaving the park. N’ku is berating me for not chatting up guys and flirting like I said I would do since I’m on vacation leaving her to do all the work, and I’m thinking, uh no buddy, not with these riff-raff…yes, the profiling escalates. I’m defending my flirting capabilities when now these two other black guys interrupt our conversation. I truly have had enough and I continue to walk away while N’ku stays behind for her next bout of entertainment. I figure I’m truly boring if she needs to talk to strangers so desperately. One guy attaches himself to me as I walk away and I can see under the occasional lamp that he is actually not bad-looking and has a beautiful set of locks. He wants to know if I’m from the UK because he’s going there the following week, and maybe we can catch up there. Sure, I say, and soon afterwards, there’s a yell from behind us – it’s his friend – and both he and N’ku are having a wonderful conversation as it turns out we are all Ghanaian.
I won’t lie, this is the most pleasurable encounter with strange men in the park so far today but I still am not in the mood. I guess I truly am in holiday mode. A don’t bother me mood. Though they also ask if we have tried the weed and why not, this is Amsterdam, we should let loose and have fun, do we want to be shown where to get some?, these guys are far more interested in getting some from us. I’m not in Amsterdam for a one-night stand either, so I don’t have the energy to play along. But I don’t get away without tight grabs at my waist, an attempt to carry me, a smooch on my neck, and blatant visual undressing from the cutie who has taken a fancy to me and who commands me to gyei concert nu (stop playing hard to get?). I’m actually laughing throughout all of this because the night has become pure hilarity. Just 100% nonsense. N’ku is enjoying herself, exchanges details and the plan is on for us to meet up at a later time…
|Ducks at Vondelpark|
Which reminds me, N’ku and I both travelled with Ghanaian passports and US Green Cards and supposedly look younger than our stated 30+ years of age, so at the security check at the gate on our return to the US, not only were we asked about whether we had packed our own bags or accepted packages from strangers, the officer wanted to know what we were doing in Amsterdam, where we stayed, proof of our residence, what we did each day, who paid for our plane tickets and accommodations, what we did for a living, if we went any where else….just a myriad of very odd questions were it not for the fact that we were two young black girls with African passports visiting the drug haven of Europe.