NETHERLANDS: Holding Onto Hope In The Face Of Terrorism

NETHERLANDS: Holding Onto Hope In The Face Of Terrorism

mirjamI write this in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium on March 22th.

When I came home from work on Tuesday, I turned on the news and watched chaos and destruction. I am not particularly partial to watching the news, but this hit really close to home. I watched in shock and horror, not completely able to grasp exactly what I was watching.

Privileged as I have been most of my life, this kind of violence and terrorism are things that I watch on television or read about in the newspapers.

As my kids walked in, I felt a strong need to give them some sort of explanation or assurance that they were safe. I couldn’t. I was at a loss for words at that moment.

“Terrorists fight a war against unarmed women, children and elders,” I said. “They fight innocent people instead of playing by the rules and fighting against soldiers. That is what’s so wrong about terrorism. These victims had nothing to do with any war whatsoever. There were just living their lives.”

The news reporter switched to his colleagues in Beirut.

“What are the responses there?” he asked.

“People are shocked and appalled,” the reporter answered. “Although there are some who are happy that ISIS has been able to strike one of their enemies.”

I for one couldn’t understand why that was being reported hours after the attack. I can only imagine what it would feel like to lose a loved one to terrorism and to hear that people are cheering about it.

It was another hate seed being planted.

But sometimes my heart is flooded with fear and my mind worries about the future. It is not the terrorist attacks that scare me the most. What scares me the most is the growing intolerance against Muslims, refugees, and foreigners in Europe.

I see that hatred is growing, and bitter seeds of hate are being planted, watered, and rooted. My response is to double my efforts in teaching my children compassion, kindness and tolerance toward others. I realize that my reactions, my responses to these violent acts, will teach them how to respond to hate. So I refuse to be overwhelmed by fear or hatred. I grab onto hope and hold it tight.

On Friday, it was reported that in Brussels, people were writing messages of love and solidarity on the streets. The simple gesture of people writing with colored chalk warmed my heart.

Because if we are able turn to love instead of hatred, the terrorists haven’t won.

My heart goes out to the people affected by this tragedy.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light in spite of all the darkness.”
– Desmond Tutu –

How do you hold onto hope in the wake of terrorism? How do you talk to your children about it?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mirjam of the Netherlands. Picture credit: Christine Organ.


Mirjam was born in warm, sunny Surinam, but raised in the cold, rainy Netherlands. She´s the mom of three rambunctious beauties and has been married for over two decades to the love of her life. Every day she´s challenged by combining the best and worst of two cultures at home. She used to be an elementary school teacher but is now a stay at home Mom. In her free time she loves to pick up her photo camera. Mirjam has had a life long battle with depression and is not afraid to talk about it. She enjoys being a blogger, an amateur photographer, and loves being creative in many ways. But most of all she loves live and laughter, even though sometimes she is the joke herself. You can find Mirjam (sporadically) at her blog Apples and Roses where she blogs about her battle with depression and finding beauty in the simplest of things. You can also find Mirjam on Twitter and Instagram.

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NETHERLANDS:  Where Do We Draw the Line?

NETHERLANDS: Where Do We Draw the Line?

5475648506_479729c93d_zAs a trainer in intercultural communication and mom to multilingual children, I am always taught to accept other cultures, various ways of thinking and perspectives of looking at the world.

I may of course have a lot to learn about tolerance but I like to think that I’m doing a decent job at understanding all the different viewpoints. But there is a place where my tolerance stops.

One thing I have no understanding for is woo and quackery. The argument, “but indigenous tribes in enter-remote-location-here have been using this plant for ages and it cured all diseases” is useless when scientific research shows that said plant doesn’t work at all or can even be poisonous.

Unfortunately many people believe this stuff and it can have dangerous consequences. And then it gets worse.

Advocates of female circumcision claim that it’s a part of their cultural heritage and without it women feel they are not “real” women. But any cultural tradition that is based on suffering and disfigurement of the human body should be gotten rid of very quickly and no amount of cultural appreciation will suffice for me to accept such a tradition.

Let’s also remember that culture, while it brings people together and helps them get along better and makes sense out of their environment, can also smash our individualism and make us unhappy.

But as dangerous and untrue these claims are, it gets worse. Women get killed, raped, disfigured and humiliated every day. They are afraid to go out on the streets in the evenings; they take great care in picking their clothes out of fear of being proclaimed “indecent”.

In many parts of the world, people kill each other over cultural, religious or political differences which are often minor. In some parts of the world, certain people are considered worse than other people.

Should we just accept it as it is, saying, “It’s another culture, we shouldn’t do anything about it, we should just appreciate our differences”? I agree that cultural diversity is great- and I myself benefit tremendously from it. But shouldn’t we be drawing a line somewhere? And if so, where should we draw it?

In her book, “Medaliony”, Polish writer Zofia Nałkowska tries to make sense of what happened during WWII in Poland. She could have put blame on the Germans, the way many Polish people did and still continue to do today. But she didn’t. Instead, she wrote, “People prepared this fate for people”, or in a better translation, “humans prepared this fate for humans.”

I guess that line should be drawn when it’s not about cultural differences anymore. When the action in question can’t be explained by traditions, cultural heritage or tolerance. In short when it’s about humans hurting or killing other humans.

A common criticism of the understanding cultures approach is that deep inside, we are all the same. Of course there are some things that are universal: we are all humans, we have hearts and brains and skins. We’re so afraid that if we start mentioning our differences, we will start comparing ourselves to others and consider some of us better.

I beg to differ. Of course we are all humans and some of the things we do are universal. But the truth is that we are an extremely varied species, on a wide spectrum of sizes, skin colours, temperaments and cultural and social backgrounds.

Saying we are all the same eradicates the wonderful differences in us and I think that’s a shame. We are all humans and all different, and if one human kills another human it’s a tragedy.

Sadly, such tragedies happen all the time. Recently, the three boys: Eyal Yifrcah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel disapeared and were later found dead. The #BringBackOurBoys campaign, while beautiful, did nothing to revive them. Then, the flight MH17 crushed in Ukraine. Expatica Manager Antoine van Veldhuizen was on that plane. He and other victims of the plane crash will be hugely missed and the Netherlands are in mourning.

We like to say that humans are great with making sense out of tragedies. They need to feel that they suffered for a reason. Again, I beg to differ. Suffering and pain don’t make sense. We can certainly make sense out of them but to do so means to accept that and this is something I’ll never ever do.

Humans killing humans doesn’t make sense. And no amount of cultural appreciation classes or tolerance will convince me otherwise. Before you see someone as a part of a certain culture or religion, you’d better see the individual human first.

Our differences shouldn’t divide us. They should bring us together.

But above all, being different is no excuse to kill other people.Because nothing ever is an excuse to kill, nor should it be.

Instead, killing other people should be considered the shocking and saddening tragedy that it is and nothing should ever change that.

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Olga Mecking, The European Mama, from the Netherlands.

Photo credit: DIBP images. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Olga Mecking

Olga is a Polish woman living in the Netherlands with her German husband. She is a multilingual expat mom to three trilingual children (even though, theoretically, only one is trilingual since she's old enough to speak). She loves being an expat, exploring new cultures, learning languages, cooking and raising her children. Occasionally, Olga gives trainings in intercultural communication and works as a translator. Otherwise, you can find her sharing her experiences on her blog, The European Mama. Also take a while to visit her Facebook page .

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BELGIUM:  What If Your Boss Is the Bully?

BELGIUM: What If Your Boss Is the Bully?


If you Google bullying, there is a whole plethora of websites to choose from. Most of them deal with how to prevent your kid from bullying, how to react when your kid is bullied/being a bully, how to talk to your child about bullying.

But what if it is you—a fully grown adult—who are being bullied and there is really nothing you can do about it because the bully is also an adult…and your boss? And you cannot afford to lose your job.

Here is the situation: years ago I worked for a small, family owned business (You will understand why I do not name any names). I can best describe my boss as the Belgian cousin of Miranda Priestly, the Devil-boss who wore Prada. Believe me she had her down pat. From the sneering “that’s all,”  the calls outside work hours, the berating because I could not divine her thoughts and causing her to suffer the indignity of having to actually tell me what was expected, the pout…

Oh yeah, they were related all right.

After little more than a six months, I was actively looking for another job. And then, a week before I planned to resign and tell her to go do something to herself, I found out I was pregnant. And the game and the world as a whole changed completely.

We had just started building our house, there was no way my husband’s salary would cover all the bills and finding a job while you are pregnant is not easy.

So I stayed on. But it was obvious right from the start that they did not like the idea of having a young mother as employee.

Since I was competent at my job they had no reason to fire me outright and because Belgian legislation is rather protective towards pregnant women in the workplace, it became almost impossible to fire me when I handed over the medical bill announcing my pregnancy.

And so the bullying started.

Little things at first. Saddling me with a huge amount of work half an hour before I was due to clock out. Making a mess of the client contact database, insisting it was my fault, even though there was actual proof that it wasn’t.

But when they noticed that I was relatively unaffected things got BAD. In capitals.

While the company was closed for the summer holidays I got a letter detailing every little thing that I had done wrong after I announced I was pregnant. And I really mean everything, like putting one (1!) sheet of paper for an invoice the wrong way up in the printer causing them the loss of a whole eurocent in paper because I had to reprint the page. After that it got even worse than you can imagine. Belittling me in front of clients, calls at all hours, at all times, screaming, yelling, throwing. One day I came into the office to find that my boss had emptied my trashcan all over my desk. Fun times… I can tell you.

You must wonder how I dealt with the situation. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I did not deal with it.
No, that is wrong. I did deal with it, but not in the way you might imagine. I did nothing.

I showed up for work, I let them scream, I let them yell, I let them belittle me, when they called at 6am on a Sunday I answered the phone and made no complaint. Nothing. When I arrived at the office I did my job. Business as usual.

This was my defense strategy. I did my job and because I continued to do it well, they never had an excuse for firing me.

Yes, I could have filed a complaint for harassment and started a legal procedure. I even started collecting evidence in case I should one day be forced to do so. Chances are very good I would have won, since the evidence was pretty rock solid. Yet, this was never really my intention. I was 29 at the time and legal procedures in Belgium can take a looooooooooooooooooong time. Dragging my employer to court would take ages, it would cost a lot of money and it is the kind of thing which haunts you forever. I still had my way to make in the world, my career was just beginning. A court case was likely to follow me around for my whole life and I did not wish to bring this kind of baggage with me.

I collected—and still keep—the evidence just in case.

In retrospect, I should have gone to my doctor, explained the situation and asked him to declare me unfit for work. But I did not do that. As soon as it was legally possible I resigned and the happy dance I did on my last day of work might have come straight out of a Broadway musical. I never looked back.

Has this situation ever happened to you? What did/would you do?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Belium, Tinne of Tantrum and Tomatoes.

The image used in this post is credited to Elizabeth Atalay.

Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes

Born in Belgium on the fourth of July in a time before the invention of the smart phone Tinne is a working mother of two adorably mischievous little girls, the wife of her high school sweetheart and the owner of a black cat called Atilla. Since she likes to cook her blog is mainly devoted to food and because she is Belgian she has an absurd sense of humour and is frequently snarky. When she is not devoting all her attention to the internet, she likes to read, write and eat chocolate. Her greatest nemesis is laundry.

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