It was the summer of 2001, when we moved to the Netherlands. So far, I had lived my entire life on a tiny Island in the Caribbean Sea. A tiny, hot Island. And then we moved here: Dutchieland. The land of the windmills, the wooden shoes, the tulips, the legal marijuana, the prostitutes and the 20 million bikes. And the cold. O yes, the cold.

I had ridden a bike before: I kind of knew how to ride it. Island style. Meaning, I rode it maybe once every two months and never more than five to ten minutes, because where would you go? There were no bike lanes on the Island and whenever a car came our way we knew we had to get the heck off the road. And every single bike I had, got stolen after a couple of months. So, okay, maybe I didn’t really know how to ride a bike. Not the Dutchie way at least, with all the traffic rules and the busy streets and the having to constantly be on that darn bike.

I had my first biking accident after a month of living here. My sister’s steering wheel got caught in mine and we went flying.

After another month, I got sick. Pneumonia and laryngitis, because I had literally no idea how to dress against the cold and my body wasn’t used to all these Dutch viruses. I knew I was supposed to wear a sweater. I just didn’t know I had to put other layers of clothes underneath… Four treatments of antibiotics and four temporary houses later, my parents found a house we could move into. I started school a month late, in a small town in the South of Holland.

All the kids had heard about “this girl from Curacao” that was coming to their school. Even though none of them had any idea where or what Curacao was, they had this idea of what I was supposed to look like.

I didn’t look like that. At all.

The first thing they said to me, when I walked into the classroom was: “But you are white!” And the second thing they said, after I had opened my mouth, was: “But you sound black!”.

And then winter came

Apparently, that was not an acceptable combination. I was told to speak “normal” and kids laughed whenever I said I had to go to the bathroom, instead of the toilet (which is a thing in Dutch: you shower in a bathroom and obviously, you don’t shower at school) and they were in shock every time I had to tell them “No, I don’t know who that famous singer/TV star/soccer player is”.

In the months that followed I somehow managed to make friends and learn how to speak “proper Dutch”. I adjusted like a chameleon, focussed on survival. And then winter came.

I remember riding my bike home after school, the darkness was setting in. And all of a sudden this horribly painful sensation started cutting at my face and into my legs. I had no idea what was happening, I had never experienced anything like it before. They were hailstones. I wanted to go home so badly. I wanted to be back on my Island, in the searing heat, on the beautiful beaches, with the white sand and the turquoise sea and no stupid bikes and hailstones.

Needless to say, that first year in Dutchieland was hard. My grades dropped faster than the constant rain. And after a year we moved again.

But to a city this time and life slowly started to change for the better. Not only did these kids not care one bit whether I said bathroom or toilet, I was also no longer the only “foreigner”. Diversity was the norm and I fit right in. I made friends that, to this day, are still my best friends.

Needless to say, that first year in Dutchieland was hard

They taught me about traffic rules and BN’ers (Dutch celebrities), they showed me how to make “wentelteefjes” and how to layer my clothes so I wouldn’t be too cold, they brought me into their homes and made me think “Maybe Holland isn’t so bad after all”. Sure, they made fun of me when I believed clovers weren’t real and they laughed whenever I screwed up a Dutch proverb or didn’t understand certain Dutch expressions. But they accepted me for who I was and they made me feel like maybe, Holland could start to feel like home.

It took years. I’m not going to lie. And to be honest, during winter time it still feels like Holland is where my house is and Curacao is where home is. But I have learned to love Dutchieland and (most of) its crazy Dutchies.

Because the Netherlands is the country where I can be myself, open and out. Where I got to legally marry another woman and have the same rights as straight couples. It’s where I had my first daughter and will give birth to my second daughter, this summer. It’s where I feel safe, where I am not judged for being gay or “different”.

It’s the country where my daughters will most likely grow up and have a decent education. Where they will learn to speak their mind, without being afraid to think, feel and act freely. They will have job opportunities and health care. They will be treated as equals and they will be stimulated to be independent and creative human beings. And they will probably have a Dutchie-style blunt sense of humor.

Curacao will always have a big part of my heart. And I want to give my daughters the best of both worlds. So, I will take them there, to experience the beauty of the Caribbean culture and language first hand, as often as I can. But I will also teach them how to be grateful for everything The Netherlands has to offer. And maybe, just maybe, they will teach me how to appreciate cows and snow and dunes.

This column was written by Kari van der Heide:

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