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Friday 24 October  
One year in a tree's life
Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

Africans going Dutch: Part 42 - My neighbour

Published on : 9 September 2012 - 9:36am | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: Flickr/jokru)
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Who is Babah Tarawally?

After fleeing Sierra Leone for the Netherlands 17 years ago and spending the first seven of those years filing an asylum application, Babah Tarawally began working for independent media outlets in Africa. Alongside this work, he contributes stories and columns to several newspapers. His novel De god met de blauwe ogen (‘The blue-eyed god’) was published in 2010 by KIT. Babah lives with his partner and two daughters in the Netherlands.

After having left my father’s home to seek refuge in the Netherlands, I realized that my new-found country demanded adjusting to a new set of rules. I discovered that I could not be my same self the whole year round, for here people’s behaviour depends on the seasons. I have grown accustomed to the changes, and act accordingly.

By Babah Tarawally 

There are four varieties of my neighbour. I call her Autumn Dutch, Winter Dutch, Spring Dutch and Summer Dutch. Each has her own distinct ways. Understanding the cycle of her seemingly capricious personality has saved me from awkward moments.

I’ve noticed that when the strength of the sun’s rays dissipates and the rain begins to fall, it’s Autumn Dutch who crawls to my doorstep, craving coffee and conversation, needing me more than ever before. She seeks my help in shoring up the dikes and canals of her life, to fight against nature’s vengeance. She expects me to discuss my problems and hers. As a common enemy approaches, it seems our future depends on conspiring to defeat it.

Then the cold snap comes. Her attitude turns icy. I know I am witnessing Winter Dutch. Conversation closed. She leaves my house and bunkers down, alone. If I catch sight of her on the street, I should be prepared for her temper. If I greet her, I should not be surprised by her quiet rebuke. Despite this, I walk straight, like the proud African that I am, and confront her indifference with my head high. In this manner, I might just survive this period, hoping for a thaw.

Indeed, her temper eases as the temperature increases, and Spring Dutch blossoms. Fragrant as a flower, her hair billows in the light breeze and she starts breathing in fresh air. In our encounter, my Hi is quickly followed by her bright How are you? I’ve learned to answer positively but briefly, as she is not yet prepared to delve into my personal problems while going about her business. Even if I am not doing fine, I should force a smile – or risk not being greeted the next time at all.

Finally, the sun comes out and so does the warm disposition of Summer Dutch. Throughout the long, lazy days, she dances and parties with me. Her spirit is reminiscent of home, and I feel most like myself. This is the time to make my move, to befriend her and to let her open up her heart to me. This is the time to lay the foundation for a relationship that can endure all the seasons.

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Liberty 14 September 2012 - 2:37pm / Australia

Dear Babah, thank you so much for sharing this story! You have a wonderful style of writing, I love it! I will definitely check out the book you wrote. And I must say, being a Dutch girl, I slightly recognise the influence sun and the lack of sun has on my temper and behaviour.....

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