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The Hague, April-May, 2007

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22 April 2007:

The day began in The Hague’s central train station and drew to a unexpected close in a boat on the canals of Amsterdam.  The hours passed easily from one pleasant moment to the next, confirming my suspicion that the best memories from this year will come from experiences completely unplanned and unforeseen. 

A few colleagues and I made tentative plans to visit the Keukenhof, the expansive flower gardens in the town of Lisse.  The goal was to take an early train to the garden in order to spend the morning there and return to The Hague by early- or mid-afternoon.  However, as is often the case, the time to meet kept being pushed back, until we ended up taking a late morning train that would get us to the gardens past noon.  Once there, we spent a few hours walking around, enjoying the sunshine and the immaculately cultivated gardens.  The flowers were absolutely beautiful.  Each one seemed perfect, almost unnaturally so.  They were larger and more vibrantly coloured than any collection of flowers I’ve ever seen, brilliantly laid out in gardens that constantly drew the eye from one row to the next.  And, in a country that probably sees more gray, rainy days than sunny ones, it was wonderful to see groups of people outside, taking advantage of the early spring warmth.

Keukenhof Flowers

After a few hours in the gardens, my friends Ana and Julian suggested that we take a trip to Amsterdam to spend the afternoon in Julian’s boat on the canals.  We spent the rest of the afternoon motoring around the canals of Amsterdam, watching others enjoy the good weather as well by boat, car, and bicycle.  It was such distinctive experience to see the city by boat than on foot or by bicycle, and though this was only my second time in Amsterdam it was almost like seeing a different city entirely.  We navigated our way through large and small canals, around other boats, and through the docks and ports.  Many hours later we returned to the car, packed up the boat, and headed home.  An afternoon in the sun had worn me out quite a bit, but my fatigue was contented.  Aside from the opportunity to spend an afternoon in Amsterdam, I was quite pleased to have spent it in a rather unconventional and unique way.

Pictured: Our boat before inflation; View of Amsterdam from the canals
Canals of Amsterdam

30 April 2007:

Today is Queen’s Day, and I am in Amsterdam to celebrate the Queen’s (or, rather, the Queen Mother’s) birthday.  The city sees about one million visitors on this day, and in addition, almost the entire population of Amsterdam comes outside to celebrate.  I had been a bit nervous about confronting the immense crowds, and all the jostling, shouting, and shoving that usually accompanies them.  What I found was very different from what I had anticipated.  Indeed, although it did feel as if the whole of Amsterdam had come into the streets for the day, the atmosphere was consistently easygoing and light.  The crowds were surprisingly benign.  No one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere, or to get anywhere more quickly than anyone else.  The pace was leisurely, and people seemed to seamless move through the crowds without disruption.  And everywhere was a sea of orange.

Queen’s Day Boys Dancing

I spent the morning wandering through one of Amsterdam’s parks, where the paths were lined with children selling miscellaneous garage sale-type items, vending baked goods, or performing musical instruments.  The Dutch friend I was with amusingly recounted stories of his own childhood endeavors to make money on Queen’s Day, when he would set up shop on the street directly after school and take turns, with friends, vending whatever he could grab from home, from midnight to 5am.  He pointed out the few little girls performing the violin on our walk through the park, telling me, almost regretfully, that the number of amateur violinists had dwindled significantly in the past few years.  They had, from what I could tell, been replaced by groups of girls and boys who had choreographed dances to songs they blasted on portable CD players.  Performing in matching outfits, sometimes with a level of synchronization that suggested they had only conceived of the dance routine the night before, these kids would dance for hours on end.  One group’s music would fade and almost immediately be replaced by another’s, creating a sort of soundtrack to our walk through the park.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking through Amsterdam, stopping at various places to take in an outdoor concert, work our way through an especially dense crowd, or grab a snack from one of the numerous street vendors.  I returned home to The Hague in an uplifted, cheerful mood, one that would last for the remainder of the evening. 

4 May 2007:

Insight President and CEO, David and Patrick, arrived in The Hague last night and are at work today in their first visit to the International Criminal Court (ICC) since I’ve arrived here.  In addition to granting us some enjoyable social time together, their visit also added a great deal of momentum to a few projects on which I’ve been trying to work while here.  David and I were able to meet with a few people who provided us with key, almost crucial, information for these projects.  Almost more importantly, though, we were able to get ourselves on the same page regarding these projects, through conversations that were more productive and efficient than any of our previous email exchanges.  David’s and Patrick’s sudden presence in this placement and at what I consider my workplace was, I admit, a bit odd, considering that before coming here, I had viewed the ICC as more in their domain.  I also felt like their visit gave a lot of people in the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) a better idea of my purpose here, and how I fit into scheme of the office.  And, through their visit I was able to understand the workings of the OTP in a slightly different light, which I hope will be useful in the remainder of my time here.

Through David and Patrick’s visit I was also reminded of how important “face time” is to me.  Though I’ve spoken with them throughout the year, via email or over Skype, I felt like I gained so much more through our conversations this weekend.  That’s due in part, I suppose, to the spontaneity of thought afforded by spending large blocks of time together but also, I think, because I still find it so much easier to speak my mind in person.  It felt good, as well, to reconnect with Insight in this way, through David and Patrick.  Our time together served to refresh in my mind the goals I had set out for myself at the beginning of the year. 

6 May 2007:

This afternoon my friend Jasmine and I went to the M.C. Escher museum here in The Hague.  Though Escher is not, perhaps, the artist that many think of when imagining the quintessential European museum experience, this afternoon reminded me of how much I love museum visits.  I love them for the hours they allow me to walk, unhurried, through their rooms and hallways, exploring their pieces as quickly or slowly as I should choose, and learning history in a visual way.  Indeed, many of my favorite cities (Paris, New York…) are that way in part because of the museum experiences they offer. 

After leaving the museum, Jasmine and I went to a small café nearby.  Though it was a particularly chilly day, there was something perfect about walking out of the museum onto the cobblestone streets, grabbing a drink in a little café, and whiling away a quiet Sunday afternoon in The Hague with good coffee and good conversation.

8 May 2007:

I’m a little frustrated with myself for having missed the pre-trial hearing for Charles Taylor that took place at the Court yesterday.  Though being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), Taylor is being held here in The Hague and his trial is to take place here, as well.  I had been looking forward to observing the pre-trial hearing, both out of curiosity as to what actually takes place at such a hearing and for the chance to get a glimpse at Taylor himself.  However, what was slotted to take two full days apparently only took a few hours, because by 11.30am when I headed down to the courtroom everything had already concluded.  Reading the transcript of the hearing later, I was interested (but not too surprised) to discover that Taylor’s defense team felt understaffed and generally unfairly outnumbered by the prosecution.  My experience at the tribunal in Cambodia had shown me that defense teams at such tribunals often face many times more obstacles than do their counterparts in the prosecution—in terms of numbers of lawyers and support staff, access to adequate technology and working conditions, and institutional support.  Though the Taylor defense team asked for an extension to the trial start date in order to rectify what these inequalities, I have been told that it is unlikely to be granted.  I’m looking forward to observing some of the trial, which begins 4 June.

13 May 2007:

I returned this evening from a weekend in London.  It was far from the relaxing weekend that I probably needed—a change to catch up on some sleep, to set my mind straight on issues at work, with friends, with finishing up my Fellowship year. But despite the semi-frantic pace of the past three days, I’ve somehow returned to The Hague oddly refreshed, “rested” in another sense of the word.

London has always been one of my favorite European cities, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to exchange the quieter, more routine weekend activities in The Hague for whatever London would bring me.  I had only been to the city as a “tourist,” something which I didn’t consider myself to be this time.  Having already seen the Tower of London, Big Ben, etc., I was looking forward to discovering a different side of London—finding what its neighborhoods had to offer, walking around its parks and pathways, and generally just enjoying being somewhere else.  On Friday I spent most of the afternoon around London Bridge, in the small but busy Borough Market.  The market was intensely crowded, as I arrived just around lunchtime.  The noise of the crowds combined with the color and smell of the foods to create an atmosphere which was at once lively and comforting.  I spent hours walking up and down the aisles, learning about the meats, cheeses, jams, and breads from the vendors at each stall.  I then took the remainder of the afternoon to take a leisurely walk along the Thames, watching other people lost in their thoughts and doing a little thinking of my own.

Borough Market

Yesterday (Saturday) I received a call from my cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in about four years.  Now working in London, she had heard through the family grapevine that I was living in The Hague, and I had emailed her awhile ago mentioning that I’d be in London this weekend.  We arranged to meet up for coffee and a bite to eat that afternoon.  Despite the cold rain, we headed to Notting Hill for brunch and spent most of the day catching up and updating each other on family members. I found it really interesting and heartening that despite having grown up in entirely different places, there were certain similarities in our preferences and personalities that tied us together; commonalities between us that could only be attributed to the family connection.  I think I was reminded that afternoon of how strong the family bond is.  And how peculiar it is as well. 

Visiting with my cousin also caused me to reflect on another aspect of this Fellowship.  I’ve come to appreciate that being away for so long has given me a chance to develop relationships and partnerships that would not have otherwise been possible.  I have met amazing people, formed relationships around the world, and encountered personalities that I cannot imagine coming across in any other arena of my life (work, school, typical vacations).  But in addition to pushing me to forge these new relationships that sometimes lie outside what I conceive of as my “comfort zone,” this year has also been crucial to me in terms of reviving existing relationships.  During my visit to Viet Nam this past spring, I was able to meet relatives of whom I had only heard, and was able to learn more about my family history than I had ever been able to before.  In London, I was able to reconnect with a family member with whom I had only minimal contact for the past four years, and in that way was able to create a fresh relationship out of one that had stagnated.  As happy as I am that this year will have given me a number of new relationships, I am equally grateful that it has allowed me to strengthen existing ones.

15 May 2007:

In the midst of planning future weekend trips and trying to book my flights home, I realized that I’m about halfway through this last placement in The Hague. As with my last two placements, this realization has led me to reflect upon the things I’ve done while here and whether I’m on my way to accomplishing all I set out to achieve.  In terms of travel generally, I’ve found myself trying to balance my often competing desires to experience as much of The Hague and Holland as possible, while simultaneously trying to use the location of this placement to explore Europe a bit more.  I keep thinking what a shame it would be to have lived in Holland and seen so little of it, and then my mind wanders to the places throughout Europe that I’ve always wanted to see and experience. 

So I’m going to try to do a little of both, while trying to cultivate strong work and social relationships, as well.  Yet the thing that bothers me a bit about this frantic rush to travel, complete my work projects, and spend as much with people here as possible, is that I can feel my motivation shifting from a very positive desire to explore and experience new things to a drive motivated more by the fear of regret.  In many ways, for example, I am pushing myself to book flights and trains now less because I am 100% excited to take a weekend away, and a bit more because I’m worried that I will regret not having gone.  Though I suppose that in the end, motivation is motivation and it will still get me there, once again this shift seems to highlight that I have so little time left.