Opinion: What a wonderful world

POSTED: 10/3/12 1:03 PM

If you want to be a country you have to embrace everybody who lives there this is easier said than done, at least for some who may think that this is “their” country and that others should dance to their tune.
I was born in the Netherlands, in a small village in the north of the country. So I am Dutch – at least, that’s what my passport tells me. But what does it really mean to be Dutch? What if you feel that the label does not make sense to you?
I left the country in early 1996 and went to Greece. I lived for seven years on the island of Crete. Though I managed to speak the language (haltingly to be honest) and though I chose to live in a neighborhood populated by locals, I remained of course a foreigner.
I encountered very old villagers in the mountains – mostly parents or even grandparents of my Greek acquaintances – and the conversation would sooner or later always turn to foreigners. Those mountain people in Crete do not like foreigners and they let me know it. Until I would put a hand on their arm and say in my best Greek: but I am a foreigner too.
The reaction was always the same. Those wonderful old Cretans would throw you a smile that could light up the whole island and say: No, not you of course.
Apparently there are foreigners, and then there are foreigners. The difference being that some foreigners we know, and others we define by their country of origin. The Germans, the Albanians, the Jamaicans, the Mexicans, the Turks, and the Belgians – the list is not endless, but very long indeed.
The Cretans are a bit weary of the Turks. It’s a long story but what it comes down to is that the Turks occupied Greece for 400 years and that they forced all Cretans to add aki to their name. A man called Kavalaris became thus Kavalarakis (little Kavalaris). To this day, the Cretans have kept the name the Turks forced upon them.
In the village where I lived there was one Turk. The villagers simply called him o Turkous (the Turk). As much as the Cretans still hate the Turks in general, this was their Turk, and they left him alone. (When I once wore a tee short with the Turkish flag my thoughtful daughter Jacqueline had bought for me all hell broke loose so I quickly gave the garment away to a Swede I strongly disliked).
So even the Cretans, who are among the most stubborn earthlings one will ever encounter, understood that to have a country, they had to embrace those that came from elsewhere.
When are you going back to your country? they would often ask me. My answer was always: what do you mean, go back to your country? Well, by that, of course they meant the Netherlands.
But I am in my country, I would always say.
No, the Cretans would object. This is my country, You are in my country.
But since I live here, I maintained, this is now my country too.
We would sit down, drink a raki, and move on to more important matters.
So what is the lesson here? Nation building is about inclusion, not about exclusion. In other words, it does not matter where you are from, it does not matter what the color of your skin is, or the color of your eyes; what matters is what you do.
If for instance, you spend ten years as a ghost civil servant, happily collecting a salary without doing a day’s work for it, somebody is going to call you on it one day. If you start killing people, if you steal or break the law in any other way, there is a system in place to deal with you. But crime is very much an individual activity. One cannot blame a whole people for the horrendous acts of some of their fellow-countrymen.
That is not very well understood in St. Maarten. It is a pity, because it leads to heated though irrelevant discussions that miss the main point.
Keep in mind that it takes all kinds to make a world. Let us judge people on their actions, not on their ethnicity.
I am now again living in my country, or should I say countries – and it is not the Netherlands. Home is where my feet are. so during working hours St. Maarten is my country, and when I lay my head to rest in the evening it is Saint Martin. What a wonderful world we live in.

Hilbert Haar

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