Hamsterdam is from The Wire, get it? No? Okay, fine!
Most people I’ve met in Europe have said that I could be from anywhere – it’s a wonderful compliment. I feel like I blend in pretty well. My look is not authentically American. I’m not conventionally attractive. My genes are a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean. I tend to keep quiet and choose my words carefully; often in the language of the city or country I happen to be in, except for Amsterdam. (I cannot wrap my mind around the Dutch language. There are no clues within the word as to what it could mean. No hint as to what the word could mean, besides stroopwafels, because that’s obviously an edible waffle situation.) It is not until I open my mouth and an American accent comes out that the image is shattered into a confusing mosaic. I’ve been told more than once that I am not like most Americans. I have mixed feelings about this, since not all Americans are ignorant, especially the people I call friends.
My adventure begins the second I pick my hostel and decide to spend an entire week in Amsterdam with the intention of taking day trips to Bruges and Brussels. Until I learn that ISIS took a woman and her baby from a Jewish museum in Brussels, violently beating the Western woman and beheading her baby, days before my arrival. Brussels was out for sure. Maybe I would just hangout and eat cheese for a week.
When it comes to choosing a hostel, I look at reviews, price, and then location. I prefer to stay outside of the city center and take public transportation into town. The hostel I chose in Amsterdam met all of my criteria. It was also the second hostel I have ever stayed in at this point in the trip and in my entire life. My hostel in London was rated lower and cost more than this one, and I really enjoyed my time there and met some really wonderful new friends. I assumed that my hostel choosing would only improve, and in many respects, it did throughout my journey. The bus and tram stops are 8-minutes from my residential hostel that also houses local art students and their studios. One of the reviews mentioned that the neighborhood wasn’t great. But it was so close to Sloterdijk train station that I knew I could find my way. A new spring of self-confidence pooling inside me. A feeling of capability. A new and foreign thing taking root. Each step more solid then the last.
That is until I arrived to the Netherlands.
That first night, upon my arrival from the airport, I found my route via bus with one transfer. This seemed easy enough. I had figured out the bus and tube system in London with ease. The thought that my connecting bus would stop running at 8pm and I’d miss the last bus by only a few minutes did not occur to me. So, there I was. Lost. Utterly and completely in the middle of nowhere at a creepy bus stop in the freezing rain, at night. Alone. No phone or WiFi. With only a map that made zero sense.
A man approached me. He looked like a mixture of Saddam Hussein and Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street. He offered me cocaine and asked me to party with him. I held my belongings tight and politely declined his nefarious offerings. I asked him if he could figure out the map. If my bus did, in fact, end prior to my arrival. He swayed and lazily held his eyes open. He didn’t know. He only wanted to get the number 7 tram and party some more. He asked the young Muslim lady for help. She grabbed me, “Come with me, I will help you get there.” We hurriedly jumped on a bus away from Leo Hussein. I watched him fumble with a cigarette from the warmth of the night bus next to my savior.
The young Muslim lady told me to get off with her and wait for the next tram across the street. I was grateful for her help. I got on the next tram and took it to the end. The train station I was looking for brought me a short walk to a comfy bed and hot shower. I dragged my luggage, which at once contained too much and not enough, through the winding suburbs. Suddenly, there it was. A big, bright building out of the darkness. My new home for the next seven days.
I would later learn that Muslim men do not enjoy seeing a lone woman walking alone at night. They would spit at my feet and make a sucking noise in my direction. The women and children of my temporary neighborhood were inside the house the second the sun went down. I was an obvious outsider, covered from head to toe due to the Dutch chill, just not in a burka. Those first couple days were slightly scary. But I never quit. I never gave up.
I held my head high. Ignoring the harassment. It’s not my place to comment. I’m just a visitor. No tears. Not a defeat but a matter of cultural difference.