Dina Ann’s Tales from Twente
Hitting the ground running
After several years in Holland, you wouldn’t think Dina (below) was raised in South Africa if you saw her and husband Johan Boessenkool (further down) pedalling away beside the grachten of Almelo on their “rijwielen” (bikes)
Back in her Dutch stamping grounds after attending the 90th birthday festivities for her mother in South Africa, René Vincent (née Van Pletsen), Dina Ann Boessenkool has delighted friends and relatives by resuming the entertaining round-robin letters that earned her an introduction on this blog last year as “Another Van Pletsen Story-teller”. This time, she wryly comments the frustrations of modern air travel, the virtues of cell-phones, the mingled blessings of the infotech age in Dutch vocational language teaching and the recently enforced Africanisation of familiar English street names in her native Durban. Dina Ann, who is René’s eldest of three daughters, wrote this letter after arriving home safely, but not quite in one piece – her luggage went astray in transit:
Almelo, The Netherlands
6 November 2010
Dear friends and family,
It’s been just over two weeks since Johan fetched me at Düsseldorf airport. He had to wait some time for me to appear through the gates because my new powder-blue Samsonite luggage failed to make an appearance. When eventually the carousel stopped and I was the last person left waiting, I realised I had to go practise my rusty German on someone. Who? Where?
A quick SMS to Johan waiting outside in response to his anxious “Where are you?” After wandering around half-understanding what people were saying to me, I found the right office and discovered that my case was still in Johannesburg. I think it must have been a mix-up with names. “Okay, so who’s this Boessenkool / Vincent / Dina-Ann? Can’t she make up her mind who she is? Let’s treat this like suspicious luggage until she crawls out of the woodwork somewhere. We won’t call you. You call us.”
What a boon cell phones are. Johan had in the meantime wandered off in case I was thinking of materialising where I was least expected. I eventually came through the gates to find no Johan. What to do? Do I have to practise more creaky German? And how do I say in German “Has anyone seen a tall grey stranger with a beard?” So another SMS saying that I was moving to the pick-up point. I hovered ostentatiously around the pick-up point (meeting point sounds better, doesn’t it?) Then I saw Johan in the distance earnestly studying his cell phone and walking in a measured way in my direction.
So I went charging along full tilt with my trolley before he could complete his next SMS.
Then we were not very good at leaving the airport. We kept not taking “the third exit from the roundabout”. In our excitement we kept taking the second exit so we’d do a whole scenic route back to where we started. I think we did it three times before we finally escaped from Düsseldorf airport. Then we could settle down to chat, and enjoy the picnic goodies Johan had brought in a big bag.
My luggage was very efficiently delivered to our front door two nights later and the two precious bottles of Bols brandy were intact. Do you know that you cannot get Bols brandy in the Netherlands? You can get Bols everything else, but not brandy. Of course, when you ask for “brandy” in Nederland, people look at you funny and you can almost see the speech bubble, “Brandy? What kind of person drinks brandy! Cognac, yes, but brandy, no! ” “Brandy” is no longer a generic name but a term reserved for the inferior stuff, not quite rotgut, but not something you offer to your guests in polite society. As far as I can figure out, the hierarchy is cognac first, then vieux, then brandy, then brandewijn. I think Dutch “brandewijn” is probably marginally less rough than “witblits” or “mampoer” in South Africa.
It took a while to get used to being at home again. For the first few mornings I couldn’t understand why I heard Dutch voices on the radio as I woke up. I kept puzzling as to how my mother had somehow managed to get shortwave reception of Dutch radio. I even thought Johan had somehow set up shortwave reception for my mother when we were both in SA about three years ago. And gradually I would realise where I was and who was in bed with me!!
On Wednesday night I hit the ground running. As a result of a comedy of errors half my class had Book One and the other half had Book Two. I knew about a third of the people from last year and there was a lot of goodwill in discussing possible solutions. The immediate solution was for them to work in groups. Most people co-operated with good grace and made the best of the situation. By now we have split the class into a Wednesday night and a Thursday night group.
Oh, the joys of modern technology……when everything works…..
A typical evening can go like this:
18.00 Arrive at Security and sign for a smartboard pen and a key to the classroom (Last year we part-timers had no keys so someone from Security had to walk with us to open the door.)
18.05 Ask at Reception where I can make photocopies with the code I have been given (Last year we had no code and had to hand in stuff for photocopying a week before)
18.10 Make copies for the students who are still waiting for their books to be delivered
18.20 Go upstairs and open my classroom. Switch on the beamer and the computer.
Discover that my smartboard pen doesn’t work.
Walk all the way back to Security for another pen
Discover that someone has messed around with the beamer, so stand on a chair and get it lined up properly
Discover that for some reason there is no computer connection tonight.
No Smartboard, no playing of the class CD.
Look around in the passages and other classrooms for an old-fashioned flipchart or whiteboard
Hope that I have old-fashioned flipchart or whiteboard pens in my bag.
18.45 – 20.15 Teach the first class of the evening : Advanced English
20.30 – 22.00 Teach the second class of the evening : Beginners
22.00 Pack up, lock up, return key and smartboard pen, go home.
It’s lovely when everything works. It’s great fun to have access to the internet during a lesson but you can’t always take that for granted, and, of course, there’s no-one on duty at night in IT to help out.
I came home to the discover that the long arm of the powers that be in the European Government have a very far reach indeed. Up till now, all language teaching was exempt from value-added tax. In September, a decree went out that from henceforth, all suppliers of vocational language teaching are to charge VAT. And not only from henceforth, but also retrospectively from July 2010! However, you can get exemption by registering with a brand-new body that will charge you a registration fee (renewable every four years) and an annual fee for the dubious pleasure of being on their list. All suppliers of vocational language teaching wishing to register should do so by July 2010. Oh yes, by July 2010, or at the very latest, 1 October 2010
And what is the purpose of the Centraal Register voor Kort Beroepsonderwijs (Central Register for Short Vocational Teaching)? Two possibilities spring to mind:
a) To safeguard standards? Surely any agency that wants to stay in business is capable of doing that themselves.
They don’t need bureaucrats to do that for them.
b) Job creation for pals?
After all, a continuous flow of registration and annual fees provides a nice source of income for body of pen pushers.
Whose brainchild is the CRKBO? Who knows? I can only imagine that someone somewhere conceived of the idea, lobbied cleverly in the European government, other people saw something in it for themselves, and the idea grew into an established fact.
And the strongest argument in favour of maintaining this faceless body with one’s annual fees? You have more chance of getting commissions from agencies that are also exempt from charging VAT.
It’s quite clear to me that the governments of both the Netherlands and the European Union really don’t like the idea of independent people doing their own thing. As you have no doubt gathered by now, I was really miffed by the whole situation. Once I had read and grasped all the sanctimonious claptrap, my first reaction was “Well, now I can really understand why people sometimes find it not worthwhile to work!”
Fortunately, I enjoy my classes and still have fun. So I shrug my shoulders, sniff disparagingly, and get on with life.
When in Durban, I was most disconcerted to see how many street names have been changed to reflect current political correctness. Puhleeze!
For example :
Moore Road = Che Guevara Road
Francois Road = Rick Turner Road
Chelmsford Road = JB Marks Road
Frere Road = Esther Roberts Road
Manning Road = Lena Ahrens Road
Queen Mary Avenue = Sphiwe Zuma Avenue
West Street = Dr Pixley Kaseme
Smith Street = Anton Lembede Street
This despite a petition signed by an overwhelming majority of the citizens of Durban. Sometimes the street signs carry both the old and the new names, sometimes not. Does this really contribute to nation-building?
I have just finished reading “Mukiwa”, Peter Godwin’s haunting memoir of growing up in Rhodesia. I came across his “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun” while I was in Cape Town but did not have time to read it. (If you’re interested, there’s a video interview with Peter Godwin on internet. I’ve just watched it.) While visiting Kalk Bay I came across “The Best of Herman Charles Bosman”. I couldn’t resist buying a copy to bring back with me. Right now I’m in the middle of one his prison stories.
It’s getting chilly these days, so my pot plants are indoors and I hope they survive the winter. We got in early this year and collected a 25 kg bag of salt yesterday in readiness for the winter falls.
We are expecting visitors during the festive season, so I hope we get some pretty, not too heavy snowfalls during that time.
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