Pt. 1. The great escape
In part 1 of myself reflection journey I go back to my roots. Trying to understand where I came from, and what formed me. When looking back consciously at past events, perhaps I will understand my current situation better. And I might be able to navigate the sea of doubt I am currently in and get a clear vision of where I am supposed to be going.
Currently I am reading some interesting books about finance, geopolitics and the circle economy (I will put the links to the books at the end of this article).
As a 41 year old Gen X-er I am perhaps entering a sort of mid-life crisis? For me its more the realisation that I am at a cross-roads with the need to make a decision on what to do with the rest of my life. I have reached quite some things that I am proud of and have learned many lessons. Sometimes from very unexpected angles and people. I think that our generation is living in an era where we have 1 foot in a traditional life system and the other in times of change. I feel that when we were young it was clear that we would break the status quo and bring along change. Then when looking at the current state of things, I think we have not really achieved this (yet).
I grew up on a small Island called Aruba in what was then still the Dutch Antilles. The population enjoyed a reasonable high standard of living, and life was good. The main industry back then was oil refining. The economy was good, public services were and welfare were a copy of the Dutch system, education for free etc. etc. Things were good. Then in 1986 we broke free form the Dutch Antilles constellation and became an independent nation within the Dutch Kingdom. The refinery closed, the economy went south and The Netherlands was not really helping us, out of Spite? I guess? I am not sure, I was 9 at the time. Looking back at those times I now realise we were in a similar situation as we are now in 2018 globally. The local politics were polarised, unemployment was on the increase and as a new nation we were looking for our national identity. Rumours were that the refinery closed due to a too socialist inclination by the then government. The refinery was run by ESSO, and Aruba being in contact with Fidel Castro has upset the US government and this forced the refinery to close. I know this by word of mouth, so I can’t confirm this, but it all sounds plausible. Especially because the refinery just invested millions of USD in new machinery and equipment. In comes the new government, who invest heavily in Tourism, which would replace the dependance on oil refining as an economic pilar. Life was still good, the economy turned around and improved again. Tourism started to thrive. Social life on Aruba was also back on track, public service was still good. However, declining in quality if comparing to pre 1986 standards. Others will argue against this, and I say, this is purely based on my own perspective. So I could be wrong in some cases.
In the years post 1986 the people of Aruba started defining and were more conscious about having a national identity. Our language, heritage, culture and what it meant to be a real Aruban etc etc. started to gain root. Which is normal for a young country. 33 years later, we are still defining and developing our national identity. As we still struggle to really define our culture, or as one recently conducted study calls: our DNA (http://www.cumirapafuturo.com)
Being of mixed marriage, I was able to experience life on Aruba from 2 different angles. My father is Aruban, and my mother is Austrian, but grew up in post war Netherlands. We spoke Dutch at home. Outside of my home I would speak the local language Papiamento. Then when I turned about 8, it became naturally weird to speak Dutch to my father. So without any transition, on one day I started to speak Papiamento with my father. I still don’t understand how that process went, it just happened. Although I am very mixed genealogically (I traced my roots to bout 200 years back), I have caucasian looks. On Aruba I was considered a “Macamba” which was local slang for Dutch people . In some cases it is considered to be a negative word, but my mother embraced it and carried it with humor. I think that that attitude also helped us being accepted more by the “real” locals. As I grew up and entered my teens, I was being seen more and more as an Aruban and less as a Macamba. At least that is how I experienced it.
Growing up with 2 cultural influences at home I think I always looked at the world around me slightly different than my friends and family. In the beginning it was unconscious, and later a bit more conscious. This was probably the root cause of the loneliness, frustrations and to some extend depressions I experienced. I had very good friends, and I still do. I love them, but I was always alone with my views, thoughts and way of looking at things. I think that throughout my life people on Aruba always thought of me of being somewhat eccentric or (positive) crazy.
Due to our Dutch background and speaking the language at home I had an advantage in school. Although I consider myself reasonably intelligent, I am aware and accept that by dominating the spoken language in our educational system, I was able to understand lessons better, faster and therefore score high grades with little effort. Compared to my friends who did not speak Dutch at home, but were extremely intelligent. They had to put in more effort. I respect that a lot. Apart from this, I was lucky to grow up in a society that still valued education. Schools on Aruba were (and still are) free and are a copy of the Dutch educational system, enabling us to enrol in higher education for a Bachelor or Masters degree in The Netherlands relatively easy. I was able to get a good, high quality education largely for free and later on against very favourable loans with low interest rates. I guess this is where my strong believe in the “level playing field” principle comes from. Because imagine if I was born in a country with none of this. I am not sure what would have become of me. As I go along in these self reflections of my life I will stop and mention some of the key defining moments I experienced. These have stuck with me as vivid short memories. I think that the reason for this is, that they are key factors that have shaped my thinking at that moment and therefore my life’s direction. One of the first of these memories was when I was, I guess in my mid-teens. I was going through a rebellious phase and depression. I did not know what to do with my life. I knew that staying on Aruba was not an option, but lacked the conviction to go abroad and continue studying. It was at the house of old friends of my parents. I did not go often, but on this particular day, I got to chat to one of the family members of the house. It was the only time in our lives that we actually had a conversation, making it therefore even more “spooky” and impactful. We were talking about education and what I wanted to be later on in life. I criticised the educational system and expressed some of my frustrations. She told me that I should take advantage of the current welfare system. That education was free and later on still cheap. She argued that it was nothing to be ashamed of of letting a society pay for my education and that I had to make the best out of it and that it was available for a reason. Me not taking advantage of it was actually a “crime” against it all. That educational basis would eventually provide me with multiple possibilities, and eventually I would know what to do. But I needed to keep on with my education. That stuck with me ever since.
A couple of years later I finished high school and turned 18. I did not know what to do. All I knew was that I needed to get off the Island in order to make something out of my life. But I was not very keen on studying. Mainly because I did not know what. As a child I liked to play with toy soldiers and I was always fascinated by warfare, strategy and all things related to the military. So I decided that I was going to join the marines. There is a base on Aruba, and one could enlist. And again, it was one of those, rare, chance encounters or moments that defined my life. As a side note I have to mention that in my teens I played the bass guitar, took lessons and played is some bands. Too young to drive myself around I was not able to make music something I could make money with, plus my father shielded me from the music business, and this was one of the few times in my life where he genuinely made an effort in directing my life towards something better. Long story short, I did not feel that music was something I wanted to spend all my time at. So going to Music school or conservatory was not an option either. Then the idea of the Marines came along. It was only 4 days to the deadline for registering to go study abroad. and I have not submitted my application. I was going to be a marine. That day I was walking downtown, going to catch a bus to go back home when a class mate of mine stopped his car and offered me a ride. we all graduated high school about 3 months earlier. Although we never spent any time outside of school with each other, we could consider ourselves to be friends. So he asked me for my plans (he was enrolling in the local Aruban university for law). When I told him, he looked at me very startled and said: “you? the marines? Boy, you have a structural problem with authority and you want to join the marines? I always thought you would be excited to go to The Netherlands and enter student life there, what is happening?”. I did not know what to answer him. So he gave me some advise which has stuck with me ever since. It was once again one of those moments that remain as a vivid memory with me. He told me to just choose anything in the study abroad catalog, enrol, and just go. He said that I would figure out the rest once I am there, but that I had to go. “You have to go”……..