Earlier this afternoon I wrote two paragraphs reflecting on my memories from these last several days in The Netherlands, my flight here, and the strange, enclosed feeling of being both far away from home and physically unable to go back. The completely different content of this actual blog post is a surprise to me, but the initial paragraphs I wrote remain true. I’m going to include them here:
I do not remember the first thing I said when my second of two planes, the one that took me from Paris to Amsterdam, touched Dutch soil. I do remember several notable airport occurrences: a mildly awkward conversation with my soon-to-be peers over Facebook Messenger, my brief period of panic when I thought I had lost my debit card (which I soon found in a pocket I infrequently use), my smile at a cheerful Dutch child and her mother while in a Starbucks line. I admit that I’m already having trouble remembering the details of that Monday afternoon. I remember seeing fields of sheep and geese, which were certainly comforting travel partners to have on the bus ride to our hostel. I remember choosing the hostel room that would hold three people instead of four; I remember my loud shock at the sheer adequacy of our hostel* and the panic that set in as I rested my head against the wall and realized I would be here for three and a half months.
The time duration of my stay here is something that still weighs on me. I suspect it’ll make me anxious for the next several weeks; maybe even for the entire duration of my program. There is something about trapped-ness in spacetime –– not necessarily in a small room or elevator, but rather inside a certain spot in my universe –– that panics me more quickly than almost anything else. I have a great fear of being buried alive, stuck in time, unable not only to get out of the dirt above me, but also to tell the world I am here and living.
*I had never previously stayed in a hostel, but I was expecting something far worse than we got. This one felt more like a hotel without some of the usual conveniences.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to talk about the events that transpired following the moment I saved those paragraphs and closed my laptop, ready to exit the overpriced café a short walk down the street from my apartment (I always work best in a café). I turned on my phone and messaged a friend, asking them if they wanted to visit a nearby vintage store (which was, as I would find out later, also overpriced: a situation undoubtedly aided by gentrification) with me. I quickly decided to visit an ATM prior to my friend’s projected time of arrival and continued down the same street on which I began, making my way to a grocery store with an ATM inside. Not long after I exited the store with my money did I realize I was lost and unable to find my way back to the café from which I came.
Getting lost is not unusual for me. It’s happened at almost every place I’ve ever visited, including, notably, Mount Holyoke’s campus (I somehow lost my way while walking to the library, spending at least fifteen minutes looking for the large, unmistakable building directly in front of me). But there is something so deeply frustrating about getting lost in one’s new home, especially the kind of lost which requires outside assistance. Hands freezing, phone battery rapidly draining and backpack laying headily on my back, I trekked up and down identical-looking stretches of road for over an hour. The “far-flung” place I ended up was not some obscure space on the other side of Amsterdam, but rather a Subway restaurant a mere ten-minute walk from the apartment.
Much to my chagrin, I had to text (and even once try to call) my host parent, velvet, to help me get home. Sitting by the drafty Subway doorway, I waited twenty minutes for velvet to arrive while staring intently at my water bottle and avoiding the eyes of confused (perhaps suspicious) patrons. I felt like a child, especially once velvet told me that the reason I had gotten lost was, most likely, simply because I left the grocery store through a different doorway than the one I had entered. Appropriately, it rained on the way home.
I had gathered some pride in myself over these past few days because I have navigated (literally and figuratively) travel to a new city in a relatively independent manner (although true “independence” is a fiction in our ever-interdependent world). At the moment velvet arrived to get me, it felt like my bubble of maturity had burst and given way to a childishness I had hoped to leave in America.
(I never ended up meeting my friend at the vintage store; they understood my desire to go home and get warm after having wandered around my neighborhood in the cold. Perhaps my situation was even for the best, given that I did not have the opportunity to waste Euros on used clothing priced highly for socioeconomically-privileged students like myself.)
There is no particular moral to this story, no larger philosophical meaning to be derived from “getting lost” in a new place; no lesson to extract. I am writing this down because I think I would like to remember it, and because I know that in the short term, it will heavily impact the way I move through the city and the way I plan my daily activities. Tomorrow, velvet is going to show me around the neighborhood; perhaps a tour by them will assuage some of my fears around getting to class on time and in one piece on Monday. At this moment, I am glad to be inside the apartment, warm, and writing; a combination of activities during which I can’t stray too far afield. Although my initial post was going to center around the crushing, enclosed feeling of being “stuck” in a new place, I am going to be grateful for tonight’s relative stasis.