Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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« Just something fun | Home | Who is perfect? »

With blood, sweat, and tears…

column March 2006. Translation Maria O'Neill Wednesday 15 March 2006

America, October 2005... The weather forecasts are issuing warnings about hurricane Wilma, but she’s still a long way off, so we, my friend Gerda, her seven-year-old son Dakota, and I, are driving through Florida without a worry.

Playing a little music, air conditioning humming, and as a passenger I have a great chance to take in the environment.  I want to see everything – it’s wonderful to be in America again.  Wilma is a long way away, the weather is calm, but it’s hot.  A bit too hot even, but we don’t let that spoil things.  Being on vacation in America is fun and we’re thoroughly enjoying it.  Gerda and Dakota are now living in Amersfoort (a city in the center of The Netherlands), but Dakota was born in America, his mother has visited this part of Florida many times and knows it like the back of her hand.  It is great to let them take the lead.  Gerda knows where the best shopping is.  Dakota wants to be a knight when he grows up and already is practicing knighthood, for his English is better than mine and he helps me out when I’m stuck.

America… we’re driving along the highway to Orlando.  There are large marshes, but no matter how much we hope to spot an alligator, they remain elusive today.  Gerda tells us about Walt Disney, who years ago bought a large area of marshlands for very little money, because the people who lived there couldn’t do much with it, but Disney knew how to develop it and since he created Disney World the land in that area has become very expensive.  There are beautiful houses in the Orlando area, but when you enter the city you see the poor neighborhoods first.  No big houses, no expensive cars there, but dilapidated shacks and bus stops.

But Orlando is a great town for shopping.  We go to the mall, a large, indoor shopping center.  The air conditioning is on high, and that’s the only drawback – it’s really cold in there – but the shopping is heavenly.  In Gainesville, not far from our motel, there is a large mall, too.  It is there that I get into a conversation with a girl from Ethiopia.  As soon as she finds out that I’m from Holland, she is very enthusiastic because she has family in Amsterdam.  She asks me how I like America.  She herself doesn’t think much of it.  She is very homesick for her family in Ethiopia because, in her opinion, the family ties are much tighter in Ethiopia than they are in America.  That’s why she’s not sure if she wants to stay in America.  Everything evolves around money, she says, but there is so much more to life than money. She’s studying Marketing and now she has to make a difficult choice:  Either work on a career in the USA, or return to her fatherland, where her study is of no benefit to her.  She is almost ill with homesickness, the poor thing, but happily her mother will come to visit her soon and she’ll be able to hug her tight once more, after almost four years.  “But what to do,” she asks me, “What should I decide?  Stay here and live in a country that’s not mine, that I do not understand, and where I do not feel at home?”  I don’t know what to tell her either and I can only advise her to listen carefully to that little inner voice, and wish her much luck.

Halloween is coming soon and in the stores we admire the Halloween items and decorations.  We do not know Halloween, but to the kids in America it’s perfectly normal to see the scariest things displayed in the shops, from frightening masks to cut-off, “bloody” plastic legs, and skulls and bones.

America, America… In Gainesville we visit a park with a big lake, and there we finally see alligators.  It made our day – they are beautiful!  Afterwards, we drive along the wide roads from Gainesville to a restaurant, with three kids on the backseat, Dakota and the kids of a friend of Gerda’s.  De CD player is on and the voice of André Hazes (a singer of popular Dutch tearjerkers) sounds through the car.  He sings, “With Blood, Sweat, and Tears”.  In the back of the car the kids sing along loudly, arms and bodies swaying to the beat of the music.  I pinch myself.  Am I dreaming?  It’s so bizarre, driving through America, with American kids, singing with a beautiful American accent:  “With blood, sweat, and tears, I said friends, goodbye friends, the cake is finished.”   Outside dusk is setting in. André and the kids are singing and a man with a sickle walks along the side of the road.  He wears a black gown with a skull on the front.  The kids scream when they see him, not out of fear, but in excitement.  This is part of Halloween, this is part of America, and this is fun.

Hurricane Wilma is on her way and she’s very near on the day we depart for home, but apart from the rain we don’t notice her much.  She kindly moves to the east while we are northbound.  The plane takes off and we arrive exactly on time in The Netherlands.  It’s over, the vacation in America, but I already know I want to go back. To the stores and the alligators.  To the mall, to see if the girl from Ethiopia still works there. Wonderful America.  I will miss the country, and the people, and, of course, Gerda and Dakota, my helper, my knight in shining armor.  And perhaps I will even, just for a fleeting moment, miss André Hazes a little bit.  Because of his “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” forever associated with the man with the sickle in Gainesville, Florida.


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