en fy eu mk sl ga

Oare Wurden

2017-06-14 13:45 —

I am the other

The boy, clinging to his father’s hand, skipping over the zebra crossing in front of me. I’m at a red light waiting till I can drive on. He –four, five years old– is wearing a mini-kit of the local football pride, Real Sociedad. He glances in my direction, pulls at his father arm more furiously and clearly points to my license plate. It’s yellow, and that’s unusual here, because they use white ones. Through the open window I can tell that the father, impatient as he is, mumbles something with ‘holanda’. I see him both complimenting his son with his insightfulness and at the same time pulling the boy’s arm forward, as they’re clearly in a hurry.

Where at home others are the other, here, away from home, I am the other. It’s crystal clear. On average I’m a bit taller than most men, and my blonde hair is noticeable too. My contact person here, Idoia, insists that if I put on the typical Basque baret, the txapala, I could pretend to be a Basque, albeit from Viscaya. A bit uncomfortable I’m attaching a photo as proof; I’ll gladly let others judge it…

It’s not just the smart kids pointing at me; in the first couple of weeks that I’ve been here and enjoyed the view from the balcony, frequently fingers would raise to point at me. Just as unashamed as kids, were these the old men who gather at the square daily – a sort of Basque ‘leugenbank’, literally translated: ‘lying bench’, though they won’t know that word here. Their frankness surprised me in the beginning – which also goes for the group of men in front of one of the village taverns who drink their beer after work, and when I pass say something containing ‘holanda’: aren’t they aware of the fact that a Dutchman who can’t speak Basque can still understand very well ‘holanda’? But then I get it: for I’m the other one here.

As ‘other’ I’ve been mistaken for a German a couple of times in bars in San Sebastián. Yes I am the other here, but that’s taking it a bit too far. When I reply I am Dutch – which I am, but in The Netherlands more often than not a Bilkert, to be precise – the word ‘Cruijff’ tends to be mentioned and is everything as it’s supposed to be again. Next time they say Cruijff, I should consider saying: ‘No, Piet Jetze Faber!’ There might even be a very small chance that in this pelota-crazy Basque Country – a form of ‘kaatsen’ (the Bildt word for the Frisian variant of pelota) - they’d know who I mean.

Being the other – and not a tourist: I really am the other because I live and work here, which is an essential difference – fits me like a glove. Being the other stretches the boundaries of my ‘I’, broadens the mind and hands me new possibilities. I wasn’t a poet before, but I’m making my debut as one on a poetry festival here soon. A ‘leaving-home-to-write-a-book-person’ used to be other people, too. Now I am that other. And so far it fits like a tailor made txapala.