Anne de Graaf's blog: International-Intrigue-Injustice

25 February 2011

Prince William shook my hand

Filed under: PhD: Scotland! — annedegraaf @ 7:03 pm

Touched by royalty–I know I’m not supposed to get overly excited about celebrity proximity, but I am, as one woman said in the crowd, dead chuffed that Prince William shook my hand today. I came down with the flu yesterday and this morning I had to stagger to the pharmacy and then buy some food, but most important–I still had to get some whisky so I could make a hot toddy–I mean, here I am in Scotland sans whisky–not done. So I thought I might see if I wasn’t too late to catch a glimpse of the royals.

To find out why Prince William and his lovely Kate Middleton visited St Andrews, read the BBC article here.

Some people had been waiting to see them since 7 a.m., waiting in the rain, I might add. I come strolling up and 15 minutes later, he’s shaking my hand.

There was a heavy police presence as they filmed us.

And I even spotted a few lookouts on the tower roof.















But as Will and his lovely Kate came toward me, I suddenly thought, I should stop taking photos and stick out my hand. So I did. And he took it. And he looked at me. And call me crazy, but what I saw in his eyes was that he cares. I had expected some politician’s hand pump, and a turning away, a wall even, glazed-over eyes, not connecting, shyness maybe. Instead, he cared. Maybe he was caring about his wife-to-be, hoping she doesn’t turn out like his mother. Maybe he’s so new to this he’s still moved by a crowd’s adoration, but I broke out into a grin and felt singled out, special even.

I know my Irish grandmother is turning in her grave that English royalty would have this effect on me. Plus I’m just not into the whole fame cult. But here was romance and tragedy and hope and youth and 600 years plus royalty, all wrapped up in one intriguing man.

Those of you who know me well will also know I’m a shameless eavesdropper. And the invention of the mobile phone has been a great boon for people like me. I have overheard the most intimate of conversations, mostly on Dutch trains. Today, however, I heard people laughing into their phones: “He shook my hand!” “She’s so lovely!” “It’s a mild day!” And my personal favorite: “Don’t forget to transfer money!”

The lady in front of me called her mom, then turned to the agent patrolling us and said, “My mum wasn’t impressed. Who can I call who will be impressed?” I then called my husband and told him I’d shaken hands with the prince, just to hear my own Prince Charming reply, “Can I get back to work now?”











And Kate, when she passed by, she said in a very posh accent, “Oh, there’s so many hands.” And I thought, it gets worse, sweetie.

The Asian students were the most excited, clicking away on their i-Phones. But the American students, especially the women, made the most noise. One Scottish woman said, “I’m here because I worshipped his mother.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? The Diana cult continues. Right down to the sapphire ring.










So where does that leave us? With the press, and with a future king and queen. Just look at the wistfulness on the faces of the girls here. Don’t we all just long for a fairytale ending?

An hour later I was back in bed with my hot toddy. You have to love a country where you shake the hand of a prince one moment and the next, you can buy Bunnahabhain Islay whisky–in a supermarket.

Long live the queen.


15 February 2011

Sea eagles

Filed under: PhD: Scotland!,Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others — annedegraaf @ 7:47 pm

Today I saw something I’ve waited 26 years to see. I left behind the books and drove an hour west. It was supposed to snow again this morning, but I think I must have spent too much time in Scotland since I thought because the temp was above freezing (by 2 degrees), and it wasn’t raining, I had myself a fine day.

Hemayel with me and feeling nervous about my husband at sea off the coast of North Africa, after an extremely productive weekend, I knew I had to get out. Oot an aboot, as the Scots say. Or, as my previous posts will explain, into the muckle furth.

My destination: a nature reserve 10 miles from the place where 19 Norwegian white-tailed (sea) eagles were released this past summer. This is part of a five-year reintroduction project for the East Coast of Scotland. These 19 bring the total to 64 sea eagles released in Fife.

Here’s what happened: I read a book. No big surprise there, but I read the book when Daniel was a baby and the story has never let me go. It was about how the last native pair of sea eagles bred on the Isle of Skye in 1916, and then the species was extinct in the British Isles. But in the 70s an eagle made its way across the North Sea, able to survive the trek for the first time ever, thanks to modern oil rigs providing resting places in the middle of the sea. And in 1975, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) started bringing sea eagles to Mull and Skye. Now these great birds breed and thrive on the west coast of Scotland, but it would take decades before they could return to the eastern lowlands.

So over the next few years, another 20 chicks a year will be brought to East Scotland from Norway and released, until the total population reaches around 100. Each chick is fitted with radio tags so that they can be tracked for up to five years. That’s the age of eagles who breed.

Did you know that sea eagles are monogamous?

Anyway, I had read on the RSPB bird blog (yes, there is such a thing) that the young eagles had taken to roosting on Castle Island in Loch Leven. Although the 65 roam all along the eastern coast, this seemed a better place than most to chance a sighting.

By the way, little piece of Scottish history here: the castle on Castle Island was built around 1300 and is the same castle where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and forced to abdicate before her dramatic escape a year later. Anyway . . .

So I walked along the loch (which means arm of the sea) and visited the blinds where I saw Whooper swans and Mute swans. My hiking boots squished through flooded farmland as I watched the mist lift and fall on hills darkened by winter heather. And I thought about Hemayel and my brother and my friend and my other friend’s father and his three children who will bury their grandfather on Thursday and the wind cut my cheeks, but I felt good. Then, as I headed back toward the car park, I heard them.

They sounded like puppies yelping. No way. The man at the visitor’s center had said the eagles weren’t around. I looked up into the layers of gray: gray water into gray sky, and saw two huge birds flying together, swooping down to the shoreline, then reeling up and splitting off. They seemed as big as herons, with their wingspan that can get up to eight feet. One landed and I returned to the nearest blind, my eyes glued to the spot. But I saw nothing more. An elderly man entered the wooden blind with a telescope.

“The white-tailed eagles, did I see them?” I asked. He grinned, “They roost on the island and love to attack the ducks along the beach. It’s two young ones who arrived in August, a large female and a small male. He has a blue badge.”

I saw them, I saw them. All my life I’ve wanted to see sea eagles. I was already determined to go to Skye later in the spring. But now I’ve seen them within an hour of my St Monans. I looked him up on the bird blog and the small male is named Norbett. This is what the view out of my door looks like at sunset. Maybe Norbett will visit me.

And now with my head and heart full of eagles, I remember Eric Liddel, the Flying Scotsman who ran the West Sands beach of St Andrews (where my desk at the library looks out upon) to train for the 1924 Olympics. There he won gold in an event not his own, after refusing to race on the sabbath. Afterwards he left for China as a missionary and died in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1945. In 2008 the Chinese authorities revealed that when given the opportunity to leave the camp, he gave his place instead to a pregnant woman. His family had never known.

This is what I think: Eric wrote of death and young men like Hemayel and actually, for all of us, “Where does the power come from to see the race to its end? It comes from within. ‘They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.'”

5 February 2011

Hemayel Martina–12 October 1990-29 January 2011

Filed under: Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others,Write on — annedegraaf @ 8:53 pm

Seven days ago my daughter called me with the news that messages of R.I.P. were appearing on Hemayel’s Facebook page. “No way,” I said. “He’s in Curacao. Or he’s flying back to South Africa. ‘R.I.P.,’ what do you mean?” I couldn’t fathom it, couldn’t understand. But it was true. He had died in a car accident in Curacao, back on his island for his uncle’s funeral and his mother’s birthday, due to return to South Africa where he had begun a six-month internship, supposed to fly back that same evening. And now gone.


I cut short a holiday in the sun and flew home to The Netherlands Tuesday to attend a memorial service at Webster on Wednesday. The Minister Plenipotentiary of Curacao, Sheldry Osepa, attended and spoke of Hemayel’s book, Ansestro Preokupá (Worried Ancestors), how Hemayel had now become one of the ancestors inspiring us and he quoted Hemayel’s poem that tells the ancestor not to worry, we will now carry on his work. (This same poem appears at the end of the video below.)

It was a privilege to speak at this event. Below is the text of my talk. Friends and colleagues filled the room, as well as family members due to go to his funeral in Willemstad.

Today he is buried there.

I find I can’t sleep at night. The memorial service helped–to be with others who mourn, others who knew him–we drank whiskey and toasted him and told stories, and the next morning I thought, It’s over. But how could I think such a thing when I know full well that grief sneaks up on me, sideswipes me from dark corners, knocks me over and I am left gasping.

Now I am back in Scotland. Listening to the waves. My heart is so sore.

Hemayel Memorial talk at Webster University, Leiden, 2 February 2011

Bon dia. Hello in Hemayel’s Papiamento. This year I have been on study leave in Scotland and I never dreamed I would come back and see all of you again—for this reason.

The questions . . . I’m not even going there. Too much pain. Instead I want to thank all of you for all you have done to honor Hemayel, creating this great tribute to him, and coming here today.

I had the honor of teaching the writing class Hemayel was in for one entire year. Terms at Webster last 8 weeks, so this was unusual. For one year I learned from an exceptional class: Cesia, Rasheed, Jose Antonio, Catrina, Alex, and Hemayel. In January Anik, Eric and Taban joined us. They wrote essays about everything under the sun: past fears and future hopes. And in this way then, through his writing, I first came to know Hemayel.

Last February he asked  me if I would go to Curacao in October for the launch of his poetry book. I said, uh, ok, and then used up all my husband’s airmiles. By October I was already studying in Scotland, so I left from there and flew to Curacao. It was an amazing trip. I met his family and friends. A talented musician, Levi Silvanie had joined Hemayel and together they were singing his poetry in clubs. Curacao had just become a new nation and I listened as these two men sang their country into being. These clubs—look at me, I’m the wrong color and the wrong age—but I went clubbing at night and became a sort-of Hemayel groupie. We visited groups of children where he and Levi listened and pulled creativity out of them. We visited a music group where Hemayel used to play the tjembe, and he spoke to the kids there, many of whom were being kept off the streets because of their involvement in music. I went with Hemayel and Levi to television and radio interviews. Throughout it all, Hemayel remained humble and a little overwhelmed. The launch of his book was a big event, with many of the founding families of Curacao, about whom Hemayel had written, present that evening. The children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who began slave rebellions and people who had put Papiamento on the map as a language all attended. Rosabelle came from Webster and recited poetry. Somehow I became the keynote speaker.

In my talk there I spoke about the importance of creating a space for listening to our young people, how Levi and Hemayel were singing this new country into being, and how Curacao may come from corazón, which means heart—and how Hemayel’s poetry was about listening to the heartbeat of this new country. I also expressed gratitude to everyone there for raising Hemayel into the kind, respectful, loving and intelligent man he had become. Today I express that same gratitude to you, here at Webster, for shaping him with your laughter and love and learning.

So last year he asked me to help him edit the English version of his poetry book. We met in the Paagman bookstore in The Hague several times. He wrote everything in Papiamento first, then translated it into English. Then we edited the English. By the end of the process he was writing in English.

I last met with Hemayel December 22, three days before he left for South Africa. It was one of those days when nothing was working in Holland because of the snow—few trains were running and the roads were a mess. Somehow he caught a train from Leiden to The Hague and I managed to drive in from Hoek van Holland and we met at Hollands Spoor. We had lunch at the Donor and talked for two hours about so much. About yoga and meditation and prayer. About my own experiences in Kwa-Zulu Natal, how important it is to touch and hold people with Aids because often they are outcast. We talked about his and my passion for all things having to do with young people in International Relations. We talked about Sierra Leone and Rwanda and Scotland. He told me of his hopes to get a masters in International Relations. He asked about all the members of my family. I told him I knew South Africa would resonate deep in his heart . . . I gave him four more notebooks so he’d have a place to put his emotions.

There are a few things I want to offer you today as means of comfort:

–Write out your grief. Those of us acquainted with grief know it hits like a knot of emotion. Anger and denial all tied up tight. A Zen master said that one death feels like 10,000. Give it a place and write it out, this way the emotions unravel and we may heal.

–And this: today we have heard how special Hemayel was, but you, each and every one, we are special for the knowing of him. In honor of his life, live your lives to the fullest, do all he hoped for: grab education and squeeze as much learning out of it as you can, resolve to end corruption, become politicians and advisers and teachers and poets, live and love and laugh and learn—for Hemayel. And know this, each one of you has as much potential and passion and promise as Hemayel. Reach deep, as he did, and become all you are meant to. Yes, he was exceptional, but so are each and every one of you. Honor his memory by facing your own fears, and do it—whatever it is—anyway. That we would do all to the best of our ability, that we would go for it and realize our full potential, that is how we honor Hemayel.

–Another thing: tell Hemayel stories. My favorite is during one of the crazy student barbecues at my house. It was 2 a.m. and they were jamming in my home. It was a typical Webster moment with a Pole, a Canadian, an Iranian and Hemayel, as he turned my coffee table into a tjembe and they composed a song in . . . wait for it . . . Farsi.

–Choose the one thing you loved most about him, and determine to keep that alive. Maybe it was playing pool badly, maybe it was his way of calling people up to stay in contact, maybe it was his urge to write out his heart. Maybe it was his smile.

–Lastly, create a space for listening, to others, to our young people, but most of all, listen to your own heart. He lives on in our hearts—if we listen there . . . we hear him still.

You can click on to learn more about this extraordinary young man and leave a message of sympathy.

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