… in between worlds …

Belgium – end of 2011

Skies over Belgium on sunnier days...

It made so much sense to leave Utah last August.  No regrets whatsoever.  Wish I’d left a year earlier, actually.  My search for a new and much better ‘sense of home’ over the summer lead me to Canada (as the few followers of this blog, when it served as travel blog, know).  It made perfect sense to leave Canada because I wasn’t allowed to work there, and I didn’t feel like winging it.  Sorta perfect sense… in the light of trying to be a well-adjusted adapted law-abiding polite guy, … or something.  Returning to the USA, however, … had lost its appeal somehow…  And thus the “if all else fails last resort landing pad”, namely to (re)turn to Belgium, appeared the best choice left.  So now I’m here, wondering why…

On this map below, I’m currently living just to the right (east) of Brussels in the Dutch speaking Catholic area (above the ‘I’ in BELGIUM on this map).  Within 100 miles lies The Netherlands to the north, Germany to the East, France to the South, and within about 150 miles lies England to the West, and Luxembourg to the South-East.  Yes, it is THAT small.  But the regional diversity in dialects with the different languages, local culinary nuances, regional socio-economic histories, etc.  is so vast, i’d say: multiply the distances by x10 for how distance feels different here, and x100 for cultural distance.  This makes choosing “where to live” extra challenging.  Move 10 kilometers and you may be in a rather different reality, and you won’t necessarily notice the difference right away.

CLICK IMAGE for extra history on Belgium

A cool Light and Sound show on the Grote Markt (Grand Place) in centre of Brussels, just before Christmas, 2011

The buildings, such as gothic masterpieces dating back to the 14th century, or leftovers from the city walls dating back to the 12th century, etc… except for industrialization’s more gloomy footprints, it’s all very pretty.   If you love history, you can explore even a small town and probably never have discovered it all in your lifetime.  The beer is excellent (over 1,000 kinds), the chocolate the best, the music scene superb, the food to die for, the fashion just awesome,… It’s a must-visit if you come to western Europe.

Even watching television is something I like here, as news reporting is often more balanced, debate culture alive, fair, and not staged (knowing Dutch (or French) would be essential if you want to dig in, for all the rest you can get by with English just fine); and the local TV soap and humor productions are quite enjoyable for a Flemish-language-starved former local like me, too.  Taxes may be high (>50% on income, at least 21% sales tax, etc., but you get something more in return in the form of affordable health care, education, support for the arts, public transit (when not on strike), etc…  All in all, it seems like a great place to be.  And yet, this is my third attempt to return here (2003 and 2009 attempts failed miserably) and the first thing that hit me again is the energy underneath the surface.  It is SO HEAVY.  Yet I may have the tools so that I won’t need to adapt so completely (which kills me, I have found out).  Whether I can figure out how to be myself here or not, and whatever that means, is yet to be uncovered…

For now I’m in some bardo of reverse culture shock.  You can get that from simply returning from India after a couple months there.  But this is different.  I have visited Belgium almost yearly since leaving 16, almost 17, years ago.  People who never left their home land (to a very different culture or a place with vast wilderness) for more than 5 years are incapable of understanding this type of disorientation.  At least, that’s my impression.  Those I know who tried to reintegrate into densely populated and culturally deeply conditioned areas after extended periods of time away from all that, with even much of their time away spent on undoing the very eurocentric conditioning… I know nobody (yet) who’s managed “to reintegrate”.  Which doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  I’m merely realizing it’s quite ambitious.  And that I will remain de facto “home-less” here as well is rather likely…

(I made a new word for it.  Ik ben een binnenstebuitenlander.)

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