On my way to Uganda I had a 24 hour stop in Amsterdam. I’ve been to there a few times. Its a beautiful city, one that is meant to be shared, lingering lovingly over.
Seeing it alone seems a bit like neglect and I am almost always alone on my trips. I make the most of these mini adventures, get out, go to a museum, find some interesting food but I always crave company, someone to peer through the red lit windows with me, someone to share a beer and a joke.
One of the great things about working with people from all over the world is that you can learn the best from each nationality and steal it.
When my flight got it that morning, I decided I wanted to act like American – to have that astonishing ease people from the States so often seem to possess, to be able to start chatting to new people without obsessing about whether I’m coming across like an axe murderer or whether they might just prove to be an axe murderer. Yes, I admit it, there are days when I want to act a lot less British…
Of course to do something different demands that we be someone a little different.. and frankly that is a bit scary. In a world that spins with a ferocious waggle, we hold our sense of who we are like a security blanket, the last comfort against all that is unknown. Why else would so many of us persist with the same old stories, the same old selves that keep us so unhappy?
But it was a day for new starts, and on route to change a little bit of the world seemed like a good time to start changing myself. So I did the unthinkable.
I struggled aboard the airport train and sat opposite two men who eyed my bulging backpack with a smile before going back to a thrilling conversation about the importance of properly validating train tickets.. and then I did it, I spoke to them.
Now, although my friends assure me I’m the kind of person who does that sort of thing all the time, I don’t see myself that way. When I look in the mirror I see someone shy, more than a little timid. But I pitched for the me I want to be. I intruded, imposed, interrupted shamelessly and it felt good. It was good to smile, to chat about how they had planned to be in Argentina but somehow ended up on plane to Amsterdam – to have someone help me lift off my bag!
Flushed with success I asked if they wanted to hang out later in the day. Of course, being British, I phrased the question in such an elaborately polite way, littered with clauses and negations, that they had no clue what I meant – which left me feeling horribly exposed and self conscious, that first day of school naked dream. But I was determined, resolute in my ‘not me’ness. I laughed and summarised – ‘I’m asking if you want to spent time with me this evening, whilst trying to give you an easy way to say no if you’d rather not’
Sometimes the small steps are the ones that start us on a new road. That bleary-eyed early morning try at being a better version of me was the beginning of one of the best nights I’ve had in months and maybe it will be the start of other beginnings.
The three of us wandered through the city guided more by conversation that maps. We laughed, we chair danced, we poked fun like old friends. In three drinks we found our way to the kind of open hearted honesty that usually only comes after about ten. When we said our goodbyes I realised I didn’t know them, didn’t know their surnames, their jobs, where they lived and yet I knew them.
It is always nice to be surprised, to have some wonderful people thrown into your path. It is even more wonderful to be surprised at yourself, at the small start of who you can be.