Festival day (Thursday):
A square. A place in the city. A city that is like all others, and like none other. Where in this brief late summer evening, under a sky that is at once grey and open, people come together to partake of tastes and rhythms that at least for a moment bridge difference, evoke our common humanity. Orange tents and a plethora of aromas. A moveable stage. Light rain. People of different ages and colors. A little girl with a sparkly green mask painted on her honey- colored skin sitting with her a multi-colored family. Or is it her family? An almost anomalous Caribbean beat. Mojitos and caipirinha. African women stirring sauces and placing spoonfuls of aromatic rice on small paper plates. Thai noodles. And bordering the square, an array of shops, fit for different desires and budgets: the puffily-upholstered chairs of a streetside café, the all- night stores that are just beginning to open, a hipster joint... A city government trying to make this space into 'one kind of place'? Or just folks, seeking their own brief, transient place in the sun?
In the late afternoon, the square is terrain of boys and men. The guys are everywhere, and the women, few and far between: an occasional mom - or grandma, or auntie? - pushing strollers or otherwise involved in child minding activities.
And how about sport? Today, there was one young Asian woman who appeared on the basketball court in sneakers and sweat pants, her pony tail bobbing up and down and she joined the guys in the game.
And there were many Tibetan men. The ones I spoke to cited political(religious) reasons for migration. Restaurant workers who have not yet learned Dutch, they were gathered there under the last rays of sunlight before heading on to work. From one very friendly guy whose English was quite fluent (he had learned it in India, he added), I learned that he - and perhaps his friends as well - would most definitely prefer to live in his own country, if that someday, again, became possible. He spoke of Tibetan monks suffering repression and wanting to be 'free'. And joked with others about where (as single men, I can suppose) they can find wives. Like 'good looking' Brazilian ones. Might I be able to help them?, he added with a laugh.
There was a young Afghani man, dressed in jeans, hard muscles under his tight tee shirt, carefully arranged hair. He came here from his village, "alone", he tells me, "not with a family", "because of the 'Taliban'" and now he is here on the square, just hanging out before going in to his evening employment. At an Italian restaurant. Next to him, a friend, another Afghani, younger, and a bit more meticulous in dress, avoided my gaze, my camera, my questions: perhaps a bit shy, and unable to answer in English.
On a hot, late summer Sunday afternoon:
Some of the men I saw on Friday made brief appearances again: the young Afghani man who was dressed in jeans, a tight t shirt and tennis shoes the first time I saw him, now crossed the plaza - by his side, the other young Afghani guy he was with on Friday) dressed in traditional garb: a light blue tunic, matching pants and sandals.
There were two young African guys who let me take their pictures as well, asserting their pride in 'being who they are'. I tried to talk to a young man from Kosovo who didn´t want to be photographed. He said he'd been here for 16 years, and never had a job, but for a brief few month stint at a hotel ...and after that has always lived off of State assistance. He said he has no family -- 'sister, grandparents dead', that was the way he put it. Where does he live? He said he has a roof over his head. Not a good one, he said.
As the evening began to cool off, more families began to appear on the square: a number of Chinese families with young children who took great pleasure in pigeon-catching, an African (Somali?) couple, others. The young basketball players kept up their game, and in the gentlest of breezes, shoppers continued to cross the square with bags of groceries. As night fell, the square had in fact become a lively, rather inviting place to be.