By Hilbert Haar
My life as a global nomad began on June 26 when I stepped on a plane in Grand Case headed for Paris. Reality did not kick in immediately: I traveled with my wife Myriam from Paris to Amsterdam with the Thalys, then moved on to Lelystad where my daughters live.
Ever since I have left my beloved St. Maarten I have been in the three cities mentioned above, in The Hague, Dordrecht, Namur, Gembloux and Spontin (all in Belgium), Warsaw and Moscow. That’s where I’m at, at the time of this writing and this is where, in my mind, the real adventure is going to begin. On Sunday, August 12, we hop on a train that will take us all the way to Irkutsk – basically, the end of the world. A trip of 5,196 kilometers by train; to put this into perspective: that’s more than 472 times the distance between my old apartment in Mont Vernon and the location of the old Today office in Philipsburg.
It suddenly hit me the other day that I am now officially homeless by choice. I have no house to go back to, no job and no registered address anywhere in the world. While this may sound scary to some of my readers, to me this is just the next step in a series of events that brought me where I am today.
When I left the Netherlands in 1996, the municipality of Almere asked for my new address in Greece; I said I did not have any, so they wrote in their paperwork: left for Greece. Damn right too.
After seven years in Greece I moved to the United States; there I overstayed my visa by a couple of years, before coming to St. Maarten. When we settled down on the French side of the island, the local authorities refused to register us. Fine, that’s how I ended up living in an administrative black hole. The freedom this situation represents is still beyond my imagination.
What have I experienced so far? Let’s stick to the countries where I had never been before: Poland and Russia, because Paris and Amsterdam must be familiar territory to most of you.
In Poland we landed at the airport of Poznan, before moving on to Warsaw. Behind the bar at the airport, I thought I saw the bearded bartender, Paul Peterson, but it turned out to be a Polish look-a-like That same evening, sitting at a roadside bar near our hostel in Warsaw, I spotted Theo Heyliger – but no, that wasn’t him really either.
Warsaw is a very clean city – at least, the part of it that I have seen. Moscow was also a pleasant surprise. The pavements in the city are wider than Front Street in St. Maarten and they are all unbelievably clean.
Every day, the city sends water trucks on the road to spray the asphalt and the sidewalks with water. Cleaners with a traditional brush pick up every piece of litter from the street.
I won’t tire you with descriptions of the must-see thingies in Moscow, like the Red Square and the Kremlin. Not far from these attractions, I came across a memorial on a nearby bridge where physicist and prominent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered on February 27, 2015. Even now, there are fresh flowers next to his picture.
I spent almost two hours in an Apple Store where extremely patient staff members attempted to get a Russian sim-card going in my IPhone and to give me internet-access. In the end it appeared that the activation system of provider Beeline had crashed. With the promise that it would all be okay within the next two hours – and a money back guarantee if it wasn’t – I left the store. Shortly afterwards, I had internet and a working Russian phone number.
My impression of both Warsaw and Moscow is that these cities are safe places. This observation applies only to the places where I have been. I have sat at a terrace where the guy next to me left his laptop, his phone and his backpack unattended when he had to go to the bathroom. I have seen sales reps in Gorki Park do the same thing with their belongings. Nobody ever thinks that somebody might steal their stuff.
The Noor bar on Tverskaya Street in Moscow quickly became our favorite place for breakfast. Nice food, good service, until I discovered something bizarre: the white dungarees the waitress wore, carries the initials of none other than Sarah Wescot-Williams.
And while I am going through all these experiences, St. Maarten is never far from my mind. I read with dismay about the ongoing shenanigans with the dump and I wonder how long it will take before all hell breaks loose.
Politicians of every government I have seen in the past twelve years have shown their incompetence in dealing with this matter. Now the prosecutor’s office is involved; while this could in the end lead to the prosecution of those who have been blatantly negligent, no investigation and no conviction will contribute to a solution.
Maybe it is time for victims of this unhealthy situation to get together and file claims for damages. Money is the only motivator for any government to get a move on.
Take a leaf from the book of that cancer patient who sued Monsanto; the company has to pay him 289 million dollars. That amount won’t kill Monsanto and it won’t heal the cancer patient, but it sends a message that comes across loud and clear: if you cause others harm, there will be consequences, no matter how mighty you think you are.
I am off now to Irkutsk and from there on to Ulaanbataar in Mongolia. Homeless, happy and without any idea about the internet connection in those regions. I’ll keep you posted.
Photo caption: Since I was there anyway, I showed the St. Maarten flag on the Red Square in Moscow. Photo Myriam Haar.
Photo caption: Memorial for opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on a bridge near the Kremlin. Photo Hilbert Haar.
Photo caption: A waitress at the Noor bar wears an outfit with the initials of Sarah Wescot-Williams. Photo Hilbert Haar.
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