Tag Archives: amsterdam

“Your identity” From Thursday June 21st & Sunday June 24th

We ate our last meal in Africa at a hotel near the airport in Entebbe where we interviewed Herbert. This was the only time the whole trip that we got to order individually. I found it interesting that although there were more “American” foods on the menu than we were usually used to (like sandwiches for example), most of us ordered rice and chicken or fish and chapatti. It was at this point (while watching a terribly dubbed television show with poor acting that seemed to be about Native Americans’ fight for North America, but included caucasian cowboys, Africans and Hispanics as well) that I noticed: I have no culture.

I have beautiful traditions, inside jokes and things that will always remind me of home in Minnesota with my family, but I don’t have “a people.” I don’t have an elite language, a name that binds me to a group outside my immediate family (+ 2 uncles) and I don’t have a tribe. I have no tie to a certain place or specific ancestral origin. And interestingly enough, I am glad. Because I don’t have a culture, I get to live in awe.  I feel like what I miss out on by not having a one, I gain through amazement and experiences.

After arriving in Amsterdam the next morning with Joe, to visit my mom’s cousin, I had a bit of culture shock. Probably the only similarly between Africa and Amsterdam is that people ride bikes everywhere. But Amsterdam was windy and freezing, full of sweet pastries and dairy and bursting with brand names and recent fashion trends; three things that I didn’t experience even slightly in Africa. I knew that it was advised that we not go there and that the transition on the way back from the developing world is harder than the transition on the way there. But I am so glad that I went. While in Amsterdam,  I realized that even though culture is relative and changing constantly (evolving and developing as Sybil said), I am excited to shape my own. I am excited to live through other people’s cultures, classify myself as a mover and I am excited to continue to learn about the world with a minimal (if existent) cultural filter, anchor or mind block.

My identity? Is Prater. Is Alison. Is Christian. Is caucasian. Is daughter of Scott and Cheryl. Is tall. Is all of my personal attributes. But it isn’t innately American. And doesn’t have to be. And I like that.

This is a picture of all the bikes in Amsterdam. The strongest tie that I had to Africa on my weekend pit-stop mid-transition back to the U.S.Here is a bike in Africa. They were always on the streets here too, but more often in Africa, you would see them parked alone.

Muzungu Culture

(Written June 22)

I’m writing this in a Crepe shop in the middle of Amsterdam. The buildings here embellished with classic dutch lines and clean architecture. There are white people everywhere. Muzungu’s everywhere.

I constantly am thinking about where I was just a few hours ago. It seems surreal that I was in the middle of Africa, where I was obviously the minority. Yet, despite the fact that I was constantly called “Muzungu,” or a word for “white person” it Uganda’s native language, I really didn’t mind that much being a country where people wave to you from the street and randomly start talking to you about your life when shopping for trinkets to bring home.

I, on the other hand, was not used to seeing so many Caucasian people honking their horns, hastily walking to their next location, and the overall careless attitude that everyone possessed. In a way, I was expecting it, but it seems that expectations never quite meet realities.

That’s what I learned from traveling to Uganda.

I thought that my culture shock was bad when I arrived into Africa, but I think after adjusting  yourself into a completely different culture for 2 weeks and then jumping into yet another culture that is also completely different than your own, I was shocked.

I was culture shocked out of my mind.

For the whole time while I was in the Netherlands, I did the touristy things: I saw the landmarks, went the museums, and ate the food. But, in the back of my mind, I constantly was brought back to the children who played soccer with us right outside of our hotel in lira. They lived in small villages interconnected by many dirt pathways. They wore the same thing every day, and some kids looked so thin like that hadn’t eaten in days.

They were some of the nicest kids I ever met.

It makes me wonder how many people in Europe would think about them, those children or the people in Africa for that matter. What would they think about? Would they even care? Could they care about people instead of what kind of jacket they wear to go clubbing in?

Sometimes Muzungus confuse me, sometimes Muzungus anger me, but overall, sometimes Muzungus scare me.

And I’m one of them.



And So It Begins

As I sit in Carol’s room sitting to write this blog, the roosters crow in the background and I have a gorgeous view of the city of Kampala. What a whirlwind last couple of days. I have faced my fear of small planes and seen an area of the world that is completely new and different to anything I have ever seen.

Two nights ago, after a little over twenty six hours of travel,  layovers in Amsterdam and Detroit, and a stop in Rwanda, we made it to our hotel in Kampala. At that time I was so  exhausted it seemed almost surreal that was as actually in the middle of Africa.

The first plane ride was a  nerve racking, we were in a twenty six passenger plane. A plane so small that not all the bags would fit in the overhead bin.  I felt claustrophobic just sitting in my seat. I swear that first plane ride took longer than the  other plane rides combined.

I almost kissed the ground when we landed in Detroit. We had a short layover, enough time to get a quick snack and board. The flight between Detroit and Amsterdam seemed to fly by. (bad pun intended.) Landing in Amsterdam we got a gorgeous aerial  view of the fields and waterways. One of the coolest things I saw was wind meals  placed in the water.
I have to go to Europe, my short layover only showed me just how much I am missing.

Yesterday morning, I woke up slightly more rested, to a beautiful view of the city.  It became completely clear to me ready or not I’m here.   We had a light breakfast and then we went off in search of a bank to exchange money.  We went to a market to shop for souvenirs. I met a local artist and we talked about his work and the fact we both had brothers named Stephen. He told me some about his life and his faith. We visited both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Ugandan martyrs shrine.  My favorite part however has been driving around and seeing all the different parts of town and  looking briefly into  the lives of the  people. Seeing women carrying baskets on there heads, smelling trash burning and seeing children laugh and play music are sights completely new and exciting.

Today, we have a busy day ahead of us. I cannot wait to explore this beautiful country.


Notes from the Window Seat

I took a creative writing class last semester in which my teacher always suggested bringing a notebook around with you and write down any and every observation you make. Whenever I travel, I feel like little pieces here and there go missing, so I decided to embrace the idea of writing everything down, and wrote everything down. I chose a window seat on every single flight we are taking specifically because I didn’t want to end up being that awkward girl leaning forward in her seat for eight hours in order to see out the window.

I won’t post it all up here immediately because some of it is very minor details (such as noticing our flight attendant from Detroit to Amsterdam had a voice alarmingly similar to that of Kristen Wiig’s “Target Lady” character on Saturday Night Live) not to mention I am sharing this computer with eight other people. Here are some highlights for our brief, 26-hour travel day:

  • I think every person in the Detroit airport purposefully gets to the airport late. I have never seen so many people running (which is the least graceful activity when you have a suitcase or duffel bag flopping along side of you) to and from gates. We had about 20 minutes before our next flight boarded which also required us to move at a fast pace. Usually I would try and pull off the “I’m in a huge rush, but watch how swiftly I can still walk” look but since the majority of people were running, I didn’t need to worry about looking like an idiot.
  • As an avid sunset watcher, the one I just experienced probably ranks number one on my list of best sunsets. If I had any sort of influence on the producers of the show Planet Earth, I would suggest filming an entire series from this view point. We’re somewhere between Canada and Greenland, so there’s a bright red sun, with pink and orange clouds, all behind snowy mountain peaks. It doesn’t get much better than that and I would have loved to share a picture with you all, but naturally my camera battery was dead and the thought to use the camera on my iPod did not occur to me until later in the trip as we passed over the Sahara. But isn’t that life? One moment in time truly appreciated to its fullest because it will never be able to be recreated the same way again.
  • We just went directly from sunset to sunrise. Zero nighttime. Thumbs up to a stellar view, thumbs down to the major disruption to my internal clock. For example, according to my body I just ate my breakfast at approximately one o’clock in the morning. Definitely normal.
  • Walking off the plane into the Amsterdam airport was like walking into another world. There was so much for the senses to take in: bright orange and green signs everywhere, flight attendants wearing the PanAmerican style blue suits, hundreds of people walking by speaking all kinds of different languages, and countless announcements in Dutch which kind of just sounds like fancy gibberish if you ask me. No offense.
  • Note to self: first way to feel ridiculously American in a European airport, wear tie-dye.
  • Just flew over the Sahara Desert. That’s one of those places that has only existed as an answer to a question on a Geography map test for me, so seeing it from above was slightly surreal.

At this point, I shifted into zombie status due to the lack of following natural sleep patterns, but I did manage to write “say something creative about sleeping on planes.” Something creative about sleeping on planes. Moving on to the highlight of the travel day:


Keep on keeping’ on,


Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” -Walker Evans