Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramadan Round-up, part IV

Cheery chitchat in Amsterdam Slotervaart

As published in the Amsterdam Weekly, volume 5, issue 37

Most people flocking to Amsterdam usually only get to see cultural hotspots like the Rijksmuseum, Madame Tussauds, the famous canal houses, and - in a worse-case scenario - head for a joint at some local coffee shop. There is little chance they would visit areas that are considered ethnic trouble spots.

A prime example is Mercatorplein nicknamed Meccaplein, b
ecause of its relatievely high concentration of men and women donned in typically Islamic attire. And if you pop by you are either a Muslim yourself, a lost journalist, or in the mood for a cheap but first-rate kebab.

Okay, these exaggerations aside, for the last three years De Baarsjes has really been making an effort to reach out to non-Muslims during Ramadan. And, what’s more, it is one of the few neighbourhoods in the city, where you won’t be bumping into political bigwigs or be forced to listen t
o politically correct speeches. To be brutally honest, in the case of your Ramadan reporter, there was no speech at all, not even a welcoming one when she visited the the ROC Karel Klinkenberg in Amsterdam Slotervaart.

Yep, for those in the know, this edgy neighbourhood made headlines only two years ago when a policeman got shot. It catapulted neighbours and community representatives into action, organising all kinds of social events. And what better way to do this than through a lecture about the nuts and bolts of the Muslim fast, hand in hand with a delicious Ramadan iftar. Well, that was the idea anyway.

Time for a reality check. Yes, there was food, but the lecture got mysteriously cancelled and the whole idea behind a mixed seating arrangement did not work out quite well either. But of course there are always exceptions, like this one Dutch student: ‘Quite honestly I don’t know much about Muslims. That’s why I decided to come in the first place. And with all that p
olitical pressure that we should integrate … Well, here I am.’

And so, thanks to the lack of a lecture, Mr Student engaged in merry conversation with fellow table guests about the do’s and don’t of fasting, about the sudden popularity of working night shifts during Ramadan, but also about the differences to the Catholic fast.

After roughly half an hour mor
e visitors finally began to trickle in, from elderly Dutch people who had been living in De Baarsjes since the 1960s, to veiled Moroccan mothers with their young ones. But still, no mixing whatsoever.

Then, at around a quarter to eight, something happened. People returned from the buffet table with plates laden with all kinds of oriental delicacies. And instead of returning to their original seats, Muslims and non-Muslims alike finally plucked up the courage and walked over to their neighbours. No tough speeches about integration. No harsh words about segregation. No crude remarks about the lacking organisation. Simply cheery chitchat about everyday life in Amsterdam Slotervaart.