How true stories of real heroines put nationality, freedom and humanity in perspective

The fact that I, as a Dutch woman, can travel (almost) anywhere with ease, a quick look at my passport and everything is ok, has always amazed me. Your place of birth largely determines your chances in life: health, education, work, happiness. Your nationality can even be a matter of life or death. If you are born in Afghanistan your chances of an early death are more realistic and all the more if you happen to be female.

An Afghan woman forced to marry a Taliban fighter and lead a life kept out of sight and practically invisible, can escape only by death, whereas the most pressing matter for a Dutch woman is that she earn the same as a man in her position.

Selective women’s rights

After watching the Netflix documentary In Her Hands about the fearless youngest mayor in Afghanistan, Zarifa Ghafari (26), who fights for the education of girls, forbidden by the merciless Taliban under whose terror girls and women must fear for their lives, western feminists suddenly become irrelevantly self-obsessed. The fact that women’s rights only seem to exist selectively, is every time a painful realisation in itself and the silence of western feminists concerning the terrible predicament of women under strict Islamic regimes even more so. Consider the deadly repression playing out in Iran at the moment.

As a husband and father you don’t want to reside in a country in which your wife awaits an existence without rights, and your daughters who wish to learn, run the risk every day to be murdered in cold blood by extremists.  The images at Kabul airport of thousands of desperate Afghans trying to flee, clinging to an aircraft, women and children trying to catch the last flight away from a home which will become a prison, leave you gasping for air. The mayor Zarifa narrowly escapes with her husband, mother and younger brother in a plane heading for Germany, where they are received as refugees.

Continuing the fight

Shortly before the Taliban had executed her father in front of his home and young son due to Zarifa’s public role, which she had refused to give up. Despite the threat to her own life, she travels back to Afghanistan on her own a few months later to continue the fight for the right of women and girls in her homeland. In Germany she no longer held a high office, she was an asylum seeker with a life on hold, and the control, again, out of her hands. All be it without the constant mortal danger, but for Zarifa not important enough to stay for.

When the bombs drop

Another such true story which burst into your safe life and rages on long after, is The Swimmers, a biographical movie about two Syrian sisters who are also talented swimmers, Yusra and Sara Mardini.  On the horizon you see the bombs exploding on the edge of town while the sisters let themselves go on the dance-floor at a party.  The start of the civil war in Syria.  The situation escalates and the sisters lives are in danger.  Their father grudgingly supports their decision to flee to Germany along with a cousin. A harrowing life-threatening journey awaits them. On their way they quickly fall into the hands of unreliable people smugglers.

The hellish journey, especially the chilling crossing the sisters make in an overloaded rubber dingy from Turkey to Lesbos is made by countless people every year.

Thousands never set foot in Europe but end namelessly in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014 more than 29.000 deaths have been registered along the flightpaths to Europe, including this crossing to Lesbos, most of the victims are from Syria. All the antics the sisters perform and the dangers they brave to reach this island where the inhabitants can’t wait to see the backs of them, seem surreal but are at the same time very real.


The viewer gets a feel for the years-long beaurocratic process, waiting on stamps and signatures.  It feels like you are in a Kafka novel.  The endless waiting that slowly extinguishes the last remaining bit of life-force, but not so for the sisters.  Their crib stood in Syria and then going to Europe to establish yourself, away from the bombs and bloodshed, is far from matter of course.  The combination of their courage and daring with a clear goal is their salvation.  These make the difference in the end.  Although the goal for each of the sisters turns out to be different, it is what enables them to regain control over their lives in a foreign country.  The movie slung me back and forth between hope and despair, but more the first than the latter.  The Syrian sisters got me thinking. 

Fort Europe

I never had to supply stacks of documents to get government clearance to come and live in Spain.  My partner, cat and I just went, now some 8 years ago.  We can come and go as we please.  No-one ever asked us for all sorts of information, our Dutch passports were enough.  We did not have to wait eons on permission from the authorities to reside within the Spanish borders, because there is free movement of people within the European Union.  We are what you call “fortune seekers”.  And we were not even unfortunate in our country of birth.  And yet, that is what we are, because we wanted more.

Second-rate citizenship

The right to come and go as you please, in your own country and outside it, (freedom of movement) as determined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is beautiful on paper, but in practice far from reality. Especially for those with less desirable passports; those who have a high chance of becoming second rate citizens. Those men and women who will never feel equal to their compatriots who were born there.

For now, I really recommend watching In her Hands and The Swimmers, just like that they might awaken a humanity which I often find sorely missing when it concerns refugees and migrants.  A little more compassion won’t kill us.

It is too proud to think that the bombs will never fall here or that the water will never rise so high or dry up, making flight our only chance at survival. When it is us rattling at the gates or embarking on harrowing journeys to escape war or natural disasters, we will hope for some humanity instead of a lifetime as a second-rate citizen.  

As it was written some 2000 years ago: ‘Pride comes before the fall.’

Timeless wisdom which reaches far beyond all borders.

In her Hands and The Swimmers are now screening on Netflix.

Previously published in Dutch on Reporters Online.

Leaving A Comfortable Life to Follow your Heart is Messy, Scary and Unfair.

Working on the realisation of our dreams can be scary and uncomfortable. We might leave our safe occupations, take the leap of faith, and it could be possible we will discover this is not it. It could be it doesn’t work for us. The dream is actually a complex life which feels insecure and uncomfortable. But, we will never know as long as we don’t try…

This morning I cycled as fast as I could to the cafe in the village to have an “Americano”.

Actually, I had to go to the toilet, but there wasn’t any running water in our tiny studio on the countryside that Dorus and I have rented since a couple of weeks. After I finished my black coffee, without milk ~ in other words: an “Americano” ~ and I went to the restroom, it felt so good to be able to wash my hands with warm running water from the basin tap.

Crappy situation

On days when the sun hides behind the grey, heavy clouds I know I just need to surrender and just deal with this kind of crappy situation: hardly any electricity and no water from the tap unless we use the generator, which charges the devices and starts the water pump, so the toilet can flush and we can take a shower.

Actually, also on sunny days there are some hindrances to get the water running here. Also candles are needed to bring light in the darkness when the electricity falls down. It all means the batteries of the solar panels are really, really weak.

Messy toilet

Things that I have always taken for granted my whole life, have become a luxury lately. Sharing a bathroom with other people is kind of uncomfortable. Especially when the toilet almost flooded the other day and the landlord said it’s because of the tubes that are too narrow to flush toilet paper. So now I know how to prevent this quite embarrassing situation.

It brought me back to my time when I was in Costa Rica and stayed with a family to immerse myself in the Costa Rican culture and each time I used their toilet, I had to remember not to flush any paper or I would end up with a messy toilet…

Comfort zone

When I cycled back home on the rustic, Mediterranean countryside, where many house holds have solar panels, I was wondering why am I doing this. What was it again why I decided to make this change, moving to this new island that brings me quite out of my comfort zone?


Is it the founder of the beautiful Ibizan ecological center — we are grateful to have lived here, in Casita Verde — who claims to love and preserve our endangered planet, but actually only loves himself and his image? His ugly behavior has certainly got things into motion. In fact, it triggered us to take this new step and move to Ibiza’s big sister, Mallorca, to build on our own dreams instead of someone else’s (his).

Our dream is to live a simple and meaningful life in harmony with nature and to start a small sustainable community with a group of caring friends on the countryside where we grow our own food and share what we learn by organizing Sustainable Living courses.

Abundant showers

Is it bad when this dream scares me at times and when I long back to a “proper job” with “proper money” and a “proper home” where I take hot, abundant, showers on chilly mornings ~ or whenever I feel like it ~ and go to a toilet that doesn’t leave a mess?

Working on the realisation of our dreams can be scary and uncomfortable. We might leave our safe occupations, take the leap of faith, and it could be possible we will discover this is not it. It could be it doesn’t work for us. The dream is actually a complex life which feels insecure and uncomfortable.


But, we will never know as long as we don’t try. It’s actually a luxury to take the time to try and shape the life we desire, to become a writer, to start a company, to travel the world or to live a self-sufficient life within a green community. Because how often do we feel trapped by the choices we have made, the feeling we don’t have time and we can’t change jobs or leave a career we invested so much in? After all, we lose financial security and the job-title we tend to identify ourselves with.

To leave this “golden cage” behind can take years, until a beloved person suddenly becomes severely ill or a dear friend dies and we realize how damn vulnerable life actually is and that we are given this life to make it meaningful; for ourselves and for others.

We have one life to grab the opportunities which are waiting for us to be seized. We shouldn’t let them pass when we want to make changes in our established lives that lead us to the roads less traveled.

We may have to live with inconveniences to get us there, but it isn’t the end of the world.

No, (click) ➝ an overcrowded refugee camp “Moria” on the greek island Lesbos is. Here 15.000 men, women and children, who escaped war in Syria or the deadly Taliban in Afghanistan, are detained and live during the winter-cold in tents, which are wet inside of the rain, without hardly any medical care, food, water, security and prospects to a better life. It seems, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

And one toilet is shared by around hundred people...

I felt embarrassed for my thoughts when I recently read this Dutch story about the miserable situation of these refugees and the political unwillingness to bring humane solutions to the table.

There’s nothing to complain after reading this.

I live in freedom. The air is clean. The trees are untouched. The land is pure and peaceful. There is space to be myself. I wish them exactly the same.

Con Amor,


Picture found on Pinterest.

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