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Who are my neighbors? Dutch people always seem so busy...

Watching the documentary Waste Time about Moluccan islanders (Saparua, Indonedia) joining forces to deal with plastic waste on the land and in the water, made us reflect on what it means to live on a newly built island in Amsterdam.

How do we share space?  Do we care about our immediate environment?  How do we want to live together as neighbors?  

We gathered in a community center at a co-housing facility (SET at IJburg) where 140 young people live in individual studios. Half of the group is born and raised in the Netherlands, the other half of the group born abroad, and they have received a residence permit after arriving here a couple of years ago as refugees from Syria, Eritrea and other countries.

After watching the film, we found out that the majority of the local residents present at the meeting, they are actually immigrants or their parents were immigrants. Only one person was born and raised in Amsterdam!  We looked around the circle and realized that this particular group of neighbors, meeting at a community center where young refugees live, had one thing in common: with a few exceptions, all attendees had roots abroad. 

People immigrated from as close as Switzerland, Hungary, Germany and as far as Indonesia, Iran, Syria, Jemen, Sudan and Eritrea. The group that had come together on this February evening in Amsterdam - IJburg, share personal histories of integrating in a new country. 

One woman shares that she sometimes feels lonely. "We need one another as human beings", we hear her say with emotion in her voice. She was so brave to open up and reveal her longing for more connection with the group! Her honesty was an invitation for others to talk personally.  Another woman says she is hesitant to talk to Dutch people as they always seem so busy.... A man shared that his neighbor stopped talking to him after a while, and it made him uncomfortable that he doesn't know what has happened...

There were also moments of laughter and lightness. When it turned out that almost everyone in the room had foreign roots, labels like "refugee", "native" and "immigrant" seemed to loose their grip, their meaning started to evaporate. Imagine how much it has taken for many people in the room to create a home in a new country .... whether you are from Hungary, from Yemen, or from Eritrea .... it's a shared experience of finding a sense of belonging and growing 'roots', often without the help of relatives.

The documentary made us reflect on dealing with waste. And then the conversations evolved into our hopes and concerns, living together as neighbors. We talked about care and carelessness in how we deal with waste. And about care and connection in how we relate to one another.  Longing for genuine connection is universal, it's what defines us as humans, no matter where we are born.

Later at home, I started wondering how taking care of the environment relates in some way to taking care of each other and ourselves.

Maybe, if we feel more connected to the people around us, we tend to also take better care of ourselves, each other .... and our shared space!

I am hoping that we can expand our human connection to our felt connection with our natural and urban surroundings, being mindful of the air, the water, the soil... Showing care for the small and large lifeforms with whom we share space.

The film Waste Time shows how people of Saparua take action together and find creative solutions to reduce, reuse and process waste. They are supported in this by Moluccan lessons of the common law, the adat. After all, “if we don’t do it, who will?” is what the traditional guardian of nature, kewang Uncle Eli says. Uncle Eli reminds us of the traditional ways: "If we live in harmony with nature, nature protects us and takes care of us".  Native peoples worldwide remind us of the importance of earth stewardship, illustrated by the words of kewang Uncle Eli from Saparua. Reclaiming our role as stewards of the earth, that's my dream!

Thank you to all the hosts that made this community dialogue possible: Dora, Mahnoor, Micha, Mireille, Jeske, iSiZ... You made us feel welcome with your warmth and hospitality. Thank you to Yezeed for hosting the dialogue together. Your open mind and kindness create a safe atmosphere where everybody feels their voice matters.

What made the evening extra special, is to have Max Wattiwena, founder of Foundation Happy Green Islands with us. Born on Saparua, he was the right man to introduce us to the film. With his enthusiasm, he sparked ideas for community building on IJburg.

Thank you to David and Jessica for making another awe-inspiring As You Open Your Eyes  film.  Photos credit: Max Wattiwena.

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