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I dreamed of paradise.... (1 Viewer)



I dreamed of Paradise
“Living and loving in 2 different realities”

Would you choose a peaceful island life surrounded by palm trees, blue seas and warm trade winds over a turbulent urban life ? Would you choose a small society in which you feel truly ingratiated, over the anonymity of a big and competitive city? I would.....!

Despite all of this, my wife and I last year made the conscious choice to move from the tropical island of Curacao in the Caribbean, to the perceived wealth and development of a cosmopolitan life in Brussels, Belgium. But to let you in on some of our brainwaves leading to this decision, let me go back in time a bit ....My often confused but always self-assured mind remembers the last weeks and days as a single boy just walking out of a failed 3 year relationship, feeling free as a bird to do whatever and go wherever he wanted in life. I had finished my law studies and had my first experiences as a consultant, traveling abroad occasionally. I felt that "being outside" offered me an opportunity to do things my way, without having to live up to expectations of family or good friends. I always loved being alone, strolling the streets in a foreign country, tasting its every flavor and knowing this all was truly my own private and unique emotion. By that time, my almost romanticised notion of individualism, was fully fed by another notion. This was the belief that I always had to balance the diverging expectations that others around me had of me. And having reached the age of 30, I felt pushed to choose a social network with friends where it was either "in" or "out", no in betweens. Looking back, I can now safely say that over the years I developed a subconscious desire to flee into another reality, literally another country where I only had myself to listen or account to. This however, was still quite a step from announcing that I was to actually carry out my plans, if not from climbing the hill itself! However, when I learned about the relative ease of finding a job on one of the overseas territories of the Netherlands in the Caribbean, a year of mental and practical preparations seemed to fly by, reaching the magical moment of waving out family and friends. And the dream became a reality when I landed on that small tropical island just off the north coast of Venezuela and was dropped straight into my personal cabana on a palm tree-lined beach.

The years on Curacao that followed were many things together, but most of all it was a re-invention of myself in a totally different social environment. It allowed me to reformulate my preferences in life; joining the "Dutch" clan as could be fully expected, or exploring alternative venues to spend my time. I for instance found great joy and rest in "doing my own thing" in and around my new single dwelling, walking my dog along the ocean, and slowly making friends with my Antillean neighbours. And I wanted the full taste of this new life by also discovering the region. This desire took me to the island of Trinidad, which at the time seemed like a hidden paradise which I was ready to discover, and where I would meet my present wife. Again, Curacao was many things at the same time, but most of all it was a life of warmth and sunny skies, blue waters and space to breathe. Whether living indoors or outdoors, I could always feel "in touch with the elements", wearing the same light clothing everywhere. From a social perspective, I discovered the personal value of a simple concept to life, focusing on basic notions of nature, family, neighbourhood etc. It gave me the peace of mind I so needed after my last few years in Holland. I felt happy living in the warmth of a smaller (island) community, where people knew and cared about other people.

Throughout those 3 years however, I always assumed that there would be a logical end to my stay, indeed perhaps partly dictated by the expectations from family and friends at home in Europe. This led me to slowly count down the days instead of just living them, and to prepare mentally for the inevitable. Instead of structurally investing in my Curacao life I became increasingly negative about many of its features that I previously did not fully recognise. These were primarily related to the same smallness in size I cheered before: the slow, call it lazy attitude of the islanders, bureaucracy in public services provision which I considered unreliable, non-transparent and incapable. Other annoyances I found included the poor quality of infrastructure, which limited my walking aspirations, and the constant threat of robberies or other violence by gangs. In my view, these and like problems were all related to a deterioration of decent island politics. My negative feelings would not even waiver after my wife's arrival on the island and the signing of our official living together contract. In the end I felt an almost overpowering urge to leave the small claustrophobic island to again embrace the endless opportunities of the European mainland.

The final decision to leave was not difficult. We only needed a viable financial lifeline and sufficient guarantees for a legal stay. These we found in Brussels, Belgium, the "European Capital" of over a million people with an impressive mix of nationalities. The tables had turned dramatically and I welcomed the re-introduction to European life. After my 3 year long Caribbean "flirt" I am now again closer to my family and my home country Holland, where I had always lived before. In Brussels we have found a location for convenient living, with excellent and reliable public services (transport, medical, civil administration etc). This is especially apparent in public transport with its door-to-door concept, which makes the car a redundancy. Furthermore, we feel safe and secure about our living space. "Cosmopolitan" Brussels offers us many opportunities to meet interesting people from various origins, which by now has allowed us to find a good few friends. In addition, it boasts an impressive variety of entertainment options in shopping and going out. Since our arrival in Brussels my wife and I both found jobs easily, and feel that we earned ourselves a decent position and ample opportunities for a healthy and meaningful "quality life" if such a thing exists. Both of us fully agree on this achievement, we see no failure in our actions and no disappointment in our current situation in terms of housing, friendships, jobs or financial conditions. We have truly worked ourselves into Brussels' urban society, living the Brussels' multi cultural reality.

Despite all of this, we often reflect on our happy times in Curacao, in an attempt to compare the "quality of life" of one with the other. From my side, it has been confirmed to me that European life is a rat race, in which people are lost in activity without standing still and reflecting on life around them. It has thus occurred to me that at some point in their lives, people have to stop to think about where they are really going. The nature of the tense social networks makes the social pressure to join this way of life bigger. Participating in the competition can be numbing, but feeling you underachieve would be simply frustrating. This feeling is increased by the individual indoor lives people live, in turn increasing the sense of anonymity. I feel literally trapped by endless grey skies keeping me inside more than I could ever imagine. After a year and a half it has become clear to us that Western life is more about participating than about living, and that, ironically, in that sense a high price has to be paid to acquire material wealth!

I have experienced life in two totally different societies, and I realise that that distinct dream I once had of Curacao is now more alive than ever. If you don't dare to dream, you stop living and that is too much of a sacrifice to life itself. So I am packing my bags again, to start a renewed Curacao experience, with wife and child, this time hopefully to build a real future!