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Southern Sky Adventures: 07-01-2011 – ABOVE THE NORTH SEA – EUROPE

Friday, July 1, 2011

“What does the North Sea have to do with Africa?”. Good question but even better yet, we’ve got a good answer. Some of this blog entry – well perhaps all of it—is of selfish interest but can be of assistance to those folks out there interested in the history of Africa.
I am sandwiched here between a myriad of Dutchmen, Englishmen, Scots, Irishman and not to mention a few other nationalities as we make our way from Amsterdam, Holland to Edinburgh, Scotland the 10:10AM departure in Easy Jet. This low cost, no frills airline (no assigned seating and all checked baggage is extra) services much of the European continent and is a good source of travel options throughout Europe. Plane is new and the plane is full.
So, just what is the connection here with Africa and me and Europe? This triangle of parties is quite intertwined actually.
I have come here to Holland on what has become almost an annual pilgrimage to visit my mother’s homeland – the Netherlands. Hubertha Gerarda Boelman is Dutch, was born in Indonesia in 1935 during my grandfather, Aeisso’s time spent working for the Dutch East India Company prior to and after WWII. My mother and her family were on leave in Holland when WWII broke out. My grandfather was taken to a labor camp in 1941, not to return until 1944, leaving my grandmother , her two boys and my mother to attempt to survive the occupation of Holland by the Germans until May of 1945.
My three siblings and I were fortunate to have come to Holland each summer during out youth and took part in a close relationship with our extended family in Holland. Fortunate we were indeed as that experience has been more greatly appreciated as we have all gotten older. Being single, I have continued to venture over each summer during the time in which my mother returns to see her brothers and cousins.
Our usual bases are Arnhem, near the German border where my uncle Pieter lives, as well as The Hague on the west coast where my mother grew up and where her older brother used to live before his passing away last year.
Long intro but the story does return to Africa and quite quickly.
As the North Sea spreads out below, the history buff in me begins to become exposed and I can all but picture the vessel that Jan van Riebeeck captained from Amsterdam to what was to become Cape Town (Kaap Stad) in 1651.
Cape Town
You see, Cape Town was first established in South Africa as a sea port where the ships from the Dutch East India Company could stop on their long voyages to and from Asia and more specifically, Indonesia. Indonesia had been a Dutch colony since the 15th Century and sailors had long passed the shores of southern and west Africa during their trips to and from these trade routes where spices were bought and traded for to fulfill the demand of Europeans.

Given my grandfather was an employee of the same Dutch East India Company that sent van Riebeeck 300 years later to the shores of southern Africa to create a permanent settlement, I am most interested in disclosing to a few readers here the significance of the Dutch to the creation of what is now South Africa.
Jan van Riebeeck was successful in setting up his venture on behalf of his employer but suffered many a challenge upon his arrival into Cape Town in 1652. His 3 month voyage south was treacherous enough as he navigated the trade winds south and then so far west he almost made land in South America and then back again southeast, making land in early April.
There were no African natives ashore barring a few peoples now referred to as Hottentots or bushmen of the Khoisan peoples. These were nomadic people, small in size, more like pygmies, living off the land and foraging as they traveled. Their darker brethren, the Bantu tribes, further north, did not show make their way south for many decades to come.
The establishment of this Cape Town colony endured harsh conditions but the settlement prospered quickly. Fresh water, vegetables, fruit and meat were gathered and cultivated such that all ships looked upon their landing in Cape Town with great anticipation.
My mother spoke Dutch to her children when we grew up and the Afrikaans now spoken in South Africa and Namibia is but strong dialect of the same Dutch language we heard. Getting off the plane in South Africa for the first time and hearing Afrikaans spoken and seeing the Afrikaans names and the Afrikaans customs – all of which were of such close similarity to what I knew as a child but from another part of the world – all of this experience was quite stirring to me. I had equated the Dutch culture with a cool, northern European spot on the North Sea and now I was thrust into something that sounded similar but was a world away in Africa.
The full circuitous route from which is my origin and now my current place in life is of great pleasure to me. The history is not lost on me and plays a strong role in my continued return trips to Holland with my mother and to Africa where the influence of my ancestors was and still is of such importance in bringing this part of the world closer to the benefits of a modern world.
The shores of Scotland roll out below. Edinburgh is the airport but I am due to be picked up by a friend, Gordon Adam, of St. Andrews prominence in the golfing community. Gordon and I met some 20+ years ago after he became friends with a fellow classmate in Chapel Hill, Tommy Hunter, as they met and traveled through Australia Tommy’s graduation. Gordon paid us a few visits in North Carolina and thereafter his exceptional entertainment value (and now family) has brought me back to these shores quite often.

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