Earlier in the week, I had a couple stop my wife and me on the street and ask for directions. They had a nice large tourist map and some sort of red dot on the map which I believe was their destination. We turned them 180 degrees to the right (or maybe to the left), pointed, gestured, and then watched them stroll happily down the street.
Over the past few months I've attended a few events at the Amsterdam Language Cafe to spend an evening with other locals drinking a beer or two and practicing Dutch. As barely a beginner+, it is a very humbling and frustrating experience for me. I can usually make it past the first hour but when the conversation moves past the usual questions and the organised events start, it is much much harder for me to keep up. On top of that, jokes fly over my head, I make zero jokes (and I'm usually very funny) and just end up just smiling a lot.
I came here a year ago still working for the same US-based company and the same co-workers I've worked with remotely for several years. It was easy. It is easy. Last week a pair of Syrian refugees, a mother and her daughter with similar Dutch skills as me attended the Language Cafe. They kept asking everyone "what it was that made them happy". Their bravery to interact and put themselves out there was great to witness.
Now here's the embarrassing part - almost exactly a year ago I sat on a train coming back from Germany into Amsterdam. The train was late and it was very dark when we finally pulled into Centraal. Before that I sat on my seat listening to four Syrian refugees talking about their web development skills to another passenger. And that is a stretch - I'm only sure that two of them could speak English. I couldn't help but wonder what the heck they were going to do when they got off the train. When we finally did depart, I stopped and watched. A volunteer with a sign was there to great them with water and welcome packets in hand. She gathered them up and walked them away.
It was then (yes, a year ago) that I felt inspired do something to help. I didn't do anything until just this week and finally donated to a local charity called Dutch Refugee Council. It's been a long time coming to fulfil my promise to myself. I never said the promise out-loud or wrote it down, but I knew it was there in the back of my head somewhere. I give thanks to all the good folks I met last week that inspired me to finally make good on that promise.
A few weeks ago, I did a donation to ASPCA and talked about it here. One of the other suggestions that I received during that time was to do a micro-loan via kiva.org. I first learned about micro-loans several years ago while sitting in a little Korean restaurant near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. I was talking to a couple people who worked for a small non-profit that both evangelised micro-loans as well as managed some loans of their own but it wasn't until just I heard about Kiva that I realised how easy it could be.
Earlier this week I signed up at kiva.org and browsed through dozens of different loan opportunities on their web site. After a bit of looking, I found one that spoke to my love of Indian food while also helping out women in a very poor area of eastern India called Khurda, Odisha. Dutti, the recipient of the loan only has $25 more to go until she reaches her goal and gets the equipment she needs to expand her business. (Funny enough, I thought my donation was enough to finish it up, but apparently I mis-read the site).
I'm excited to see what happens with the loan and Dutti. Her success is now interwoven with my obsessive compulsive desire to watch her succeed. I look forward to seeing the loan amount fulfilled and dispersed as well as tracking her success over the course of the loan (21 months). I'm not exactly sure, but it looks like I can track as she pays back the loan each month. So exciting!!
I was having a bit of trouble coming up with something to do this week, on Wednesday, it turns out I did something nice worth talking about. There's been a lot of stress at work these past two weeks. There are rumours of cuts and people are anxious. There was one particular co-worker whom I had previously worked on various projects together but we haven't worked on anything lately. Since we had limited interaction, I was curious how he was doing during these stressful times.
I figure what better way to make someone talk to you than to buy them lunch and make them sit next to you for 45 minutes. :) So that's what we did. We went to lunch together and caught up. We talked about work and travel and family and the nuances of living abroad. There was nothing groundbreaking, but I think that was the point - we got to catch up on small personal items that we used to talk about when we worked on the same projects.
I don't feel the need to be friends with everyone at work, but a friendly reminder that I work with humans, not robots makes going to work that much nicer.
This week's post is the first post based on an unplanned kindness, but I dare say not unexpected. While at the Amsterdam airport on a trip back to the United States, I was approached by a man and his wife from South Africa whose delayed flight caused them to miss their scheduled shuttle to their hotel for the next leg of their vacation. They needed a phone so they could call the travel agency and get reconnected on their journey. They asked me for help with the public pay-phone, but it seemed much simpler (for both of us). I noted the number from his printed sheet, started the call and handed him my phone. Roughly two and half minutes later, he hands me the phone back, and I point out the "Meeting Point" to them. They seem grateful and I trust the rest of their vacation stayed on schedule.
This all seems pretty routine, but the airport was packed, so why did they come to me? I have a theory. :) I think I was very approachable that day. I was plenty early and moving at steady methodical pace, two big bags in tow, and carefully watching others. I had also showered that day, was generally happy, smiling and present. I was having a good day and aligned with my surroundings. Don't get me wrong - this isn't every day for me, but I strive for it every day and on this day, I was able to make someone's else day a bit better.
Hey!!!! Hi. :) Welcome to week 7. Lots of positive things are happening in my life but they are coming so fast it's hard to mentally track "the things", leading to stress sneaking in my brain. The beauty of it all, is that it doesn't really matter all that much. Things tend to work out. But, but but... here I am back in blog mode, taking control of 30 minutes of my life.
This week I was thinking about donations to charities and I find it hard to genuinely determine the real benefits of a donation. There's some bad information and complaints out there on any given charity and there's also new studies on the impact on how giving+capitalism can fit together (Tom's Shoes, LifeStraw, Kiva) and survive long-term.
Long story short, I couldn't decide on a charity, so I asked folks in a group-chat simply to name charities and that the first answer would "win". The quickest answer was ASPCA and thus received a $50 donation. Other suggestions included World Wildlife Foundation, charity: water, Autism Research Institute (although I think I would have had to donate tissue, not cash) and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
I'm sure the other charities are just as deserving and may even make it to a future giving session. Regardless, giving to a cause like ASPCA feels right. I've had this mental block for a long time on charities - but I was thinking too much, I was bogged-down by all the research I thought I needed to do. I chose "do" over "think" and it felt great.
I made a video! No, not one of those weird sex videos, just a normal video for someone's birthday and it was such a great experience. I've made a few videos before - just silly birthday videos or Valentine's day videos. And well, this one was a birthday video, but the big difference is it was a compilation of a clips friends and family had sent me to use in the overall birthday video.
Over two months, I solicited and received 43 different videos and edited them into 7 minutes. I watched each one of those videos no less than 10 times and it wasn't until the very end that I added in footage of myself. Overall, I probably spent 80 hours on it - editing, fixing timings, changing the soundtrack, and rearranging the order. Within each moment I knew I was building something great. I laughed so much people probably thought I was crazy. I learned a bunch about the editing application (Filmora) and green-screens and transitions.
Yes, this was a gift for someone and that always feels nice. But this was probably the largest DIY project I've done in a long time. It makes my happy. It feels like I'm making light and love and sharing it with the world. I know that I'm making light and love and sharing it with the world.
While at a bookstore awhile ago, I picked up a couple of books that included common greetings, some slang terms and dirty words for a given language. I selected them with the intent to leave them around the office for people to browse at random. But then I noticed they each contained very sexual sessions that weren't exactly work appropriate. So now I am stuck with a couple books. Or am I?? Let's give them away!
There's a friend of a friend who is pretty quiet and we I've always struggled talking with him on anything other than pure technical things - and even then, it's very concise. He knows French pretty well so I decided to give him one of the books. I didn't think much of it and honestly when I did it, I wasn't even thinking of this blog. I've seen him a few times since then and each time he's brought up the book or shared an anecdote from the book. I always figured he didn't really want to connect with me so it's been surprising to interact now much more.
It feels comforting and humanising to connect with people - to have some type of meaningful conversation outside today's weather. Heck, I think we all do but we just don't to do it with everyone. It's hard to find that common ground, you just have to keep looking.
Well, well, well. Here we are again. This week has been wonderful and I'm not sure I even know why. It's just nice out, things are going generally well and I live in a beautiful, beautiful city. But anyway... guess what happened? I bought someone else a cookbook! Genius, right? Maybe not but please look the other way as I recycle the same idea from 3 weeks ago.
But my friends, it's not quite that simple. The first book I gave away was much more thought-out than this time around. I knew a couple months before I started this blog I wanted to buy that book for that friend. I know she had a specific medical hurdle she was attempting to overcome. The cookbook I gave away this time was inspired by a simple Facebook post by a friend. My "single friend" posted he was uninspired to put together something for dinner. Most reactions (including my 1st reaction) were to tell him to order in or grab some take-out.
But, upon closer inspection, it was clear he really wanted to cook, he wanted to create, - he wanted to make something and feel good about putting it in his body. Well, you might saw that's quite the leap. I suppose it could be. But I know him well enough to see what he's passionate about and this is one of those times. Hell, it's easy - we wears his emotions on his sleeve - and that's what attracts me (as friends) to him.
So there I was - helpless to help him. Well, okay fine. I could have figured out one recipe and suggested it. But what I really wanted was to share another one of my favorite cookbooks - Clean Food by Terry Walters. I masterfully socially-engineered his home address and 10 clicks later, the cookbook was on its way to his house.
This felt good - an unplanned gift to a good friend who will get a lot from it. In the beginning all of this giving felt so awkward and unnatural and this week I feel like a pro. I love my friends and family and helping them, it helps me reflect and appreciate the things I value in my life.
Well my friends, here we are again. Welcome to week 3 of me, learning how to inspire me, by doing random nice things for other people and writing about them. Let's see what happened this week.
I spent last week in Croatia. It was my first time there and it lived up to all the hype of the dozen or so people that I talked to before-hand. The people are friendly and genuine, the streets are clean, the water is beautiful, the food is great and affordable, and the beer and wine will not disappoint.
I did struggle for a bit to determine what to do, but when it became clear I had to many Kunas (the local currency) to spend before leaving I figured why not just give it to someone at the airport. So, that's exactly what I did. I went near the currency-exchange window and found a small group of three weary looking travellers and handed them a wad of cash.
What happened next was a bit unexpected - I got a great big hug from the one girl in the group (also the one who physically received the money). Apparently they had been struggling to get her card to work and was essentially broke 7000 meters away from home. The amount of money I gave them wasn't a huge amount, but it was enough to be comfortable for the next 24 hours - taxi from the airport to the Airbnb, dinner and breakfast the next day. By then, all should be cleared-up with her bank and life will go on.
For me, an unexpected 8-10 second hug from a stranger and the shedding of a couple tears of joy really made my day. I figured there would be no 'story' - I predicted the same feeling I get from buying someone a gift-card for their birthday. But this was different. This was helping someone in need - someone who just needed a win and I was able to provide that win.
Paul in Amsterdam.