Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seven Dials

Three guesses. Where is this?
....Sorry, wrong again!

It's London! In a neighbourhood called "Seven Dials", and more than one Londoner looked at me with a lost expression on his/her face when I told them about it. "Huh? Should I know that?" Well...yes. It's near Covent Garden, it has a village-feel to it with all the cobbled streets, and last but not least : it's full with all kinds of cool and funky shops. Check it out next time you're visiting the Queen!

Books, books, books

After my classes, I walked past this little second hand bookshop opposite the church, called “Het Ivoren Aapje” (The Ivory Monkey, named after a book written in the 19th century about life in Brussels). Outside, on a table were some books, and one, for some reason, caught my attention. It’s been ages since I bought a Dutch book, but what can I say? Maybe teaching my mother tongue has made me love it again.
There was no price on the book, so I walked in – immediately overwhelmed by that sweet, comforting smell of old books. The owner and someone else were hidden behind piles of books, playing chess.
Me : Excuse me, how much is this book?
He : One!
“Damn”, I thought, “this is one of those shops where you’re not allowed to buy just one book. They sell by the kilo or something.”
Me : Umm, yeah, just this one.....
He : Well...One!!
Me : (still in teaching mode) Yes, this is “ONE” book. (followed by an awkward smile, and the feeling that I was definitely missing something here)
He : So it is! So it’s ONE Euro!
Me : Ah, ok...!
I felt I had walked straight into one of Ionesco’s absurd plays.
But I mean, seriously, who would thing of “one Euro” when someone tells you the price of something?

Anyway, this experience kicked my love for books into fifth gear again, and I decided to check out the Dutch library of Brussels. After living here for almost 7 years, I must admit I haven’t been to it once. Shame on me. I had a quick look around, and decided to go for a useful visit : check out the Dutch courses and text books (where I bumped into a few of my colleagues).
All in all, the visit to the library was a strange, but nice experience. It’s like this bubble of Dutch in an otherwise 95% French-speaking city. I even found it weird to ask for information in Dutch – when I walk around, shop, etc in Brussels, I automatically switch to French. I didn’t do so the first six months I lived here, but after a while you just get tired of a) having to repeat everything in French anyway and b) getting unfriendly looks because you have the nerve to speak Dutch, and assume everybody will understand you.
So you realize “Ok, this is my capital city, and (almost) nobody speaks my language.” And that’s even more absurd than Ionesco.
Like the second hand bookshop this morning though, even absurdity can be charming.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A day in the hammock

Whenever I try guided meditation, and they ask me to picture a “save place” in my head, I go to the hammock in my parents’ garden. Hanging between the chestnut and the cherry tree, it’s the perfect spot to relax and dream away. I spent almost the entire summer after graduation from uni in that hammock – reading all the books I brought from New York, and dreaming about yet another date with P (who, at that time, was pulling every romantic trick in the book to win me over). Even the hammock itself was a gift from P. After that hot summer, the hammock was barely used. I started working (no time for daydreaming anymore), the summers got wetter, and I moved out.

A few weeks ago, I decided to ask my dad to install it again. All my meditation time spent in it, made me long for the real thing. And so today I hung between the chestnut and the cherry tree again. Looking up at patches of blue sky between the leaves. Listening to the silence and the birds singing. Smelling the spiciness of fresh cut grass and the sweetness of the roses. Reading until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Mom, dad, and the two cats within close distance. For a moment, everything felt as safe again as that summer of 2001.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

G's repair shop : you break it, we fix it!

Hospitals can bring me so down. I hate the smell, I hate the overly cheery people celebrating another birth, I hate all the pain and suffering I see, I hate the tasteless food, and I hate nurses who hate their job. I love the little yellow ducks in the pond outside though. And maybe also the newspaper shop, where you can pretend for 5 minutes that you’re outside, in the “normal” world.
To me, this hospital is a factory, or more accurately: a giant repair shop. What part is not working? Can we fix it? Do we have to replace it? Done. Thank God for it of course, but is it really so hard to remember that they’re dealing with feeling, thinking human beings – and not, let’s say ...bread toasters?
Hopefully my mom can go home today – and that’ll be the end of another week on Planet Hospital. I hope the next trip to this unfriendly galaxy is a million of lightyears away...

Thursday, June 25, 2009


After a crazy week, I can finally sit back and relax a bit. On my terrace, with an ice cream. There was my little London-flu, basically pounding my head every single second wit a huge hammer. There were a lot of lessons to teach, and then there was a lot of rushing to hospital to visit mom in between foresaid lessons.
This morning was the last lesson of the week, and mom is finally doing better. And my flu is almost history. Pfew. I still have a ton of prep work to do for next week’s intensive course – but for now it’s just me and my ice cream. Zen.

Despite all the “setbacks”, I realised once again this week how much pleasure my job is giving me (sorry if this is beginning to sound boring). On Tuesday I dragged myself to my little group of 8 female immigrants to give the last full day of their crash-course. I came home with a fever, but feeling so happy and satisfied. On Wednesday there was another “first” : I taught someone who reacted on the blogpost in which I “promoted” my Dutch lessons! It was a great lesson, with a very motivated and talented student and I’m really looking forward to our next lesson (I have to write this, as he’s probably reading this ;-). And today another student decided to postpone all her lessons until after my holidays – she doesn’t want a substitute teacher :-).

All the fun of the new job aside though, I stumbled upon my “old job” today. In a rather strange way. At the language school around the corner, they have a magazine stand. Every week, there’s also an issue of “HR tribune”. Which I’ve refused to read ever since the beginning of “Episode 3”. Today I thought : “Hm, one of my students has his own recruiting company – an HR related article might be useful lesson material”. So I grabbed the HR Tribune. I opened it at a random page, only to stare at a huge picture of my former boss. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I couldn’t believe all the lies in the article either. All the blahblah sounded so ridiculously untrue.

Conclusions of the week: there’s not only a Mexican flu; there’s a London one as well. Teaching is great fun. And don’t read the HR Tribune; it’s a load of crap.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All in one afternoon

Nurse 1 : (semi-agressive) Have you *refused* painkillers today?!
Mom : Uumm, no they just didn’t give me any. That’s why I’m in pain. That’s why I’m asking them now. Please.
Dad : Shouldn’t you check her sugar levels?
Nurse 2 : Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought about that...
Mom : I haven’t received a certain shot today. Is that normal?
Nurse 1 : Uuum, nooo, I guess not. Oh, you’re right : you still need to have that shot.
Nurse 2 : you will have to drink lots of sugar water to improve your sugar level
Mom : The doctor told me yesterday I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything...It’s in my file.
Nurse 2 : Oh yes yes you’re right. Well, no sugar water for you then!
Nurse 1 : Why are your baxters still full?
Mom : I don’t know....
Nurse 1 : Let me call nurse 2
Nurse 2 : ah, I see. It’s because *you* vomit all the time. *You* block the tube when *you* do that.
Mom : you know, I have an implanted catheder from the chemo. Normally they use that...
Nurse 2 : No no no, we don’t use that here. It will have to stay in your neck. If *you* stop vomiting, it will be okay.
Nurse 1 : Look at you, you’re covering yourself completely with the sheets. It’s 26 degrees outside!
Mom : Well, I am cold, I pay for this room, and if I want to cover myself, and even turn on the heating in here – I’ve got every damn right to do so.
As you see, it was another beautiful day on Planet Hospital.
To be continued.....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kleenex anyone?

Snif. Snif again. Cough-cough. Sneeeeze (x 6).
That’s right, another visit to a cosmopolitan city, and I catch another cosmopolitan cold. I’m getting old. INSEAD-weekends ruin my health (and my bank account). Or maybe it’s just my body warning me : working – partying – running to hospital – not sleeping - worrying : DON’T you dare do it again!!!
So I’ll listen. I’m off to bed, I won’t do any more work tonight (first improvised lesson starts tomorrow at 8.30 am), and I’ll skip hospital tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Doing a little bit of London

For the first time in more than 10 years, I made it back to London. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t buy a city guide, I didn’t make a list of things to do and see, and I almost didn’t pack a bag (this was done in the 30 minutes between coming home from work, and grabbing a taxi to the Eurostar-station).

The main reason to be in London, was another INSEAD reunion. We stayed at our friends’ place, who live just behind Primrose Hillpark. If I ever move to London, this is the neighborhood I want to be in! A huge park, overlooking the entire city, cosy streets with quaint shops, lovely houses, etc.

After arriving on Thursday evening (bringing the obligatory Belgian chocolats and Belgian beer to our lovely hosts), we got up on Friday to do “some shopping”. We got back home, carrying several huge bags. With the nice Euro-to-Pond rate, and the start of the sales, we let ourselves go completely wild. So wild we weren’t able to close the door of our bedroom, because there were simply to many shopping bags.

Friday night was the first INSEAD party, Saturday was INSEAD visit to Saachi Gallery, Saturday night was INSEAD dinner + party, and today was INSEAD pic-nic. It was good fun to see everybody, especially my dearest K, whom I hadn’t seen in one year! Seeing her again made me realize how much I miss my INSEAD-girls...

And with that, I’m more tired than ever. Tomorrow is another working day, my mom is in hospital, and I still have to do all my prep work for this week.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A lot of ifs

*If* my mom didn’t get ill, maybe I wouldn’t have crashed.
*If* I wouldn’t have crashed, maybe I would still be stuck in my HR job.
*If* I would still be stuck in my HR job, maybe I would never have considered going back to teaching.
All this to say that, at this very moment, I’m sooo happy that I lost my job, that I started rethinking my life from scratch, and that I ended up teaching again.
I can honestly say I haven’t felt this good after a day’s work in, let’s say, the last three years. I mean it.
A) I got stuck with the most dysfunctional boss on the planet.
B) I never got thanked or rewarded.
C) As a consequence, my self-confidence was always below zero

An example: even if I managed to recruit the so-called “sheep with five legs” in an overheated job-market, there would still be complaining ‘cause She hated to make time in her planning for contract-negotiations (No, no way she would let me or anybody else do that). Forget “well done”. No, instead She would postpone and postpone making an appointment with foresaid candidate, after which this one would, of course, be of the market by the time She finally called him. Next : an e-mail from the general HR director to ask me why I hadn’t managed to fill in the damn vacancy yet.
I once had the nerve to tell him that it was because She had no time for contract negotiations. Next : full scale war. And guess who the victim was? Right.
This was your daily menu. And I ate it for three years. Now the mere thought of it makes me throw up.

I went into HR to be able to work with people, to help people on their career track. I never had the feeling that I did those things. Maybe only in the beginning when I worked in a temp agency, and got a lot of people their first job – but on a corporate level? Forget it. It was all politics.
Now, I see the difference that I make – instantly, with my own eyes. I get gratitude, loads of it. I get rewarded, not with money, but by seeing that all my efforts are never lost. And my self-confidence? I feel it growing day by day. I’ll never let anyone bring me down like that again. That is...*if* I can keep that promise to myself :-)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Crash course

Here we go again. It’s 10.30 pm – and I totally forgot to eat. The reason behind this, is that I get so lost in lesson-prep work, that I completely loose any sense of time (the fact that it’s not getting dark outside before 10pm is not helping either). But the result is something I feel proud of : my own crash course Dutch for people who have zero knowledge of the language. And I really mean zero. I just wonder who is going to crash first here : the teacher or the students... 4 days of intensive teaching, morning till evening, to 8 women from all over the world. Challenge, here I come!

Friday, June 12, 2009


Mom on the phone. Good news and bad news. Bad news: new cancer cells. Surgery as soon as possible. Good news: they should be able to take everything away, no more chemo necessary. “It’s just two small spots”.
My brain refuses to process the information. I wish the tears would come, but they don’t. I feel completely numb.
All the fighting we did – mom, to get well, dad, to support her day and night, and me, trying to get my life back on track. Why? At the end of the ride, no matter how much fighting you did, it’s out of your hands. No matter how many gallons of Japanese green tea you drink, the cancer does exactly what it wants.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another visit to Planet Hospital

Yesterday my mom spent 40 minutes in a claustrophobic scanner to see if she needs further chemo or surgery. Needless to say, this has been causing us stress for weeks. Normally we would have the results today. Good or bad, we just want to know. Only, small problem: this morning the doctor announced that “Oops”, they took the wrong scan yesterday. So we’re not one step further – and believe me, every hour of this kind of stress lasts an eternity.
The doctor himself, although not in the wrong, was visibly embarrassed – and with some pushing and negotiating, the right scan is now scheduled for tomorrow morning.

I should face the fact that there is the possibility that it’s going to be “bad news”. But I just don’t know how. I’m so scared to feel again the way I felt last year. Already I feel anger boiling up – it can’t be bad, not now. Please, for once, let everything the way it is in my life. Don’t go turning it upside down again. Just don’t. (I don’t even know to whom I’m saying this. God? The universe?)

Monday, June 8, 2009

And the fish said "blub"

Am I drowning? Or just swimming to fast?
As you know, I’ve started teaching in Language School nr2.
Then all of a sudden, last week, Language School nr1 contacted me again, after weeks and weeks of silence. So as from today, I’ve started teaching there as well. And in between are the first private students announcing themselves.
Every day feels like “the first day @ the new job”, ‘cause then it’s a new school, then it’s a new student, then it’s a new group, etc. And although it’s all very exciting, and I’m having a really good time, I’m also spending loads of energy on just staying focused. Staying focused on controlling the stress. Staying focused on feeling self confident. Staying focused on, well, just not losing myself.

Day after day, I keep on telling myself:
Yes, this is what I want to do. Yes, I love teaching. Yes, the financial aspect will work out in the end (just keep on living of your savings for the moment). Yes, the administration is a pain, but you can do it. Yes, you are good at this, no need to stress. Yes, you've made the right choice. Yes, you can say “No” if you want to.
And once again : Yes, damn it, you've made the right choice.

As if to test that, I got an email from an old colleague in my mailbox today : “I have a great project and I really really see you working on it! Give me a call asap! I believe you are THE person for the job”. She was international sales manager at my previous company, and we got along well. She left, and, together with another partner, started her own HR company. That company was on my “to contact-list” in case I‘d decide to keep on working in HR. And now, exactly one week after I made the choice to teach again, they contact me. *Sigh*.
I never knew that making a career change would be this challenging...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saturday sucks

Maybe you’ll find this weird. No problem, I find it weird as well. For a couple of weeks now, Saturday has become my ultimate down-day of the week. Maybe these are the reasons:
- my weeks are filled with thrilling, new experiences day after day. I’m drowning in lesson-prep work, but that keeps me focused. All week long I keep myself on a kind of energy-high to keep on going.
- also all week long, I miss P, and I look forward to Saturday. In my mind, Saturday will be this absolutely great day, when we will do tons of fun and romantic stuff together, making up for the time we were apart.
- I also expect, week after week, that *this* Saturday we will be a few steps further in the whole wedding planning.

And then comes Saturday.
- P is too tired for words from another killing work week. He sleeps until noon, and I don’t blame him (as I have woken him up once again in the middle of the night with one of my “screaming nightmares”)
- I want to share all the happiness and excitement I’ve felt during the week, but, as we are on such different wavelenghts, find that very hard to do.
- When everybody is awake, there’s a little piece of the day left, in which have to fit all hopes and dreams for the weekend. At the end of the day, we’re not one step closer to organising the wedding – because, understandably, after a very stressful week, the last thing P needs is stress about the wedding.
- I feel down and lonely, because once again “waiting for Saturday” has become a disappointment. And what I’ve been looking forward too all week, again didn’t happen.

Comes Sunday, with sports, family visits and preparing for work, and voilĂ , the weekend is over. Time to hope and dream about the next one....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


(Forgive me for once again using my blog as free ad-space)

“I’m a poor little girl who wants to have a huge wedding in the centre of Brussels. I’m looking for a beautiful venue with parking facilities for the guests. And I still want to have a little bit of money left at the end of the ride.”

Yes, I’m getting desperate. For some reason, NO ONE gets married in Brussels. Everybody moves out of the city for this event, and goes to some castle or some huge farm in the middle of nowhere. That’s nice, I know, but not if you have to consider the logistics of 50% of your guests – who come from abroad, and don’t have a car.

So far, the options in Brussels seem to be
1. a beautiful, historic venue. Where you have to pay two guards to protect the building all night long, and where your guests are barely allowed to move. (Do I want the additional stress caused by the possibility that someone might throw up on some old and precious book collection on my wedding day? No)
2. various other nice venues. All in neighbourhoods with close to zero parking space. (Do I want my guests to arrive late, or simply not? Or do I want to make sure they all get huge parking fines? Double no)
3. a beautiful, historic venue with parking space, but ...close to unaffordable. (Do I want to be completely bankrupt after this wedding? You’ve guessed it: no)

Seems I’m running out of options. I’m also running out of time if I still want to get married this year. So please, if you got any wild ideas, just shoot!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Job

Thanks to some lovely comments on my previous post, and thanks to P’s efforts in being the “supportive boyfriend”, I was in a better mood today. So please allow me to finally show my enthusiasm and bore you with all the details of my teaching-job.

The school itself is rather small. There’s a relaxed and cosy atmosphere, everybody knows everybody, and people appreciate you for your work (which is a world of difference compared to my previous job).
Every lesson consists out of : reading a newspaper article about a controversial subject, a discussion about the article, a listening exercise, a role play, a grammar topic, and a Simon-says game (where the students have to repeat a sentence that gets longer and longer).
There are no mandatory books to follow – every lesson is made completely to fit the student’s needs. So as a teacher you have great freedom – and you have to use all your inspiration and creativity, lesson after lesson. This demands a lot of preparation time – which I honestly don’t mind. The satisfaction you get from building “your own” material is well worth it.
As it is a kind of freelance contract, with no fixed amount of hours, and as I’m only beginning, I haven’t got a lot of hours yet. (around 10 every week). Hopefully this will improve fast.

So, if you happen to be looking for Dutch lessons, and happen to live in or near Brussels, just drop me a message - see “contact me” button on the left side.
(Sorry for the shameless advertising ;-)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Back @ work

Last Friday was “My First Day @ Work”. I hadn’t worked since mid December ’08, so – understandably- this was a big moment for me! And I can safely say that I really enjoyed it.
I had to teach 4 hours of Dutch to a little group of three: an American, a lady from Brazil, and a guy from Cameroon. The 4 hours flew by, and I left the school feeling amazingly good (and a bit tired). I felt confident that I had made the right choice, and really proud of myself. The good-luck wishes from friends on Facebook almost made it better than a birthday-party!
Then a few things happened along the weekend that crushed my party-mood.

I still don’t know what P really thinks about my decision. I think he would prefer me to have a really cool job/career of which he can proudly brag about to his friends and colleagues. Like “my girlfriend is an HR consultant at – insert cool company where you work ridiculous hours- “.

Yesterday we were invited to a BBQ, and at some point, the whole conversation turned to “work” for the rest of the evening. Imagine a table with a consultant, an investment banker and two lawyers, bragging/complaining about their working hours. I felt hugely out of place. Part of me wanted to scream “wake up you all, and start realizing what is really important in life before you all end up with a burn out”. Another part of me felt really “low”, bereaved of any self confidence. Here I was, the “language teacher”, working part time, between all these hot shots earning loads and loads of money.

I don’t know – maybe you have to be confronted with serious illness, go through a nervous breakdown, or whatever to realize that life is so much more than the company you work for. So instead of saying anything, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know anymore whether to feel sorry for myself, or to feel sorry for them. I just felt bad. P asked what was wrong, and I found myself unable to explain how I felt and why. So I just went to bed, and luckily fell asleep pretty fast.
I know, deep down, that I’m happy with the choice I’ve made. I know this is right for me. And I’m proud that I’ve just followed my heart. But it’s always so damn important to me what others think of it...I know: it shouldn’t be. Easier said than done.