July 10, 2020

Lost in Amsterdam: October 2019

Lost in Amsterdam: October 2019

I have felt literally and metaphorically lost during various stages of my life. One of those instances was in Amsterdam during a solo trip to the Netherlands and the UK.

The Netherlands, maybe due to its geographic proximity, had a lot of tourists and expats from the Middle East. Some of the vague memories from the few years I lived in Oman when I was around 11 or so came rushing back while experiencing the rich Middle Eastern/Mediterranean influences in Amsterdam. Overhearing a ton of people speaking Arabic, women in hijabs, more Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants than Dutch restaurants (I ate a shit load of kebabs); it felt like I was back in Oman.

On one of the nights, the hostel I was staying at organized a pub crawl which I decided to participate in. Some of the bars were in the Red Light District area. What I loved the most about wandering through the Red Light District was seeing women in hijabs gawking at sex toys on display inside of sex stores. The curiosity and joyous awe on their faces from seeing female sexuality so openly cherished for maybe the first time in their lives was beautiful. I saw one woman who didn't want to walk away from the showcase in front of a store despite her husband's strong insistence. It was beautiful to see all these women experiencing such profound sexual liberation even if just for a transitory moment.

Eventually, we ended up in a club. They were pretty much exclusively playing the Top 40s. I danced for a while until I lost track of time. I guess the DJ changed at some point and the music switched to techno/house music. I go to the smoke area to get away from the crowd for a bit. There were a few Aussie's there I chat with. You know, the usual, "Where are you from? Which city are you visiting next?" game. That's when I check my phone, it's almost 4:30am. The pub crawl guide is nowhere to be found. I have no idea where in the city I am or how to get back to the hostel. A more socially competent person would've asked the people they were already chatting with if they could help them get back home, but I do the opposite. With my flight/fight mechanism kicking in, I exit the conversations and leave the club immediately all by myself. I'm totally disoriented and I just start walking in a random direction. I become even more disoriented once I had walked far from the noise of the club and gotten near the canals. There were very few street lights, so visibility being low and the mental fog of having stayed up all night, every street and intersection looked the same. I WAS LOST AS FUCK!

After roaming around for a bit through the dimly lit canals of Amsterdam with no soul in sight, with my heart pounding in my chest from the panic/fear of being lost in a new city, suddenly, I was hit, as if by a lightning bolt, by the realization that I was on the streets of Amsterdam alone. I was on the streets of this city, this capital of a nation which had colonized almost as many countries as Great Britain. I could be walking in front of a building which was once the HQ of the West India Dutch Company which founded New Amsterdam which was later forfeited to the Brits and was renamed to New York. Streets that have such rich history. A city with more canals than Venice. All to myself.

I ended up walking on the empty streets of Amsterdam until the sun came up and then miraculously made it to the IJ from where I take a ferry back to the hostel.

I felt a similar feeling of disorientation when this pandemic started and the last few months were analogous to that long, fearful night I spent lost in Amsterdam. I have now reached a stage analogous to when I came to the realization that I was experiencing something unique and beautiful. I am still lost, but I also feel connected to the rest of humanity through this pain that we're all sharing. These last few months have been chaotic and fearful, but I'm starting to see the spiritual life blossoming within me and around me even in these seemingly arid conditions.