14/11/2014

Viruses in Holland

Uncle Tom / By Uncle Tom

Uncle Tom is not scared of Ebola.

I have become an ebola expert. I know about virus loads, bodily fluids, contaminated surfaces and transmission. No, I am not scared to get it, since I haven’t been to the countries where it rages, but I have read up because people here in Holland seem to be scared of me.

I don’t blame them. I could be West African. People don’t want to die. But it is unpleasant when you are looked at like you’ve got the plague. As an old black stranger I am used to getting some looks of mistrust, or conversely -especially when I wear my slightly oversized old raincoat- some coins, but to have mothers yank their children away when I approach in the street is a bit too much.

So I educate people. I smiled at the lady at the greengrocer’s who seemed scared to take tomatoes after I took some. I told her that I could not transmit the virus as long as I was not showing symptoms. She startled at first, but then she smiled back and said “sorry, we are all just too hysterical.”

Now you’d think that educated people would know better than that poor lady. The Amsterdam Academy, for instance, that trains youngsters for jobs in developing countries, should tell students who are about to depart for West Africa how to avoid contracting the virus and maybe even how to help sick people. But then I read that the Academy’s management put a stop on all travel for all students to the whole continent of Africa.To discover that these venerable Academy teachers also think that all Africans might carry deadly diseases was a bit much.

Then, in the same week, a 1520 portrait of Saint Maurice was said by the director of the national museum to be of the Dutch racist character ‘Black Pete’; a Dutch artist triumphantly showed her audience (which was described as observing in ‘silent admiration’) some bones she had snatched from the Bangla Desh textile factory disaster site; and students at Utrecht university held a ‘Slave Auction’ for charity.

That did it for me. Guys, it was nice knowing you and getting to know the Netherlands. But I urgently need to spend some time with my cousins in South Africa. The township where they live is full of drunkards, street traders, pickpockets, migrant labourers on leave, sex workers, problematic youths, and shouting aunties. Ah, normal people.