Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On Immersion

"Grow where you're planted," my mother taught me.

We lived in some odd places, but she wanted us kids to experience different cultures and immerse ourselves in our new communities. I guess she believed this could best be accomplished through unbridled participation. It didn't matter that we were no good at the activities or that we weren't interested in the events. Oh yes, child, sign us up.

Out most notable venture into planting ourselves came when we lived in the Netherlands. We lived in a converted vintage barn in a very small village in the Dutch countryside. It was a beautiful rural setting. My mother decided we would join the local children's choir.

None of us could sing. Really.

The Eckelrade Children's Choir seemed to be comprised of every child in the village. Boys and girls, they flocked en mass each Tuesday night to the main community building in town. During the day, it housed the village preschool. By night, it was a tavern. Even on nights when we had rehearsal in the center of the large room, weathered farmers would sit at the bar, talking as we sang.

To this day, I have no idea what qualified the director for his position. It seemed we sang slightly out of tune no matter how many times we repeated the lines of the songs. Which were nearly all in English, ironically. So if my mother was hoping we'd pick up some more of the native tongue, well, the only Dutch we learned were the swear words the director would shout at us. He was a hot-headed fellow with a baton he would frequently use to rap the heads of the first row of children. I was tall, and stood in the back row, well out of arm's reach.

We were accompanied on an electric organ by one of two older boys. Richard was tall and gangly, with dark hair and a pale face. He owned his own DJing business called "Disco Ricardo," which was not surprisingly hired for every village social gathering. He stood behind his gaudy set-up, miniature disco ball reflecting light off of his glasses, flipping CD cases open and adjusting audio levels importantly. My sisters and I called him "Disco Retardo." Matisse, on the other hand, was lovely, dashing and cute. He worked the nation's orange and zipper fashion trend like it was his job. All of us older girls had crushes on him, and occasionally he would flirt with us before donning his helmet and riding his moped off into the night.

We sang songs like "Heal the World" and "Blowin' in the Wind," heavy soulful lyrics for a group of preteens. Sometimes the director would ask me how to pronounce a word or two.

Who many rwoads must a man wok down
, we would sing, and a man at the bar would raise his glass.

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