Monday, March 23, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 64

I have to go to Utrecht. In October I am supposed to go to a meeting in Japan and Martje and I have decided we want to use that opportunity to go and travel in Japan. I have been there once for a short visit, when I went to a conference and thought I’d like to go back there to see some more, so now is the time. In Utrecht there is a travel agency that specialises in trips to the far East. Martje’s friends are very positive about this agency and my travel agency in The Hague has told me that they always consult the one in Utrecht when they are asked to organise a trip to that region. Martje and I have made an appointment to see one of their consultants.
The train to Utrecht stops at a station, where it is not supposed to stop. It stands there, doors closed, nothing happens. It takes quite some time before we get a clarification. There has been an accident with a freight train on the line. The tracks between this station and Utrecht are blocked. Dutch Rail is discussing what to do. After a while we are told we will take a different route, but eventually will get to Utrecht. We get going, but stop frequently. Then the news is that the train will not go to Utrecht at all, but will pick up its normal route by going to the station that comes after Utrecht. Passengers for Utrecht have to take a train back. Fortunately I have a brochure of the travel agency with me with its telephone number so I can call them and let them know that I will be late. I arrive with a delay of no less than 2 hours in Utrecht. I wonder whether Martje, who has come from Rotterdam, has had the same problems. I don’t see her, so I go to the travel agency. Yes, she is there: she had had the last train before the accident. She discovered in Utrecht at the station, when I did not show up what the reason was.
The consultant who talks with us has many good ideas and it does not take very long before we have figured out what we can do and like to do. She will work out this provisional plan and then send it to me by e-mail. Martje does not (yet) have a computer.
It rains and it is very grey and cold but we go into town to have some lunch. We find a nice café, have a leisurely meal and then go to the station. The obstruction has not yet been removed so the best thing to do is to travel via Schiphol, a detour of about half an hour. Fortunately the train is not too crowded.
Later in the day we hear the damage on the railroad has been considerable and the tracks cannot be used for several more days.
I have to hurry, because in the evening there is the meeting of the citizens’ panel.
In the neighbourhood centre there are about 20 people gathered for the meeting. It is presided over by the Director of the city section, the same person, who chaired the meeting on March 5th, when we discussed the municipal plan for the neighbourhood.
She opens the sessions and confronts us right away with a disappointing message. Just last week the municipal council has decided to suspend the creation of any more citizens’ panels.
They have received negative comments from various existing organisations that are afraid these panels will only double their activities. This has to be figured out first before the green light can be given for more than the already two existing citizens’ panels. In spite of this the Director does not want to send us home without having a discussion. Maybe there are other options. She is happy that the people who are there have bothered to come. We introduce ourselves and I notice that other than the three persons of our informal neighbourhood group there are only four persons who have come as interested citizens, all the others are representatives of formal organisations who in one way or another want to do something for the people living in this neighbourhood. A representative of the neighbourhood care organisation is there as well as someone of the older home care organisation. There is also a staff member of a care home, two members of the board of the official neighbourhood association and two board members of a sports organisation, some staff members of community organisations and of the city section. Some of the same points come up that were brought forward before. But there are also new items. The care home, for instance, wants to have a function for people in the neighbourhood but does not succeed in getting people, living in their own homes in the neighbourhood, to use its facilities. The same is true for one other care home, not represented here. Somehow they do not manage to reach the persons who could use the facilities. It is suggested that they could make known their menus, letting people know that they can come over for a meal. Another suggestion is to invite people and treat them to coffee with cakes on the occasion of the elections for the European Parliament. Usually there are polling stations in the care homes so people living in the neighbourhood have to go there anyway, if they are treated and informed about the services of the care home it may serve to lower the threshold. Another new issue that comes up is the position of the expats. There are quite a few in the neighbourhood but they do not mix very well. Many of them don’t speak Dutch and the locals do not make it easy for them to learn because when the expats try to speak Dutch they usually get an answer in English. That is anything but encouraging. They also feel uncertain about informal rules of conduct that are never explained. Whom can they turn to? I suggest that older people can play a role here. I know that this is being done in Rotterdam. Martje is teaching several expats and with some of them she has become friends. She got involved through an organisation called the Guild, which also has a branch in The Hague. The sports organisation mentions that their premises are open to all citizens. They will be glad to host meetings and have people come over for a meal or to watch competitions.
At the end of the meeting the Director is quite satisfied that new ideas have come up and she wants to keep the people who were present involved, she proposes that a new meeting will be organised by one of the community organisations to see how some plans can be put into practice.

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