No this isn’t about my father or my foster dad. It isn’t about my brothers or Ghandi or Jezus. This is about a man I met about 22/25 years ago, I don’t even know when precise but it is at least 22 and at most 25 years. Without this person my life would have been very different and many of the things I have done would not have been possible if he hadn’t been around. This is the story of Willem
I met Willem somewhere in the early 90’s in the homeless shelters in Utrecht after I came back there following my unfortunate times in Arnhem. I am not sure what triggered our initial friendship but he belonged to the group of people I chose to hang out with.
Willem made money playing the Djembe at Hoog Catharijne (a for Dutch standards large shopping mall and main train station of the Netherlands) and when weather permitted on the city hall square. As a big supporter of anything that has to do with music in general and drums in particular this drew my attention and I decided that this was something I wanted as well.
As luck would have it I had a form of social security through a special project and the first possibility I got I bought myself a Djembe as well. Willem was so kind to show me some basic rhythms and it was not long after that I joined him on a regular basis on the station and squares, banging my drum making some hard needed extra money. Of course not everybody at the station/mall was happy with that especially since we often got joined by other musicians with Djembe’s, Didgeridoo’s and other instruments however money was made, shared and spend and life was good.
Then came a time that playing in Utrecht (or rather earnings in Utrecht) went down. I guess the public by now knew our play and grew a bit weary of it. Then one day Willem asked me if I felt like going to Scheveningen with him to play there on the boulevard along the beach. I was the proud owner of a small dome tent at the time and since I was feeling adventures I agreed to do so.
When we arrived in Scheveningen (a suburban area of the Hague) we started playing on the boulevard to make some money. After all you won’t survive without food and drink and in our case we wouldn’t survive without the much liked greens (no not dollars, the Dutch greens of course). Playing went fine, money came in and we had our food and smoke covered after a few hours. The video below is the two of us together with some friends playing on the Djembe and Didgeridoo (not in Scheveningen. I have no footage of that unfortunately)
So it was time to eat and near the beach and boulevard we soon discovered a snack bar (as chips shops are called here) that looked like a good place to fill our bellies. We made a lot of great decision during our time in Scheveningen but the choice for this snack bar (called “pyramid”) has probably been the best decision we made out there.
Pyramid was owned by an Iranian guy with the name Maroes, he wa married to a Dutch red head and although a Muslim he made the best pork belly I have ever eaten. Now don’t confuse the Dutch pork belly with any pork belly from whatever country. Here the pork belly is not sold as a big chunk of meat but rather as slices of about 1 cm thick and they are called Speklap (lard cutlett)
After we had ordered our meals we went outside to wait for it to be ready when the owner came and asked us what we carried in those big duffel bags we carried around. When we mentioned that we carried Djembe’s around the man went nuts (in a positive way) and asked us to play something. When we asked if other customers wouldn’t mind he grinned and told us to play regardless of what others thought. And so we where playing and eating and having a good time until it was time to find a place to sleep.
Normally in the Netherlands, if you have a tent you sleep on a camp ground but we figured that camp grounds could cost a lot of money and if we would take the trouble to walk a few miles outside town we should have no trouble finding a place somewhere in the dunes to set up camp and so we did. After about 30 minutes walking through the dunes we found a huge stair going down to the beach with a nice spot near the dune side of the beach and we decided that this would be the place where we would camp during our time in Scheveningen. We quickly made camp and went into our sleeping bags for a good night of sleep only to be given the biggest surprise of our life when we woke up the next morning and discovered we had set up camp on the nude beach!!!!
After a good laugh we broke up camp for that day, went up the stairs towards the dunes and decided that carrying all our gear during the day was way to much work and so we dropped the tent and bag packs behind some bushes hoping they would still be there if we would get back in the evening.(In looking back a stupid move of course but to our surprise it has worked very well during the whole time we where there.) We hung our duffel bags with Djembe on our back, went into Scheveningen to first find ourselves a coffee shop for the much needed smoke and after that was sorted we went back to the boulevard and beach to play and make money.
This was one of the hottest summers in the history of my country so the beaches where full every day and most days we made a decent amount of money followed by a meal at Pyramid, coffee shop, walk to camp ground, setting up camp and go to sleep.
We met a lot of strange, funny, kind and happy people and as it goes in life also a few naggers, idiots and nut cases. One of the stories we still talk about till this day is about an old man that heard us play at Pyramid (we “had” to play every time we went there and we went there every time). He was drunk of his ass and kept repeating “you guys pl better than the Papuans in New Guinea and I can know that cause I have been there” followed by a slap with his hand to his forehead while shouting “BEER”. He even went as far as sitting on the ground straight in front of us, listening with wide open eyes occasionally slapping his head shouting “BEER”
Then one day playing went great but money didn’t come. I don’t know why but we had played almost until our hands where bleeding and had made maybe 5 guilders (about 2 euros) and we where almost to the point that we thought about selling the Bongo’s (two small drums side by side) when a man came out of the Casino that is near the beach. He walked up to Willem with his hand reached out for a handshake and when he shaked he said “So, you guys have a good day as well” and walked off. Willem opened his hand and we noticed he had slipped a 50 guilder bill in there. Needless to say we didn’t sell the small drum set, went to Pyramid to eat and after that to the coffee shop.
When we came out of the shop later that evening because it closed for the day, we decided to roll one for the road and we sat down in a sheltered bus stop. Since I am the fastest joint roller on the planet it came down to me to make one. and I was busy doing just that when right in front of us, maybe 10 feet away, lightning struck. I swear, I haven’t moved a muscle but still I went up from my seat in the air at least a good 10 cm (while remaining in the same seated position as I was already in) and when I looked down the paper, tobacco and greens on there where vanished in thin air. It was not to be found on the bench, on the ground or any other place… it vanished…poof. At the same time the heavens opened up and a rain like in the days of Noah came down. We have waited there for a while and when the flood ended a bit we made our way to our camp site to sleep.
Of course many things have happened in Scheveningen and if I would list them all you would be reading till next week so let me just say that until this day I regard those weeks as the best vacation I have ever had.
Of course one day it was time to go back to Utrecht which is kind of funny when you think we are still talking about two homeless dudes however Utrecht was “home” so back we went. Of course during those weeks Willem and I had become even better friends then before and at least for me “friend” started to change in “bro”
I regard everyone able to become my friend but to become my bro… that is a different matter. When I call you bro I mean it. Bro for me is not something lightly said to just anyone like you see so often. I call you how I see you, simple as that.
Now bro is a very smart individual and besides being smart he has a big heart, empathy, kindness, generosity and a certain joie de vivre. (unfortunately he can be hard headed, stubborn and cranky as well…. still love ya bro) and he had started with some of his other friends with a plan to start a “union for the homeless in Utrecht” (for Dutch reader the UBD or Utrechtse Bond van Daklozen) and me… always in for something new, together with another friend thought “well you do that and then we join you with a youth division”( de UBDJ -Utrechtse Bond voor Dakloze Jongeren). Unfortunately bro had teamed up with the “wrong friends” and they went behind his back with their own project which has a story told here and here . I got involved, even asked for the “board of directors” but it took I think a good 2 years before bro finally got involved as well. During this time we had little contact especially since I was planning to move to Israel after I worked a few years at the shelter.
When I returned from Israel I went back to the shelter and worked there again for a few months until I met my wife, strangely enough I got sacked (on false grounds) the same day Lijda and I got a relation and a new period of little contact followed.
It was a few years after that that bro started a foundation himself called Stichting Straat Advocaat (the streetlaywer foundation) basically fulfilling his dream of a union for the homeless and I decided to go and see if I could be of any help. Well that was a simple yes. Since I am very computer savvy I quickly became the one maintaining all the computer systems. well, to be honest it was someone elses job but they kind of sucked at it 😉 I have done that until a few weeks before the foundation got killed of by the city council due to them refusing to help fund it and some backstabbing from some of his “colleagues” however that was imo not my most important contribution.
A side project of this foundation was “Amoras”. Amoras was a meal project with the object of providing a good meal 3 times a week for the homeless and anyone needing it….. free of charge. The name is taken from a comic called Suske en Wiske: op het eiland Amoras (Willy and Wanda on Amoras Island) by Willy Vandersteen. In this story it is about an island where two groups of people live. the thins and the fatso’s. basically it is about food. Besides that, if you read the name backwards it is Saroma which is a popular dessert around here. During the running time of this project bro (who had a cooking education) was the head chef, I was his sous chef and a few of our friends where the chopping crew.
During the lifespan of Amoras we have served thousands of meals in the sleep inn (another night shelter that kindly let us use their kitchen and main room) and I think we where the most poplar “restaurant” among the homeless and poor. This project has unfortunately also been killed off by the city council in favor of a christian organization that had it’s “own money”.
In between the NOIZ and Amoras I got married and bro I asked bro to be my best man. He kindly agreed to this and I hope I will one day be able to repay this favor. After all during his work for the streetlaywer foundation he met a woman online that over the years became the love of his life. I take a little credit for them meeting since he met her on a poker site I installed for him on his pc 😉
For some reason a lot of his friends abandoned him after the streetlaywer adventure but bro and me got only more close. Besides Djembe he learned to play the didgeridoo and we have played many times together. either the two of us or with some friends as you can see in next video.
Our relation together has evolved over the years to that of “two brothers from another mother. I visit him at least 3 times a week and we will play some shooters or Dynasty warriors (a hack and slash game) or I am just playing alone when he is chatting with Eileen, his lady from across the pond who has become a very dear and special friend to me and Lijda as well. We but mainly he had the pleasure of her coming to holland in 2012 and bro has had the pleasure of visiting her in the USA. I still hope bro will take the next step simply because I want to see him happy and together with the love of life. Of course that is not up to me and I guess everyone will understand that this is not a simple task if you both live 5000 miles apart.
This amazing man is my bro, my friend and my point of sanity in tis mad world, I wish everybody had a friend like I have my bro and I will love him (platonic) for the rest of my life.
Bro, this one is for you, may we be friends till the universe collapses.