It was October 2010; the memory is still fresh in my mind. Packing our bags for the Netherlands, my husband was telling me that when we land there, we will have to buy a ‘bakfiets’. He was warning me that I would have to put my two boys in it and drive them to their school with me wearing a warm winter coat, warm head cap, gloves in my hands and amidst the thick snow on the roads I will have to push my feet fast on the paddles to reach school on time.
I was quite keen to know what he meant by bakfiets? I contained my curiosity thinking that he was doing some pronunciation error. I thought he was joking and just trying to scare me. Actually, he was not. When we reached here, things were becoming clearer. It was, indeed, time for me to open up my eyes for things around me. I needed to realize where I am and how I needed to react, which was not sinking in me yet.
The phase of my everyday struggles had started. My husband was getting ready for work and I had to set my foot forward to look out for schools. While we were in India, we had already taken appointments with different Dutch schools in the Netherlands. It was now time to fulfill those appointments.
The day arrived, when I actually had to show up in the kind of image my husband painted for me. Since we just had one week of hotel stay funded by the company, we had to hurry up looking for apartment and school. Leaving my two boys with my husband, in order to attend the meeting with the director of the school, I dressed up as if I had come down to Antarctica. It was so cold. It was not that I was weak and could not handle things, but the problem was the weather and coming from North India, I was not use to very low temperatures.
Another major difference was that if the weather was cold, then you are at least comforted with fact that you have a car or some other reasonably priced means of transport to travel around but cycle was definitely not an option back home. It was more than 15 years ago, when I last rode a bike to my school. Since then, riding a bike was never on the cards.
I went to the hotel reception and borrowed a bike from them to reach for the appointment. It was a simple bike and wrapped in my warmest dressing made my way to the school. It was freezing cold and sitting on the bike, which I had long forgotten to ride, was painstaking. With a wobbly ride on the street at 6:40am; I started finding my way to the school. I had the directions drawn on a piece of paper. With one hand steering my bike, and in the other holding the directions; I reached the destination. There, in the parking lot, I saw a ‘bakfiets’ for the first time.
It will be good for you to know that it is a very prestigious bike of the Netherlands. Bike- Do not confuse it with Motorbikes/ Motorcycles…It is a regular CYCLE which is driven by an adult with kids sitting in the basket kind of seat. It is not cheap to buy. The Netherlands is a hub of bikes. A wide variety of different models, in different sizes and varied prices mark the pride of Holland. So, buying a bakfiets immediately then was a bit too much for us!!!
Riding through the biking tracks was a great feeling and a new feeling, which was not so cozy at that moment. New experiences did not seem so hearty in freezing cold weather. It was around -10 degrees then. My hands were freezing. Even with gloves on my hands, they were numb and cold. Probably my Indian winter coat was not up to the mark to cater to the Netherlands callous climate.
By the time I returned to the hotel room after my school appointment it was 9 am and my husband was ready to leave for work. He saw my face red and eyes wet. He kept his bag down, made me sit, and gladly said “Welcome to the Netherlands Honey”. The biting cold made me red but the fury within me also added to my redness. I wanted to fly back to my country.
I was finding the initial days too hard to bear. It was seeming to be a journey with endless pain. Torturous indeed!!! The same evening, understanding my state of mind, my husband took us all to buy ski jackets and winter boots. We were not planning for a ski holiday though, but that was the warmest attire we could think of, to sustain in this cold country.