January 30, 2012

Breaking Chains

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:11 pm by newsurroundings

I had my last American Women’s Club of Antwerp meeting as Programs Director this month.  For the last year, I have been responsible for finding speakers for our monthly meetings.  The first few months were quite stressful since I had not actually been to a regular meeting before I started planning them, so I was not even sure what was expected.  The job got easier as I made friends and got suggestions and help from others in the club and had a better idea of what would interest the group.  We’ve had some really wonderful speakers and covered a variety of topics- flower arranging, blogging, breast cancer, antique shopping, writing and photography.  This month’s meeting is the one I am most proud of.

The topic was human trafficking- not our usual light-hearted subject but one I thought would be of interest and deserved the attention.  I asked our pastor’s wife, Hannah, to speak as she has been working with the Breaking Chains Network to help women who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution here in Antwerp.  Many women have been brought to Europe thinking that they will have a better life as a baby sitter or perhaps a waitress or house cleaner.  Sometimes they have responded to an ad in a newspaper or, shockingly, they may have been deceived by a family member or often a boyfriend.  The women are beaten, raped, robbed of their passports and everything else they own, and left with the option of being a prostitute or being killed.  They are moved frequently between cities and countries to prevent them from making contacts or learning the language.  This makes it very hard for those who are trying to help, but there is good news that women are being helped and are able to escape from this bondage.  We heard from Ruth, a woman from Nigeria, who shared her story of how she became a victim, her escape 10 years ago, and her efforts to help other women in similar situations.

The Breaking Chains Network has a center in Antwerp where the women can go and take classes, cook together, make friends, and get assistance in breaking free from prostitution. For the women who do escape from prostitution, it is not easy to find viable ways to make money.  Through the Network, they can make jewelry and get paid for each piece that is then sold at different events.  We had a table set up at our meeting and, between the jewelry sales and donations, our group contributed over 500 euros.

With prostitution being legal in Europe, I think many of us think that it’s always a chosen “profession” and we pass judgement on the women in the windows.  Our eyes were opened at this meeting and I hope many of us will help support the Breaking Chains Network and other organizations with similar goals.  If nothing else, I hope we’ll see the women in the windows with new eyes of compassion.

January 3, 2012

Soon to be in Even Newer Surroundings

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:32 pm by newsurroundings

Ok, here goes, (deep breath)- we are moving to Switzerland.  Why is that so hard to say?  I have actually only told a few friends here in Belgium because I just can’t seem to bring myself to say it out loud.  I should be excited, right?  Who wouldn’t choose Switzerland over Belgium?  The weather has to be better.  We’ll be close to Italy, so the food must be very good.  Mountains, lakes, what’s not to love about it?

I’m sure Switzerland will be very nice, I just like it here it Belgium and I can be resistant to change.  We will be in the Italian-speaking city of Lugano, so I do need to get busy studying Italian.  We’ve been spoiled here, with the Flemish people being able and willing to speak English.  It’s not that way in Lugano.

Well, just writing about this has been a bit therapeutic.  There will be much more coming in the future.  I’ll try not to be too whiney.

Bloom where I’m planted.  That will be my motto.

What’s not to Like about Lille?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:56 pm by newsurroundings

My daughter, Erin, is studying French in college and is here in Belgium for a visit.  She wants to try out her French and has been begging me for months to take her to France during her break (she really didn’t need to beg- it’s not as if I didn’t want to go also).   We decided on a mother-daughter trip to Lille.  It met all the requirements- an easy train ride away, a good Christmas Market, and otherwise interesting sites and shopping.

Erin in the square by the Column of the Goddess

We were a bit stressed the morning we left, as it took us much longer to get to the tram station than anticipated due to construction and traffic.  We, therefore, took a later train from Antwerp to Brussels than planned and I was really afraid we would miss the Eurostar (high speed train) that we had booked from Brussels to Lille.  Well, we were very lucky because there was no line when we got to the Eurostar counter and we went right through customs and security and were in our assigned seats exactly 5 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart.  Too close for comfort, but at least we made it!  Usually we just go from country to country with no border control, but since the Eurostar goes to the UK, you have to go through customs.

So glad we caught our train.

When we got to Lille just 30 minutes later, we took a taxi to our hotel and then headed for the central square, which was just behind our hotel.  After much traveling this past year, I have determined that location is the most important factor when choosing a hotel.  Comfortable beds (rare in European hotels) are nice, good shower pressure is a definite plus, but nothing beats a good centrally located hotel.  We stayed at the Best Western and were very pleased.

We went to the sqaure that was decorated for Christmas, including a ferris wheel that we just had to ride on even though they make me a bit nervous.  Erin assigned me the task of taking pictures from the top of the wheel as we were moving, which made me a bit lightheaded and just uncomfortable in general, but I was able to do it with her words of encouragement-  “Mom, don’t be such a baby.  Take the pictures”.  That was especially helpful and I did manage to get some decent shots, even with my eyes closed.

Place du General de Gaulle/ Grand Place

View from the ferris wheel

Lille is a shopper’s paradise.  They had streets and streets filled with unique boutiques as well as the more common stores we’re used to seeing in Europe.  There were unique kitchen and deli shops, knitting and sewing shops, toy stores, lots of upscale clothing stores- too bad it wasn’t January yet, when everything goes on sale.

Erin at the Patisserie

We stopped for pizza after shopping a little and ate outside on a table in the cold.  Pizza wasn’t my idea but when you’re traveling with a 20 year old (I still call her a teen), you have to make sacrifices.  The pizza was actually very good and even sitting outside was nice.  It just felt very European.

After a little while, it started raining and we decided to go back to the room to rest and let the rain pass, hopefully.  Well, we both fell asleep and Bryan called to check on us and couldn’t believe that we were actually in the room napping on our first day there!  We got moving shortly again after that and went to the Christmas Market just right up the street from our hotel.  Cities all over Europe host Christmas markets beginning usually in November and running through Christmas.  They set up little wooden huts and sell all sorts of things- food specialties from their region, ornaments (often homemade), hats, scarves, games, puzzles, jewelry, lots of deocorative items.  Gluwein is always served (mulled wine) and really warms you up on a cold day.

Christmas market

I am disappointed that we didn’t take the time to go to the museum in Lille- the Palais des Beaux- Arts de Lille.  It has the largest art collection in France outside of the Louvre.  We were so caught up in the shopping and sight seeing that we didn’t go on Monday, and it was closed on Tuesday.

Our second day was more of the same- shopping and just walking around the city taking in the architecture and the ambience. stopping frequently at French patisseries for tea and pastries.

Lille is highly rated in our book.