Trading Places

Earlier in the week I received a message from my Dutch friend Katja. She’s currently in Washington, DC attending a seminar for work. She wanted to thank me again for the info about DC that I’d shared with her before she left. The weather was nice and she was enjoying her visit.

‘I love DC and can understand you enjoyed living here…We’re on a city trolley ride,’ she wrote.

I was glad the weather was cooperating and that Katja was seeing some of what makes Washington such a great city. It was her first time there and I wanted her to enjoy it. We’d spoken of restaurants and shopping options, must-see sights, the Tourmobile as a great way to get around.

And she’d been amazed that the majority of museums and the zoo do not charge admission.

‘Even the Smithsonian?’ she asked in surprise.

Absolutely. They are considered ‘national treasures’ that belong to the people, are funded in part by federal dollars, and are absolutely free to visit. Not to mention outstanding.

But I also felt a little stab of homesickness. I’d lived there for so many years. Met and married Husband there, had our children there. My brother’s family still lives there, as well as many dear, dear friends.

The kind of friends who knew you when. And know the skeletons in your closet. But swear they will never tell. Unless called to testify in front of Congress, of course.

Okay, we were weird that way. We promised not to spill personal secrets or provide photographic evidence unless presented with a subpoena. It’s nice to know where the line is drawn 😉

I remember when I first met Katja, earlier in the year. I was out walking Oli. She was just returning from running in the nearby park during her lunch hour, and heading back to her office.

We were standing on the same street corner waiting for the lights to change when she noticed Oli and started petting him. We started chatting, and she told me about her own two dogs.

She had initially spoken to me in Dutch and while I had responded, it was a struggle. She switched effortlessly to English, asking how long I had been in the Netherlands. We discussed that and similar topics, and I explained that I was doing my best to learn the language.

I mentioned needing to get back into running, and she told me she had just taken it up. Her company was fielding a couple of teams in what is known as Den Haag’s Royal Ten. She was going to run in the 5K race, and had less than two months to prepare.

There on that busy corner near her office and just a couple blocks from my house, we struck up a deal to start running together a few times a week. If I would help her with running, she would help me with my Dutch.

It was a serendipitous meeting for both of us. Dictionary.com defines serendipity as ‘the propensity for making fortunate or desirable discoveries by accident’, and I can’t think of a better example.

We began running together a couple days later, and have continued to do so ever since. She even asked me to join her company’s 5K team in that Royal Ten race.

We’re not that fast, but we enjoy being outside running in the park. Chatting helps take our minds off our running. It dispels those niggling thoughts of being sore or out of breath or adding distance or increasing our pace.

We do try to speak primarily in Dutch, and over time I have noticed that it has helped my Dutch immeasurably.

If I don’t know a word or phrase, I just say as much as I can in Dutch and then throw in English for the rest. Katja is incredibly patient, telling me what a word is when I’ve asked her several times before.

We chat about her job, my writing, her fiancé, our families. She’s suggested places to see off the beaten tourist track, and explained innumerable intricacies about Dutch culture. We laugh and chatter and keep going.

If one of us isn’t up to running that day, I’ll bring Oli and we’ll walk. And talk.

We’ve become friends. I treasure her company. Serendipity? As the Dutch like to say, natuurlijk.*

*naturally, of course


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