Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Travel tips for my countrymen set for The Hague

A group of my countrymen
will at some time in the near future (believed to be any time from December 14) be journeying to the distant shores of the North Sea. They will be spending some time in a city the locals call Den Haag, a city of half a million Dutchmen. It will be an epic journey and I thought I should contribute to making it memorable, especially if there is a risk of their separation from wider society.

May I confess that I am not widely travelled in the Netherlands although, like millions of other travellers, I have transited through Amsterdam International Airport at Schipol. My knowledge of that country is, I am afraid, not much wider than glimpses of windmills caught over racks of pornography at the Duty Free. One of my earliest memories of Europe is coming in to land over canals and white barns with windmills atop. I was very impressed by the extent of canaling, especially one where the canal was on top a road and railway line. To my African eyes, a boat on top of a train was as incongruous a sight as a lion mounting an elephant. Well, for purposes other than dinner. Most of the Netherlands is borrowed from the North Sea and I think the sea has made a few attempts to take it back. The Dutch are very good at fighting back with dykes, pumps and canals.

There are many myths about the Netherlands. Where other cultures rush to greet a new born with myrrh, gold and frankincense, it is generally believed that when a baby is born in the Netherlands, a bottle of milk is shoved into its fist, a snort of cocaine is made available and a roll of bhang stuck behind its ear, just in case the mood catches the baby that way. Of course the Red Light district of Amsterdam, with its window shopping amenities where business women in the flesh trade parade behind well-lit glass in various stages of disrobe, is a model of disrepute for many cities around the world.

So how does one keep this important appointment?

I have had long consultations with Mr Google and his son Google Earth. Their advice is this: Take a direct flight out of Jomo Kenyatta to Schipol. Rent a car and take the A-5 due south-west and out of the airport. Proceed past the Kruisweg-A5 interchange and get on to the E19. Stick with it past Alkemade, Leiderdop, turn right after Leidschendam on to the A12, exit the motorway after the Movenpick Hotel, Voorbug, take the first left, then the first right, drive right in and ask for a venerable gentleman by the name of Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Your destination is the biggest Dutch city on the North Sea, so if you arrive with a day or so on hand, you can squeeze in a little beach time. That depends, of course, on whether you want to spend time by the freezing sea. Your new home is a boring city, a little like Dodoma, without much of a night life. If you are used to partying, then you will find it quiet. It is the seat of government, though Amsterdam is the capital city, and this is where you will find Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, but since this is not a State visit, her Majesty will be quite far from your mind. I think from this point on, all of our countrymen who are likely to take a trip to the North Sea should observe a couple of common sense precautions.

First, if your toenail is growing inwards, get a quack near your village to pull it out. Don’t go to your celebrity doctor in Manhattan. You might be picked off the tarmac.

Secondly, make a habit of carrying an overnight bag with warm underwear in it, just in case you are taken unexpectedly. Before you are settled in and thermal longjohns are obtained, you may have frozen.

Thirdly, live each day as if it were your last. Visit the places you love most, the ones that in your heart speak to you as the representation of your motherland. For those who journey to the North Sea may not come back. After various processes of a legal nature, countries might offer to host you for the rest of your life. They might even request, while you are their valued guest, that you wear their leg irons.

Finally, to keep up your morale, brief a couple of your village fans to come and populate the Waving Bay when you jet out. This is the traditional Kenyan way of dealing with people who are travelling to the North Sea. I don’t know whether you should go there with a close friend, particularly one in the legal business. Slobodan Milosevich went there on his own, see what happened to him. When people commit crimes against humanity, it is often in the expectation that they will not be caught and punished.

In the light of this impending trip, going forward, I think it might be wise not to commit crimes against humanity at all, whether in “self-defence”, an attempt to “overturn the verdict of an unfair election” or to right “historical injustices". Den Haag, by the way, is also known as The Hague, a place where the International Criminal Court is to be found and where the most cruel people are taken for trial.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo is the prosecutor.

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