Stroopwafels and IKEA… we have landed in Amsterdam! (the emigration tales)

Our seven suitcases have been unpacked, our internet is working, our cell numbers are now Dutch ones, my son has eaten two packets of stroopwafels, and all our IKEA furniture has been assembled (not by us, as you might recall.

We have achieved a lot so far, and fortunately we were able to stay in our apartment from the first night as everything was more or less up and running. We anticipated that we might have to stay in an AirBnb for a few nights while we sorted out our apartment, but I’m so grateful we could move straight in and prevent more admin and that “in limbo” feeling.

Our repatriation flight went well. We arrived at the Dutch embassy in Pretoria, with our 16 pieces of luggage (including carry-on and a heavy car seat) to stand in a long queue to get our names checked off the list, and then board a bus. Fortunately we were bumped to the front as we had a toddler with us, and a kind soul from KLM helped us with our luggage.

It was fairly organised, and after we got our names checked off the list, we were allocated a bus number, and then waited until our bus was called. There were bottles of water and snacks bars on offer, and also people to help with our luggage. Just when I thought we had it rough, a school friend who was on the same flight later told me that they had a tear-inducing load of seven pieces of luggage, plus a toddler, a newborn, two carseats and two prams.

The bus ride to the airport went smoothly, and just when we thought we had hit a home run, we waited in the bus for an hour and a half, without knowing why exactly. We then got to the terminal, got marched out (literally), made to stand in two rows, looking on at our luggage lined up along the road. A sniffer dog did a few laps around the luggage, stopping for a good few seconds at my snack bag. Fortunately he was well trained enough not to yank out the biltong in there.

We were then allowed to take our eleventy pieces of luggage, and we headed into the building. Our temperatures were checked and we headed to the check-in counter. We had paid for an extra three cases, but we exceeded the maximum 23kg per luggage, and so we had to pay for excess weight. I was happy to pay just to proceed to passport control, and to ensure I didn’t have to cull any items from our luggage.

Even though we had all the right paperwork at the passport control counter, I was still nervous. Since my son was travelling without his dad, we needed a permission letter from him and a copy of his passport, which were all in order but there was still a bit of fear that maybe we hadn’t ticked off a box. But all was good, and we went to board.

The airport was quiet and dark, aside from the buzz from our long queue. We were close to the back, which was unsettling for people who like to board first (don’t judge us – we like to get all our items in the overhead compartments). I then noticed there were no young kids in the queue, and asked if parents with kids could go through without waiting, and once again, our toddler scored us a free ride to the top. Without this, we wouldn’t have found a space for our hand luggage as already we had to dart around the plane looking for a storage spot (cabin crew are unable to assist because of Covid).

We all sat in the middle, and my toddler was asleep before takeoff, having fallen asleep in my arms in the boarding queue. Everyone was masked, and on each seat was a packet of snacks (Coke, water, apple, snack bars). The KLM crew seemed apologetic that their normal level of service and hospitality were absent, and aside from the snack pack, they only served one hot meal, which I declined. There were no drinks trolleys either.

We arrived the next morning, got all our luggage, and got through customs easily. No one asked for all the permission paperwork we (ie my husband) had worked so hard for the week before, but we were glad to get through.

We took an Uber van to our apartment, our agent met us there with the keys, and we were welcomed with an even brighter and bigger apartment than what what we had gathered from the video and pictures.

The curtains and light fittings are heinous, but we love everything else. We have a washing room which is one of my best spots. Since I’m in charge of cleaning (and surprisingly quite excited about it), I have all my products waiting to be tested.

Within hours of arriving, we had unpacked, and set up a lot of things. I had two lots of identical groceries arrive in the afternoon from different shops Long story short: I thought I had cancelled the one set because the store doesn’t accept credit cards. I however did not really cancel it, and now have two tomato sauces, two foils, two peanut butters… you get the drift.

It was lucky we were able to pay on delivery – we had set up an account just for the next few weeks with Bunq, and managed to pay from the app.

On our second day, we tried to register ourselves at the “gemeente” (municipality) but got turned away because they wanted us to go into isolation. Even though we were already there, they wouldn’t process anything, and so we need to go back in two weeks’ time. They were very nice about it, and fortunately all our paperwork is in order. Once we are registered, we can get social security numbers, and then get proper bank accounts, and medical aid.

We don’t have a car, so have been walking and taking buses. There doesn’t seem to be a need for a car at this point since we are quite central, and the public transport is outstanding.

Things I’ve been feeling:

  • I’m so grateful to be here
  • I’m so impatient, and just want to be settled and fully integrated
  • I’m uncomfortable at times not knowing how everything works
  • I want to learn Dutch well to integrate better and not be “that person” who only speaks English (even though it’s so easy and acceptable to be an English-speaker here)
  • I miss what I know

Things I’ve discovered:

  • If you’re not home and a package arrives, they will leave it with a neighbour or by your front door
  • A coffee shop is what they call a place that sells dope. I naively asked on Facebook if the coffee shops at Schipol Airport were open, and I got laughed at.
  • Some deliveries have taken place ahead of schedule, hours and even days.
  • Self-checkouts are empowering and scary (at least for the first few times)

Things I’ve rediscovered

  • I’m not an able cyclist at all. It’s going to take more practice, more straight steering and confidence building before I can be released into society.
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