The Dutch NA officer that spotted me hanging underwear on a washing line in our TCP meeting room seemed genuinely curious. I had recently got a job as SALTO Cultural Diversity Resource Centre Coordinator, and I decided to use the good old ‘laundry line’ method on a ‘P’Anti-Discrimination Line’ to present a list of SALTO CD projects for the year. It turned out that such extravagance attracted a lot of attention from colleagues from National Agencies from all over Europe. The Dutch colleague told me they were planning a ‘Diversity Day’ a few weeks later, and that they would welcome an input from someone familiar with non-formal methods and diversity issues in Europe. The idea behind the event was to present European youth work opportunities to a wide audience of youth organisations and young people on a national level, highlighting the cultural diversity element of it, but also to link it to the everyday reality of cultural diversity in the Netherlands. I was only too happy to agree.
The programme of the Dutch NA event was split in two halves – a morning of non-formal activities for youth and a more ‘serious’ discussion with academics and public institutions in the afternoon. I was asked to lead on the morning programme and told that I ‘could stay for the afternoon if I felt like it’. I prepared a good set of activities including one of my favourites – the ‘lemon activity’ using fruit to facilitate a reflection on cultural diversity in our midst. I felt it went really well and I remember standing on a chair and being in my element, having fun with the group.
Come lunch break, I was approached by my Dutch National Agency colleague and asked if I could take a more active role in the afternoon and contribute to a panel discussion on diversity in the Netherlands, as apparently someone had dropped out. I had no other plans and so agreed, but also added that I was no expert on Dutch issues and would try to bring in a European perspective. Little did I know that my perspective would indeed be very distinct….
Once the panel started, on stage, with bright lights, I realised the entire thing was in Dutch and I was the only non-native, and no translation would be provided. I had to provide answers to questions not knowing what other panellists had said and often with only the briefest summary of the question itself.
I must have subconsciously repressed most of the event details from my memory with only the emotional memory left to remind me of it, but I must say that being interviewed in front of a few hundred people in a language one does not speak greatly expands your comfort zone. Working with and for SALTO always meant expecting the unexpected, and living diversity as often as talking about it.