I started writing this week’s column on the 15th of September, which is near enough three months after the 17th of June when I left the UK. Apart from some seriously annoying bureaucracy around where I can live to have a legal ‘domicile’ in this country, without which I will not get an ID card, no medical care, no use of the library and a few more related issues, I am happy living here.
There is also a serious problem with racism, with especially the radical Flemish party propagating a narrow interpretation of ‘Flanders for the Flemish’. But we must not underestimate the racism in the UK, openly propagated by the dirty rag called the Daily Mail.
I am happy here because I live near a small market town that reminds me of the slightly bigger small city where I was born. Wherever I am in the borough of Sint-Truiden (which includes the surrounding villages) I am within minutes from the countryside on my 50 Euro wonderful new second-hand bicycle.
There is an extensive network of country lanes and enough hilly bits to keep the old man in good shape in spite of the karah prasad, the mattai and the sometimes over rich Gurdwara food.
I am happy because I feel very much at home in the local Sikh community, and I have also met a good few ‘white’ inhabitants of Sint-Truiden who are not frightened of people who look different.
I am happy because I can make a contribution to more understanding between communities in this country. Many Belgians believe that turban and hijáb represent anti-Belgian values, symbolise a wish not to integrate.
Our most urgent problem is the ban on wearing of turbans, hijábs etc in many of the secondary schools. I was involved in three actions related to this problem. The first was a meeting with a Christian Democrat politician, the second the answering of a letter from the leader of the Flemish Socialist Party and the third a manifestation on one of the squares of Sint-Truiden.
Both the meeting with the Flemish Christian Democrat MP and the Action in Sint-Truiden involved Sikh youngsters, with the grey beards in the background. I have made some nice pictures of the manifestation in Sint-Truiden, which will appear on my Flickr account and on my maninblue1947 blog.
Because we are a small, mostly first generation community, the young Sikhs who are growing up here and are being educated in Belgium are the only ones who speak fluent Flemish and therefore they get a chance to play a leading role. This is important as another ‘western’ prejudice is that all young Sikhs who wear turbans or patkas are victims of dictatorial parents who force this on their children. There is plenty to do for me here, there are some real challenges here and I like it.