I have been in Sint-Truiden, Belgian Limburg for almost 8 months. By now I know the local Sikh community quite well, and I have found some new good friends amongst them.
Since the 1st of January I live in a small ‘studio-apartment’ in central Sint-Truiden, but I still spent most mornings in the Gurdwara. In the late afternoon I again cycle to Halmaal to attend Rahras and Sukhasan and help Granthí Singh when needed.
What I have not yet achieved is to have a full variety of friends of all ages, male and female and from different communities. But I am making progress.
Last week Wednesday I went to Leuven. I went to see a student who is writing a thesis on the Sikhs. We met a number of times in the Gurdwara but this was the first time I went to Leuven to see her. She was at the station and we went to one of the University buildings to discuss the progress of her project.
After that we walked back to the station taking the ‘scenic route’ and I took the train back to Sint-Truiden. Nothing special happened, but we do feel at ease with each other in spite of the age difference. I enjoy talking to her and walking with her and I know that she also feels at ease with me.
On Friday I went to Hasselt to meet somebody we closely work with in the ‘campaign’ to convince the educational sector and the politicians that allowing hijáb, turban and patka in schools will not cause a revolution in Belgium.
She works for an outfit that supports organisations set up by immigrants or children of immigrants. On this visit I first met a young woman who is partly of Kurdish descent and then I spoke to the person I came to see who hails from Kosovo, and to a young Berber trainee, who wore a híjáb.
Three women of different ages, all three from Muslim countries but with quite different cultural backgrounds, and different degrees of commitment to the faith they grew up with.
This 63 year old Sikh Netherlander, born in Dutch Limburg, living in Belgian Limburg, cannot even begin to tell you how much he enjoyed talking to and listening to these fellow human beings.
You can wear a híjáb and work together peacefully with people with a different outlook on life. You or your parents may come from Morocco, Kosovo or south-eastern Turkey but you can find a place for yourself in Belgian Limburg, speak Dutch with a local accent and not lose your connection with your background.
On Saturday I went to see friends in Brussel. The wife grew up in Austria and is of Panjabi Sikh background and he is from France. Long live diversity !