And so this is Christmas…

Christmas 2006, a lonely Christmas Sturovo/Parkany on the Slovak Hungarian border.

And so this is Christmas…. And what have you done?
Another year over…

Yes that time of year again, the silly season…
Different this time
World a mess, well that’s not really news is it
And what about you?
Did you live well?
What would you do different?
What can you do differently?
Maybe you need to adapt to world changes that affect you.
There is no better time than a time of crises to make changes
I recon
Time for opportunities for change and growth
Lessons to be learned
Not necessarily easy ones
Possibly profound ones
Unexpected ones
Prickly ones
Lessons nevertheless

Christmas 2007, Varanasi, India had a home cooked Italian Christmas lunch, yes in India, why not?

I am
So you won’t be alone
Unemployed (not bored at all may I ad)
Homeless, yet with a roof over my head
So not too bad at all for now
Hopefully with just enough money left
To build a small house
On a small bit of land
A debt free security I created 3 years ago
If worst comes to worse I can always camp there
But won’t come to that
I should be able to build some sort of shelter:
Healthy, homely, sustainable

Ahhhh, sustainable
No longer Looking for growth, expansions, extensions
Nope, no longer interested in playing those games.
Stopped those games a long time ago
Governments still want us to spend our selves into debt
So money keeps ticking over, till…
We’re back to square one
Not that a bad square at all
The place of rebirth
Can be a good place
I am there right now and it feels good
Surprisingly good actually
I have my moments of doubt
Fear of the unknown
As one book title reads: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.

Christmas 2008, back in New Zealand with the most beautiful Christmas tree I know, the native Pohutukawa tree, which brings us bright crimson flowers at Christmas time. I have got two in my garden.

So enjoy Christmas
This one night of peace, well…
Reminder of peace at least
That is what gets me the most at midnight
When Silent Night is sung…
We just did it in New Zealand and like a wave at the speed of sun
It will travel the Christian world
Some choose to tune in
Others choose to ignore
The choice is ours
Every day
Every night
Every time we encounter a fight

So peace I wish you all
From the bottom of my heart.

As one story ends a new one begins.

Enjoying a moment of global perspective.

I haven’t written much on my blog the last few months, but that will change from today. Yesterday, I flew back to Wellington, New Zealand, the place I left 27 months ago on to go on a journey. With my return a new chapter in my life begins with lots to write, photograph, film and draw. I am launching into two new projects while continuing editing the film about my journey. I will blog regularly from now on about both projects as they develop.

Flying into the sunset.

The first project is my attempt to design and build an eco house on a steep block of land in Wellington. It will be a small house on a small piece of land with a small budget. I have no idea if and how I will succeed, but the way my life is and given the world’s economic situation I have little choice but to make it work. I sold my house when I left New Zealand but subdivided a small bit of land to keep so I could build a small sustainable house and hopefully be mortgage free. I am so looking forward to have a place of my own again, a base from which I can engage with the world, a base I can always return to. I hope the house will be ready in 12 months time.

Touchdown in Wellington.

The second project is much more ambitious. It is the creation of a pilgrimage route in New Zealand, spiritual in nature that begins or ends in Wellington. It is my intention to write and illustrate a guidebook, an itinerary that will show pilgrims which way to go and challenge their minds along the way. The idea for this project came as I was walking El Camino, a pilgrim’s route in Spain. At first I thought it was a rather silly idea, but when I visited Syria some months later and heard about the creation of the Abraham Path I changed my mind. I began to take my idea seriously. Now that I am back in New Zealand it is time to take the next step. This all while I will be unable to walk the route myself. The start of arthritis in my knees, that started when I walked El Camino will be one of many challenges I will have to overcome with this project. I expect the process to take a few years.

So subscribe to this blog or check from time to time if you are interested in either or both projects. As always I welcome feedback to anything I publish.

Rebuilding on Shaky Grounds

For a long time
The ground shook
Left unsupported
I left
For health
For Home
For Me

18 months
Following Teo
Following desire
Following cues
To heal
To discover
To film
To be me

I changed
Didn’t I
I did
Found Home within
With new exterior home to match in the forest

But the shaking began again
Dislodging the mortar between the bricks
Of my foundation
Nobody saw
Nobody felt
But me
Invisible to others

So I am leaving again
After 9 months in Australia
Maybe it’s time to give birth or be reborn
Not off to exotic places
Off to Home
The place I called home before I left
The place
When revisiting
Felt like home again
Stirring a longing
To be warm

Shaking within is the worst
Throwing everything out of kilter
Sugar levels
Temperature control
Immune system
To name a few if not all
Symptoms of hypoglycemia

I am leaving the new home I found
Making me wonder
If the journey will ever end
Nothing is permanent
I remind myself

I am going Home
Home without a house
But with space for a house
A house that needs building
On a steep hill
On a fault line
Back to where I started
New Zealand

Rebuilding a life that fell apart
No turning the other way
Head on
Building a sustainable house
A sustainable future
To sustain shaky health
In shaky times
On shaky ground

Maybe part II to part I
The sequel: rebuilding on shaky ground

This Drawing Looks Intelligent: The video

You can now view my award winning documentary "This Drawing Looks Intelligent" online.

Please click HERE to view.

The video is about art and people with intellectual disabilities, art as vocational choice, communication and cultural expression. An accompanying paper with the same name by clicking HERE.

A 'Scipt' in Progress.

At the time of the assassination (of the Royal Nepalese Family)
Some 24 hours earlier,
I was visiting Meggie restaurant in Kathmandu
Where something urged me
To adopt
Orphaned paintings by Teo Baba,
A dead man I never knew
Embedded in them like DNA
Was his story of transformation,
Of life, death and rebirth
This all happened at a time
When I was more dead than alive
A strange coincidence...

Excerpt from 'Script', a documentary in progress by Marcel Baaijens.

I have created a separate page with Teo's story as I translated and edited it for my personal use. It is illustrated with images. Click HERE to visit the page now or click on the logo under 'Links' in the side bar at any time.

A new page:

I short-story/radio-play I produced and facilitated for Art Compass artist Amy Szostak. It became an interesting collaboration that evolved into a radio play in 4 parts.
Click HERE to read the story.

Who are you in a Forest?

I live in a forest. When I look out the window I see nature rather than elements created by humans. I do not see other houses, I rarely hear or see people, cars, no trains or planes. There are no flags indicating which country I live in, no shops that try to make me feel, be or look like anyone in particular. The forest is void of identity markers and makers. I am no-ones subject. I do not live here by myself, but with Luke, who, in my eyes does not remind me of any particular nationality either. Yes he is Australian, but like me has spent considerable amounts of time outside of his own culture and in my eyes, is not a typical Australian.

I end up forgetting that I am in Australia when I am at home, to such an extend that every time I leave home and venture out, I get a shock and realise: “Oh I am back in Australia”. Even though I have been in OZ since February it feels as a surprise as everything suddenly looks a particular way, the Australian way. Not that I mind, but I am beginning to realise that when I am at home in the forest, surrounded by nature, I feel like being in a cultural neutral space; no mans land.

I am bemused by this repetitive experience. In a way I like it. It seems to match the fact that I do not feel I belong to any particular nation or culture. People still classify me as being Dutch (my country of birth), or when I am outside of New Zealand as a Kiwi (my nationality), but that does not mean much to me anymore. I know that I how I act and interact with the world has been greatly influenced by the cultures I have lived in, but that does no longer make me feel I belong to any particular culture.

When recently people asked me which country I would be cheering for in the Olympics I said: “none”. They were surprised. It’s true! I did not cheer just because someone carried a particular national flag. I lived in multiple countries, siding with one or another seems a strange and artificial thing to do.

Identity seems so important. So many programmes are designed to help people to strengthen their sense of identity, cultural identity, their sense of self. Self as seen by others, self as classified by others, a self as classified by themselves. In a context of people, identity is of such importance, in a context of nature… well, I don’t know, haven’t lived on this location long enough yet, but it is an interesting situation that poses an interesting question: Who am I when I live in a forest, away from culture? For now I feel living in this forest makes it easier to be just me, even though I may not quite know which part of ‘me’ that is, my ego, my spirit… Only time will tell. What I can tell is that it gives me a great sense of freedom, I no longer have to play a patriots game.

Settling in a Forest

Recently I moved to a house in a forest at 500 meter (1500 feet) above sea level in southern Australia. Never before have I lived on such a remote location surrounded by nature.

It is a big change for me, a change that I have been hoping for. Almost two year earlier I left the life I had created for myself and set out on a transformational journey. That journey has ended and with that a new chapter in my life has begun. Living here is very different from anywhere I have lived before. I am really happy with the drastic changes that are not without challenges.

My life has changed in so many ways externally and internally as well. I live in a new house, a new country with a new partner in a new environment. Changes that mirror internal changes that have taken place over the last two years, or at least so I’d like to think.

Since a few days I have internet access at home, enabling me to start posting again on this blog. I want to start with sharing some images and impressions from this particular spot in the world where only a few people live.

Right now I am having a cold, staying close to the wood-burning stove. It’s winter, the coldest part of winter which delivered even snow, a rare event in this part of the world. So for now I leave you with an image from the magical day the snow came down.

Sit Dancing on TV segment, 1989

TV segment about my dance work with the elderly from the Holmes TV Show, 1989 (New Zealand).
To view click on the link below.

July: daily photo month non-sense.

I started posting a photo-a-day this month...wanted to share some of the photos I have collected over the past two years, I wanted to blog but as I am discovering for blogging sake! I have little time to write which each photo on a daily basis. My intention has always been to have both text and images in each post. The texts I added to the photos were merely title or identification. Was I hiding behind pretty pictures? Maybe I did. Maybe I was too much 'in process' to write. Maybe I was just kidding myself.

I am sorting through my belongings I stored prior to my departure for my journey of transformation. I am back in New Zealand, the place I called home before I left. Maybe this is the actual closure of my journey, the return to the place of departure, a place of test really as it is now I can truly compare myself to the self of two years ago. Not that would be a very objective comparison, but a comparison nevertheless. A comparison that could conclude with a 'yes' I have changed or a 'bugger' I am still the same.

Rather silly to even contemplate such question as with time we all change. When you return from an epic journey filled with profound moments you are bound to have been effected by the experiences along the way.

Al I can say really is that I am very aware in the changes in me and that there is no turning back to being my old self. Being back in my familiar environment I notice that despite all those changes, it is easy to slip back into old patterns, old scripts, habitual behaviours, reactions and thought patterns. I am lucky in a way that I am aware and that I now have a choice... fall back into or hang onto those old patterns and behaviours or let go and move on. I am determined to move forward, yet it is not automatic.

While sorting through my belongings I am faced with thoughts I had two years ago, thought and judgments of what belongings were deemed assets worth keeping, memento impossible to live without. In the west we are constantly reminded by advertising that we are defined by what we own and have and that our degree of happiness is dependent on what we own and have.

I must say that I am pleased to discover that I had stored warm clothes, very convenient in winter, but I also discovered clothes that I find hard to believe that I wanted to keep them. I am pleased to discover belongings that are still as practical and useful now as they were two years ago. But there are so many possessions that feel like a burden to possess right now, taking up space, consuming my energy as I have to do something with them. Even just giving them away requires energy and thought as I don't like to throw away items that may be of value to others.

I know the reasons for keeping stuff, as 'one day they might come in handy' was one rule I applied as a sorting criteria two years ago. This time my criteria have changed. I have learned that whatever I need will be provided for, even BIG things such as a house. I was going to build a new house on my return to New Zealand, but I no longer have to. My new partner Luke has a house, a house where I am invited to be 'at home', both in a physical and metaphysical sense. An amazing gift really.

So what to to now?

Well the last thing I want to do is create more clutter, so right now I will stop my daily photo month theme, well rather suspend it for the time being until I have a series of images that will convey a message of some sort or something to write about. All my photos I will make public one day, simply on a site or a blog, so till then I will get back on track with my sorting process and I will leave you with an image of a model railway track that I have kept for years and years, a track that I have decided to let go of. With the letting go of the track I also let go of the ambition and dream to build a romantic and super large model railway complex. I can let go of the tracks, the dream... as I am happy to be in the here and now, to be just me, a me that does no longer need a model railway to feel happy like a child. I no longer have the need to create my miniature perfect little world with a train running through it as there is a whole world out there that I can let into my life.

July: daily photo month #9

Tamarama, Sydney, Australia.

Popcorn in your Brain

Watch this video if you want to turn your brain into popcorn!

July: daily photo month #8

Cinderella shop, Damascus, Syria

July: daily photo month #7

Magical Sydney Opera House.

July: daily photo month #6

A living street, India.

July: daily photo month #5

You can't beat Wellington on a fine day!

Arriving, Adjusting, Admiring

Tall trees instead of buildings
Tall trees instead of shops
Tall trees instead of traffic lights
Tall trees
Lots of them
In the middle of nowhere
The new centre of my universe

The Pied Piper

I love movement
Movement of life
I am not meant to stand still really

But neither do I wander
For the sake of wandering
I am aware
Watch for signs
Like the Pied Piper that appeared
Not just any Pied Piper
Oh, no!!!!
One with a trumpet
As you may know
I just love trumpets
So I am off...

Off with the faeries
Ha ha ha!
I haven't lost the plot
In fact...
I may have just found a treasure

I continue living a life
On the move
To the forest of the Pied Piper

The unknown
The endless changes
Wear me out
The faithless doubts
Scare the hell out of me

Oh go on, call me insane!

But then...
I can't possibly
Stay put for put's sake
What would that achieve?
I therefor surrender
To the music of the Pied Piper
I dance
Ever deeper
Into the blur of life

And then...
To my surprise
Or maybe not anymore
With joyful clarity
I regain my vision
Bliss and calm
With my heart and soul

Oh Pied Piper, you are just gorgeous!

Sit Dancing

Below is an article I wrote some time ago, about a sit dance programme I developed in the late 80"s, early 90's, but is still very relevant today. Because of continued interest I will digitally re-master the resource materials for this programme in July and make them available again.

I have added a new page to my blog with information on


Why would you want to dance when you are old, low on energy, barely able to walk and knowing that dancing could cause discomfort, pain or even an accident? Why take the risk? Why bother, particularly when your caregivers are ‘bossing’ you around all day, every day, telling you, as with anything else: ‘It is good for you’?

If I were, say 80, lost my partner, independence and privacy, and I was institutionalised, I don’t think I could be bothered to dance if someone asked me to, no matter how much I would be called ‘dear’ or ‘love’. I would most likely refuse to participate just as a way to exercise my choice and create a sense of empowerment for myself at a time when I may be loosing more and more control over my own life. I associate dancing with celebrations or entertainment, and perhaps I don’t feel in a celebratory mood, nor do I want to entertain myself. I would watch a dance show, as it is always fun to see others making a fool of themselves, but me doing it, I don’t think so!!

Staff may regard me as a stubborn old man, contributing my attitude to my character and nature rather than my environment and circumstances. In that case I would be left to please my self, feeling justified in my attitude and left without any vision for a future for myself, or the community I live in.

However with appropriate attitude and vision a facilitator/therapist can bring about change that will not only have an affect on the individual’s life but also on the community, including staff.

Developing an appropriate attitude and vision will require a caregiver to be honest and investigate their own attitudes, belief systems and vision. If dance is going to be introduced as an option for residents then one can expect not only resistance from the residents as illustrated above, but also among staff and even management, as attitudes and visions about dance and the elderly are most likely based on our cultural belief systems, which aren’t always very compassionate or optimistic.

In 1988 I was keen to (re)introduce dance to the elderly population living in retirement care settings in Wellington New Zealand. I had just moved there from The Netherlands where I trained as an ‘International Folk Dance Teacher’. I was familiar with a specially designed dance repertoire, used in The Netherlands for over-50’s based on ethnic folk dances. I called all rest homes (called hostels in Australia) I could find in the yellow pages and asked if they would like me to teach dance to their residents. Only one home was interested in a free demonstration session, and so I went with my ghetto blaster, tapes and my oh so fashionable 1980's leg warmers.

The therapists had gathered a good crowd of people in the recreation room. All were full of anticipation. Most expected a dance show and got the surprise of their lives when they were asked to get up and join in they did (all well trained in obedience). By the time the session was over the entire room was filled with exhausted but happy faces. After the session a 95 year old woman came up to me and said “I have never seen so many people smile at the same time as today, and I have been here for 5 years”.

I was confused by the experience, counting my blessings that I didn’t dance any residents to a premature death but also upset about the patronizing attitude of some staff towards the residents and the comments by the 95 year old that smiling en-mass was such a rare event.

As time went by, my fear of putting the residents at risk of ‘death by dancing’ faded and an urge to do something for the residents emerged. The rest home had called and asked me to come back. There were no easier dances that I knew of but I heard of the term ‘sit-dancing’, and began developing a repertoire of sit-dances.

International Sit and Step Dancing, as the programme was then called, is based on traditional folk dances from around the world that have been adapted and/or transformed to enable people of all ages and (dis-) abilities to enjoy dancing while sitting down and/or standing. The original folk dances which are the inspiration for the sit-dances are often danced in circles or lines. Anybody can join in without the need to have a partner, so nobody feels left out. There is no need to have a ‘perfect’ body, such as in ballet, and there are no age limits. In fact older villagers often dance with the young ones perhaps with less vigor, but with equal, if not more grace. It is the inner beauty and joy of dancing that is being expressed in folk dancing.

The music I use may be ‘foreign’ to most ears but is very passionate and folk music resonates with people. It is hard to resist, as it stirs emotions and this stirring becomes and an internal motivation to move, as little as the tapping of toes or clapping of hands. Being able to participate in a dance at a simple but appropriate level can provide people with much needed self-esteem. Folk dancing is a social activity, and promotes interaction. All these aspects of folk dancing are natural antidotes for the resistance of an 80 year old as described above.

Traditional folk dancing often relies on someone to lead a line or circle, someone with charisma and leadership skills, someone who perhaps shows off a bit at times, not afraid to try out something new, not afraid of making a fool of themselves. It is more likely that such a person will be regarded as a role model and as a result gets everybody following, be it as a dance star or as a fool, either way, definitely less self-conscious and more human.

City Harvest

Found these fat bananas in the neighbourhood. Beats going to the supermarket in the mall! It took two of us to carry it home.

Just Like That

Just like that
After reading a book
Which posed the right questions
In a matter of 2 hours
A map
A framework
A structure for the film
On a scroll of baking paper
Drawn with markers

Strange sometimes
How this project evolves
I know
I am the one doing it
Yet there seems to be another force
Cheering and steering
As if
This story wants to be told
Needs to be told
For reasons
Just me

Musical Passion

Brass band, Maastricht, Netherlands.

There is one style of music that really gets me going: Balkan Brass music. Live is best. I have filmed brass musicians during my 18 months of travel, not as much as I'd liked to and unfortunately hardly any when I was in eastern Europe. I have decided to add a new page (blog) to my collection called Mad about (Balkan) Brass. It will become a collection of footage of balkan/gypsy/brass music, both borrowed and my own recordings. You can find a permanent link to Mad About (Balkan) Brass on the right of this page.

Time to play again

Time to start playing with the 157 hours of video and sound I have collected. Starting small, here is another clip from the '30 Second Presence' series. Click HERE to go to the "30 second presence' show page.

Life is Gorgeous

Mardi Gras Parade, Sydney.

Life is gorgeous
Life is sweet
Easier said than done

Pink glasses help for sure
So true
But it takes more than that
To see the beauty of life
It takes courage, strength and determination
To look for pink glasses

So many believe they are impossible to find
So many believe it is inappropriate to wear
Or God forbid, be like pink glasses
Many never look for them

It’s sad, so sad
To observe those
Unaware that pink exists
That pink is
A gorgeous colour

I must admit
At times I lost sight of pink
For I was
Like many
Conditioned to see only gray

But then
Just as I was about
To surrender to the grayest of grays
Something gorgeously pink
Awakened me

Arriving Home, the End of a Journey.

Looking back it all seems so logical, so natural, but it did not always feel like that. I am still in awe about how a new life fell into place just like that. Within two weeks I found two jobs, one came with fabulous accommodation attached and I will still have time to work on my film.

It all came together on the 14th day after I arrived in Sydney. It began with a total stranger offering me a free bicycle. Next I had a successful job interview which was followed by news that I was accepted for the first position (with accommodation) I applied for earlier that week. The day ended with another total stranger giving me two free movie tickets because he was unable to attend the screenings. Someone said I should have bought a lotto ticket that day as well…

Somehow that did not cross my mind. I was blow away about how everything had fallen into place on the one day. I gratefully accepted everything as signs that I was in the right place and that I had arrived in Sydney at the right time and that I could relax.

I now live just down the road from this sign, hehe.

I moved into my new home the next day and I was no longer a nomad or a pilgrim, my journey ended that very day. No longer was I in a bardo, the ‘in-between-space’ separating one life from another.

I did not return to the place where I started. I have moved on in so many ways; economically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. That gives me great joy as it means that my journey was not in vain. Not only have I found a new home, but I feel I have also found ‘the home within’ I was searching for.

How can I tell? Well I don’t know how to explain the experience I am having. But then... as it happens, someone send me a link to this video of a presentation called ‘A stroke of Genius’, (click on the title to watch the video) by Jill Bolte Taylor. It possibly describes the kind of experience I am having right now, a ‘right brain experience’.

I feel very happy, grateful, at peace with where I am, what I do or don’t do and most importantly who I am. I feel connected, not just with myself, but with everything around me, I accept the way things are with ease and go with the flow of the moment. I am no longer living the old ‘life of doing’, but living a new ‘life of being’ instead. This is what I set out to change by going on this journey of transformation. I never dared to dream that I would actually achieve that goal, an achievement worth celebrating and celebrating I did.

It so turned out to be that time of year in Sydney for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It was the 30th anniversary. The first time I watched the parade was in 1986, never was I in the parade, something I always wanted to do. It was now or never. I managed to join a float, was given a press pass, enabling me to film.

There were 500,000 people cheering on the parade, 10,000 people in the parade. I had the best time ever! Loved the crowd! For me it was my ‘homecoming parade’, nobody knew that of course but that did not matter. It provided a fitting closure to my journey ‘home’, my ‘pilgrimage in search of self’.

Right now I am still enjoying just being here, being in a new place, a new space, the right side of my brain. Soon I will start editing my film. That process could take up to 12 months. I intend to keep posting on this blog, possibly about the editing process, the writing and rewriting of my script, my journey, my life, my experience of past experiences.

It seems to be a fitting moment to thank everybody who has supported me during my journey: my friends and family, my extended family, the kindred spirits, the many ‘random’ strangers, the angels in disguise, all those who offered me a place to stay, all those who were willing to listen, give advise, challenge me, give honest feedback, hold up a mirror, all those who helped me in times of need, everybody who has been a witness, you all know who you are. I am truly grateful to you all, I feel humbled and blessed by your presence.

Thank you so much indeed! Marcel

At home down-under.