Roosters and hobbit holes

When I moved to the Netherlands in August, I was blissfully oblivious of what was waiting for me in a 7-person shared flat in downtown Tilburg. I was relieved to be back in civilized Europe: after two years of constant travelling and seasonal jobs, a glorious law student life was about to begin. No more finding scorpions in my shoes in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, or waking up to two lovebirds shaking the bottom bunk under me in a shabby hostel!

Boy, was I wrong. From the outside, our house does live up to the Dutch fairytale reputation. Maroon tiles, arched entrance and all. But the backyard must have been transported here through a wormhole from the Soviet suburbia. There are more cracks and plain concrete on the walls than paint. When I, hungover and beat from the sins of the (in)famous TOP Week, was carrying my overweight bag to the third floor, I couldn’t stop thinking that one day I would fall to my death down the cramped stairs that lead to my room.

I am a hobbit, at least for Dutch standards, but even I feel slightly claustrophobic in my 10 square-meter queendom. At least I can enjoy the stunning sunsets over the – ahem – hip and alternative rooftops of Korvel. On the bright side, one of my flatmates considers us to be the luckiest students in town: we could be placed in a moldy haunted house shared with four-legged rat friends.

Our landlady has zero trust in the future generation. She has denied our requests to get a washing machine, so I’ve quickly learned to make friends based on their laundry facilities. When I complained about our clogged sinks, the landlady promised to get it fixed – by her retired father. So, the next day, when I came home, Santa Claus was pouring baking soda down my sink and cursing heavily in Dutch. After two days of McGyver methods, the old man finally ate the humble pie and called the plumber.

If we are being treated like animals, we’re not the only representatives of the animal kingdom in this neighborhood. A very sad dog gives free howling concerts every night to those struggling their way to the Feather Islands, and a constantly jet-lagged rooster greets all hours with equally enthusiastic cock-a-doodle-dos. Two of my flatmates have inhabited this zoo for three years already, and they were planning on a communal coq au vin supper for all the victims of the loud monster. But when he fell silent for a couple of days, we all went on and on about how worried we were about the little fellow. For the information of the animal-loving readers: the rooster is still alive and well – and singing.

The Dutch student housing experience will not provide me with luxury, and to be honest, one can’t really expect that for a 235-euro rent. But with this experience, Tilburg has already given me the adventure my seasoned traveler’s soul was secretly longing for. In the Netherlands, the land of eternal grey skies, there are no mountains to climb or jungles to roam. Instead, I’ve embarked on a journey of the everyday miracles: watching the night sky on my roof, having afternoon tea with friends on broken plastic sunbeds and crawling up the petrifying staircase to my room at 4 am.

Sunna Kokkonen (1994) studies International Law at Tilburg University, but she can’t picture herself driving a Tesla in a cocktail dress in 5 years. Instead, she’ll be trekking the Himalayas, still scribbling freelance articles and living on lentil stew. She comes from the land beyond the Wall – Finnish Lapland.


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