Holland Exchange Student Remembers Clay

Posted on February 1, 2012

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Last November I was invited to the wedding of Radha Bhageloe in Holland, a former exchange student from 1995 – 1996 who lived with us during her senior year at Phoenix High school. Although we live in Clay, we are in the Phoenix School District, one of five in Clay. We reminisced about that time and she and her sister, who had visited us in 2002, began talking about Clay and America.

First I want to relate Radha’s very interesting life up until she arrived in 1995. She was born in Suriname, an island off the northeast coast of Brazil. By talking with her relatives who also came from there, I have a good idea of what happened. Remember in History when Spain and Portugal were exploring? The divided Brazil from north to south – Spain getting the western part and Portugal the eastern part. I heard two different stories of how Suriname became a province of Holland. One person said it was part of the negotiation of Peter Styvesant when Holland gave New York State to England. Another was that Portugal sold it to England. India became a province of England during their exploration. England wanted to colonize Suriname so they sent Indians there to help on the farms and better their life style. Many of Radha’s ancestors went there or were born ileft with its warm climate for cold Holland which had gotten its freedom from England.

Radha actually graduated from High school in Holland inn 1994, but she wanted to see America. Her first impression was how big it is. She had asked me if we could drive to Disney World for the weekend. Because of her Indian parents, her Dutch citizenship and her love of language she was able to speak five languages. Initially she based her knowledge of America on films on Dutch TV from America. That all changed when she live her for almost a year. She had to do some chores and said most exchange students were from well-to-do homes and were surprised at this. She left in June with an extra suitcase of American clothes.

It had been nine years since I visited Holland to attend Radha’s graduation from the college in Rotterdam, where I couldn’t understand the Dutch speakers but got the general gist of what they were telling the graduates. When they picked me up at the airport, it was like nine years hadn’t gone by. It was off to stay with her grandmother, who was the first resident of Suriname to come to Holland. That night was the Bride’s Party, similar to a shower in America, but men were invited. The women performed some Indian rituals and had a great time.

The next morning we attended the Civil Ceremony in Gouda at the Oldest Town Hall in Holland built in 1554. The Justice of the Peace could speak English very well and although it was all in Dutch, he did speak to me in English as he introduced the family on both sides and me as Radha’s American Mom. Jan, the groom, is Dutch and his parents Dutch Reform. The couple were required to be interviewed before hand. During the Civil Ceremony, the Justice spoke of their differing backgrounds, how they met and what they loved about each other. They both love traveling and want to be parents. He ended the Service with a poem: “Nothing in this world is weaker than water, But nothing beats water in breaking whatever is hard and strong, Soft becomes hard, Weak becomes strong.” Many relatives signed as witnesses to the marriage. Then off to Rotterdam.

After a vegetarian lunch at the Hindu Temple in Rotterdam, the two and a half-hour Hindu Marriage Ceremony was performed. The mixture of the Indian people in their beautiful saris and the Dutch people was inspiring. All relatives participated in some way in the Ritual of 13 steps which in short included: reception of the bridegroom and his kinsmen; his reception at the altar; bride’s father gives her away; sacred fire ceremony for life begun in purity and spirituality; groom takes the bride’s right had and accepts her as his lawfully wedded wife; bride leads the groom in a walk around the fire with vows of loyalty, love and life-long fidelity; the bride’s mother counsels her on her new life; puffed rice is offered into the sacred fire; the couple circle the fire seven times to legalize the marriage; marriage knot is tied by the bride’s mother and they take seven steps to signify nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life, harmony and understanding; sprinkle water and meditate on the sun and pole star; benediction by the elders. It was chanted in Hindu and translated into Dutch which didn’t help me. But I talked to the Female Priest and she explained the basic Ceremony and that Women in the Liberal Hindu Priesthood are allowed to serve in the Hindu Wedding Ceremony.

The 7 ½ hour Saturday night reception was filled with gaiety – wonderful food, skits by relatives and friends, singing, and lots of dancing with beautiful saris and traditional Dutch clothing. I even helped decorate the reception hall and clean up the next day. It was difficult to say goodby on Monday; but we did with promises of emails and future visits.

Some of Radha’s fondest memories that she wrote down for me were: visits to Niagara Falls and New York City; celebrating her 18th birthday at Immanuel Church at the Mother and Daughter dinner; attending my grandmother’s 100th birthday party; the hospitality of Americans (she was surprised I let her go in the refrigerator and eat anything she wanted); our farm house especially in the summer when she could walk barefoot in the grass; all the animals we had when she was here (she was a whole menagerie in her small Dutch home); and learning how to cook American food. The main examples are potatoes of all kinds, chicken pot pie and pot roast. And she says: “you should see people look at me here in Holland when I have chips with my sandwich at lunch.”

-Dorothy Heller, Historian

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