15 November 2008


Goede avond,

Today after studying for awhile I went to market to buy a few groceries and found a pleasant surprise.  Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus had arrived in Wageningen.  He  looks just like Santa, but is helped by men with their faces painted black who hand out Dutch treats.  There was also a marching band playing in the streets.  When I got home from the market I looked up Sinterklaas to find out what I had just seen.  
Sinterklaas comes to Holland every year in November or December on a steamship from Spain and visits all the towns with docks by boat.  He visits the other towns by train, bus or horse.  He hands out candies to the children when he arrives and on 5 December the children set out shoes for him or his helpers to put candy in.  Unfortunately, the bad children are taken by the helpers and Sinterklaas takes them to Spain where he spends the rest of the year.  I'm thinking this is a punishment, but Spain might sound really nice in the Netherlands in December.  His mischievous helpers, called Zwarte Piets or black Petes, are devils who Sinterklaas makes his slaves for Christmas and their faces are black from going down chimnies.  During colonial times it was believed that Sinterklaas imported his Zwarte Piets as slaves from Africa.  He sounds like a lovely fellow, eh?

Classes are going well.  I'm still working on a research proposal for one course with my group and the project is moving along.  In my other course we're learning about how to conduct cross-disciplinary studies.  An example is a study from Ghana where a researcher proposed to study a community which wasn't adopting soil conservation and fertility practices.  When he arrived he planned on studying the effect of different crops on fertility but quickly learned that many of the farmers knew about soil conservation and wanted to apply it but didn't because they had short land tenure leases.  This meant that if they improved the land it would be for nothing because it wouldn't be their's the next year.  So the researcher then had to study both natural sciences (soil fertility) and social sciences (land tenure) and our course is teaching us how to do that.  I'm back to studying after dinner, which by the way is a Dutch specialty (sauerkraut and mashed potatoes mixed together).  Thanks for reading.

Cheers, Andrew


  1. Are the sauerkraut and mashed potatoes any good? They sound great to me.

    Mom, I think it is time we substitute that in place of the lutefisk for Christmas.

    Something else that is great with saurkraut is pizza. Try it sometime with ham. You will love it.

  2. They were really good, but I think the family should keep the lutefisk tradition and in fact serve nothing but lutefisk for Christmas this year. I'll be sorry to miss it!

  3. And I should clarify, I say that Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus but Sinterklaas came first so Santa Claus is technically the American version of Sinterklaas.