Dutch polders and a lake in Cameroon


This past week I spend most of my time, from early morning onward, behind my desk and I plan to do so also in the coming weeks. I am working on a number of writing and translation projects and am facing some fast approaching deadlines. I also made a beginning with preparing a series of 20 power point presentations about ‘the doctrine of the church’, for an intensive course for Dutch Adventist ministers that is scheduled for January.

However, I have also found time for a fair amount of reading. About two weeks ago I discovered a Swedish thriller author whose name I had not heard before:  Jussi Adler-Olson. In the meantime I have devoured two of his, rather voluminous, books. The last of these two, with a rather unpromising title about a message in a bottle, proved to have a fascinating plot, and once I started reading I found it hard to lay it down. As I was reading these books in a Dutch translation, I decided to purchase some more books of this author in the original language when I pay my next visit to Sweden.

I also almost finished another book this week. It is written by a Cordula Rooijendijk, of whom I had never heard either. She earned a Ph. D in the field of urban geography, but her book Waterwolven (wolves of the water) is not about an urban environment but about a part of the Netherlands that has for centuries (and still is) threatened by the water. The subtitle tells us that it is ‘a history of floods, builders of dikes and of polders.’ I thought I knew quite a bit about that topic, but as I progressed in the book I discovered that there is a whole lot more to know. In spite of its documentary character it has been written almost as a novel full of suspense. Cordula Rooijendijk tells us about the origin of the Netherlands, about the man-made hills where the early inhabitants escaped from the water; about early attempts to protect parcels of land against the water; about the medieval Cistercian monks who were the first serious, systematic builders of dikes. And, of course, about the famous creation of the Beemster and the Schermer and numerous other polders. And about more recent masterpieces, such as the large Haarlemmermeer polder, between Amsterdam and Haarlem, the Afsluitdijk (across the inland Zuiderzee), the new polders in the large lake that resulted from the construction of the Afsluitdijk and the Delta works, which now protect the southern part of low-lying Holland.

On top of the stack of books that are as yet unread—next to the place on the couch where I usually sit—is the newest book by Frank Westerman that appeared just a few days ago. It is about a mysterious disaster that occurred in August 1986 in the West-African country of Cameroon. In an isolated area, not far from the border with Nigeria, almost two thousand people, and all their animals, died as the result of poisonous fumes that had emerged from a small lake. Since then various scientific explanations, as well as a number of conspiracy theories have been proposed and some colorful myths have developed among the local population.

The name of Westerman is the guarantee for another special book. See my blog of August 9, in which I wrote about his one but last book El Negro en Ik.  His newest book drew my special attention because I have vivid memories of this disaster. At the time my wife and I lived in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. We were suddenly made aware of some strange occurrence in the North-west of the country, but nobody knew exactly what had happened. The wildest stories began to circulate. Relatives in the Netherlands, who heard about it, were very worried and tried to call us. At first thy did not succeed. For a few days all international telephone traffic was impossible. Even today the area where the disaster happened is hermetically closed by the authorities and it is still unknown what caused this calamity.

The mystery of the poisonous lake Nyos intrigued Frank Westerman. In spite of intense research he has not discovered what precisely happened. When interviewed last night on TV he explained how he became fascinated by the myths that have emerged since 1986.  I am certain that the reading of this new book—De Stikvallei—will be a very rewarding experience.

But today (Friday) I will not have time for much reading. Apart from some very mundane duties, I must finish preparations for tomorrow’s presentation in the ARK in Zoetermeer—a meeting of (mostly) Adventist believers who want to hear and talk about aspects of their faith. And I must take some time to create order on my desk, for too often I must search a long time for items that I know must be ‘somewhere.’