News - July 7, 2011

The flexible rules of Bonaire

Who? Diand Laarman, fourth-year International Land and Water Management student
What? Traineeship research project
Where? Bonaire
Why? Working on a project to protect the coral reef

'Bonaire is warm and sunny. The little town of Kralendijk looks like a tropical picture postcard but the signs along the road are in Dutch. You hear the Dutch singer André Hazes on the radio. It still seems rather strange, that combination of a tropical environment with Dutch influences.
Bonaire is a small island. It is one and a half times as big as Texel and there are fewer than fourteen thousand people living there. It is quite wonderful, full of unspoilt nature. I was staying right by the coast and as soon as I walked into the water, there was the coral reef. I do miss that now I'm back. Protecting the coral reef is one of the objectives of the project I was helping with. The reef is very important to Bonaire, which depends on tourism. Most of the time it is quiet and calm on the island, until the cruise ships arrive with tourists. Then it is bustling for a while with people and taxis. The calm returns when the ships leave. Actually, I found it a bit too calm.
The rules are flexible on Bonaire, or perhaps I should say people do not always keep to the rules. For example, I came across a former drug mule who saw drug smuggling as a good way of earning money. The illegality of the activity was irrelevant. The people on the island see the European Dutch as too efficient and too churlish. According to the islanders, we attach too much importance to rules. For instance, on Bonaire you are allowed to drive if you are drunk. It is fine as long as you yourself think you are all right to drive home, although you do have to drive at thirty kilometres an hour and have your flashers going. Two friends couldn't even remember which one of them had driven home. Personally, I don't drive if I have had more than four glasses of alcohol; I am still too Dutch for that.
People are very civil to each other and are much more polite in their use of language than in the Netherlands. They say in Bonaire that you should talk and think with your heart. If you are friendly to other people, they will feel better for having spoken to you. That makes life nicer. Isn't that a great attitude!'