Even though most of the stories on Urban 2Day for you end with the last sentence of each post, for me — and for the ones they are about — these stories continue. This also applies to the story of Breinstein, an excentric Surinamese writer who’s active in the streets of Rotterdam. Crazy? Perhaps a little, but in the very best sense of the word.
I’m writing this post as today is an important day for Breinstein. This day marks the start of a 7 month period in which he will lock himself up in a room to write his book. The book will contain a selection of all of the pieces Breinstein has written, and all of the experiences he’s acquired, since he was only a little kid. “Looking forward to it”, he said with his ever-present smile.
Fooling them birds
I ran into him last Tuesday at DPK, where he was scavenging the newspaper for any cool images or stories he could use in one of his many works of art. Remarkably, he always seems to be able to find the articles about the human brain — his fascination, or passion, as he calls it — and today, too, he showed one to me. As a writer of the streets, Breinstein is quite a resourceful man. Even though he isn’t homeless, illegal or addicted, he comes around with only a few euros each month. And he knows everything in, around and about the city he lives in, as I would come to know later this week…
After the regular chit chat and a few laughs, we came across the subject of his book and that I won’t be seeing Breinstein for a while. That’s when he started laughing (again) and said that he had something to show me. “What, then?”, was of course my first reaction. What he answered in return was a seemingly random story about “one of the few natural areas of Rotterdam” and a bunch of birds that live there. Eventually he added: “We’re going to fool them, bro. Haha, we’re going to fool the birds.” Right.. It didn’t really get much clearer than that, but at that point his enthusiasm had already made me curious enough to just go along with it. So, we decided to meet up the next day.
The golden key to that special sound
…And we did. Before we left, though, Breinstein told me he had to do something first. So, he opened up his backpack and took out a jar that said ‘Golden Key’. He opened the jar, dipped in his finger three times, and ate the stuff that was in it. The smell coming from the jar was so strong, it could make me nauseous, even though I was standing on a couple meters distance. Later I found out this stuff in the jar was purée of garlic, which explains the smell. However, then Breinstein took out another, even bigger jar out of his backpack, which was filled with water. He drank some of the water in it and then I first heard the sound that would be stuck in my head for the rest of the week.
Apparently, Breinstein needed the garlic in order to be able to make a special sound — kind of like a whistle, or a chirp. Herewith, he should be able to “fool the birds”. At least, if he could get the whistle right. After trying for almost half an hour, we decided to leave so he could keep on trying underway. As he didn’t have a bike, he had to go on the back of mine. So, there I was, cycling through Rotterdam, with a nearly 50 year old Surinamese man behind me, who was constantly making the same bird-like sound, over and over. In addition, we even had to stop twice, while underway. The first time, because a little girl behind us told Breinstein his backpack was leaking — the jar with water… of course. And the second time, because almost everything fell out of his (way too full) backpack, since the zipper was broken, but he’d never get rid of the backpack, he said. He took the opportunity to take some more ‘Golden Key’ in the hope he’d get the whistle right. The smell was still terrible. Then, almost an hour after we left, we finally arrived at our destination.
Video of Breinstein “fooling” the birds; best to watch after you read “Moment of truth” below.
Moment of truth
“Now I’m really getting nervous”, Brain said, as he still didn’t manage to get the whistle and hoped one final clot of ‘Golden Key’ would do the trick. He walked the last part to concentrate. We were now in a big natural area on the outskirts of Rotterdam; there was a big lake and we were walking towards a windmill. Once past the windmill I heard a familiar sound — the sound Breinstein had been making the whole afternoon. “Haha, do you hear it now?”, he asked while laughing. We walked a little further, and there they were; dozens of ducks. This was definitely the place.
Breinstein immediately walked a little further, away from the ducks while trying to hide himself for them. And he started making the sound again. Still no luck. “Damn, it should really happen now”. As he kept trying, we were passed by a couple of people. It must have been a curious sight; seeing a 48 year old guy and me, hiding away for a bunch of birds, while making bird sounds. Even I was starting to question the sanity of Breinstein at this point. In the meantime, however, it appeared Breinstein still had no success with the whistle. “It won’t work, they can see us”, he said. So, he decided to move even further away from the ducks, took a couple of big breaths and tried again. And on that particular moment, miraculously enough, he got response. Not wanting to stop whistling — since he finally (!) found the right whistle — he signed me with his hands to start filming and then I saw these two birds walking towards us; obviously responding to Breinstein’s sounds, but completely clueless about what’s happening. Eventually, they came as close as the fence allowed and the birds just stood there, waiting for something to happen. Breinstein laughed loudly, “Yes! It worked, haha”.
As we walked away, Breinstein explained he picked up this special skill in Suriname when he was a lot younger. It was used as a hunting technique for a specific kind of bird. “We used to call them Wisi, because of the sound they make. We’d lure them out of the jungle, so we could kill and eat them. Dozens of these birds would come right next to us in the courtyard. I never liked killing them, but I had no choice.” Now that Breinstein has found a spot where some of these birds live in the Netherlands, he comes by every two weeks to “fool” them. And while he always has great fun doing that, it also reflects some of his strong feelings toward Suriname. The birds remind him of what once was and help him deal with the past and what has become of Suriname now. “Great memories, but here [the Netherlands] is where I belong”.