the netherlands -- i am beyondvacationing in Holland. When weeks have turned into months, one must be creative to meet the basic requirements of survival. In France you can pick grapes, in the Okanagan there are apples, and in Egypt there's work on watermelon farms. In Holland, if you're lucky, there's cutting weed in commercial-scale growing operations.
I still can't see past my own wall of paranoia to sit on a park bench and spark up a fat one while families stroll by on a Sunday afternoon.
But here I am, in the upper reaches of a walk-up in a neighbourhood with tidy gardens and cobblestone streets, meeting my future employers. This isn't usually the purview of foreigners. After all, grow operations are illegal in Holland despite the lenient pot laws. I'm here thanks to a friend.
My employers appear regular enough. One works a day job and plays in a band for fun. The other used to be an insurance salesman but has now gone underground.
I have very little contact with him. He's a little paranoid, having spent some time in jail for past marijuana transgressions.
I marvel at the row upon row of black pots bursting with full-grown plants and the web of tiny tubes that feeds them. The sheer power of the lights make me squint.
My instructions are very clear. Don't ever open this door for longer than a few seconds -- the smell travels too quickly and the bright grow lights, sometimes visible through windows in the next room, may raise suspicion. Never be loud enough for the neighbours to hear me. No pocketing buds for personal use. Shower every night before leaving to avoid ending up smelling like a plant and attracting unwanted attention. And oh, yeah. The back wall is false and leads to another room with a window -- just in case, I suppose, the need arises for a quick exit.
I soon learn that "cutting" is an art. You must first understand the essence of the plant before you end its life. The right time arrives when the outer leaves start to yellow and fine, sticky, coloured threads grow from the flowers. This point, when THC levels are at their peak, only lasts a few short days, and if you miss it, weeks of toil and thousands of Euros go swirling down the drain.
Once the plant is "cleaned," the tedious process of trimming back the leaves that squeeze their way through the small spaces within the bud must be undertaken. Even though these tiny, frail leaves are coated white with glistening potent crystals, you must trim them back to make the bud appear less scraggly. Buyers, you see, prefer the manicured look.
These tiny leaf clippings may then be collected to produce moderate- quality hashish. Ours went into the garbage.
I learn, too, that getting high through osmosis is inevitable -- even with the rubber gloves I'm given to perform my horticultural duties.
In the heat generated by the lights, I'd often find myself slowly spinning in circles in my chair -- even while sitting still. And, oh, the laughter. Though it's often lovely when the mind wanders, a high mind sometimes takes you to places you don't want to go. Like, to the fact I could go to jail for this.
Here in the Netherlands, the legalities and punishment associated with marijuana can seem vague at times.
Holland is filled with "brown" cafés where it's legal to purchase and smoke marijuana, but the cafés are only allowed to have 500 grams at any given time, and individuals no more than 5 grams. There are shops where it's legal to buy and sell paraphernalia. Yet it's illegal to grow pot, even though some growers claim income from pot and write off their expenses on their income tax. Proposals, meanwhile, are being made to toughen jail sentences for pot offences.
Foreigners like me risk deportation or worse, which makes my appointment with Dutch immigration -- I had earlier inquired about a work visa -- a source of high anxiety.
Getting the smell of pot off my body is no easy task. There's a trick -- coating my hands with olive oil, followed by scrubbing with sand to break down the THC.
To make sure, I shower again when I get home from my shift. And again the next morning before my appointment. I wash and scrub my hands at least 10 times before heading out the door, adding a little perfume for good measure.
The wait in the tiny reception room feels like hours. I start to sweat. Paranoid visions of handcuffs float through my head.
My cheeks feel hot as the officer assigned to me takes a chair at a desk narrow enough for my scent to reach his nose.
What kind of work do I do? It's taking forever. I feel his eyes on me. I swear he can read my mind, but suddenly he smiles and wishes me luck before shaking my sweaty hand and showing me out the door. I have another cutting shift to get to. John Griffin is a pseudonym.