In October I visited Gent, a Flemish city with lots of churches and beautiful old buildings. While I was in awe with the former post office, I spotted two girls with orange warning vests on the square. These warning vests seemed familiar to me. I saw a lot of other young people wearing them an hour before when I walked through Gent’s student district. The first people I saw with these vests were sitting on the street. One next to the other. They all looked down to the ground while two other guys in white doctor coats talked through a megaphone. I thought it was some kind of demonstration. As I got a little closer I saw that people get walked like dogs on a leash and they ate out of bowls on the ground. Heavily confused I walked away and passed by a couple more people with orange vests and strange aluminum hats.

The two girls on the square did not wear hats. One of them had a hairband with antennas and the other wore a horse mask. They appeared to be a little disorientated and talked to several people who walked by. I was too curious and asked the girls what this was all about. As I got closer I could see how exhausted and messy they were. They also had dirt on their faces. The one with the horse mask finally told me the reason: They looked the way they looked because of a student tradition. Every year the freshmen who like to become a member of a fraternity have to get “baptized”. But this baptism goes way beyond just getting water on the head. The freshmen basically get treated like shit. They get covered in dirt and nasty things, are shouted at, get treated like an animal and of course they have to drink until they vomit. The girls told me that some even get forced to eat their vomit afterwards. But the rituals differ from university to university.

“It’s fun!”

I was shocked and asked them why the hell they voluntarily let themselves get abused like this. They raised their shoulders, looked at each other and laughed. “I don’t know, it’s fun!”, said the one with the antennas. Furthermore, they explained that it’s all about getting to know people and being in the community, but I just don’t get it. There are so much nicer ways to socialize with your fellow students without abuse and humiliation.

I am deeply confused until this day. I even talked about it with my hair dresser René. But he as a Flemish man was not surprised. He even told me that students came to his salon to ask for the cut off hair of the clients. Since it is just trash, René gave them the hair and asked what they want to do with it. Of course, it was for a sick ritual again. They intended to tar and hair (not feather) the new students.

Just what the F….landers!?!?!?

 

Carole Tolksdorf

Germany