Somewhere Over the Moat

by Synne Syslak, United World College Maastricht
29th May, 2019

We pass through the main entrance, and a guy is sitting in an old couch fixing a broken guitar. The place has a quite, calm atmosphere to it. We walk around watching people come and go, they talk, sit in the middle of the floor and paint or draw. Making our way to the kitchen, described to be “a private or perhaps a collective kitchen” I notice drawings and paintings on the walls, letters from all around the world written in gratefulness, hats used as decoration and creative interior by clever use of old furniture. As we sit down, we`re joined by all kinds of people from different parts of the world such as Spain, Pakistan and Belgium. The topics of conversation flows from the difference between Thai curry and Indian curry, to political viewpoints, to philosophical theories and to the irritation of people not cleaning their dishes – all while young artists are working outside in the hallway on a new art exhibition. Everyone is minding their own business, yet it feels as if we are all there together; This is how the days we spent at the Mandril, during our April project week felt like, and I think it is a good representation of how the everyday life there goes. The Mandril represents a community built by everyone who participates in it, as well as a free space for culture, art, and expression. Participating in a space such as this, getting to know the central figures and talking to the people who come there has provided me with valuable insight on the relevance and importance of such areas in an international city like Maastricht, a deeper understanding of how it functions and how similar all of this is to what the UWC movement is trying to transmit through its mission statement.
The Mandril is a squatted building, just like the Landbouwbelang (or LBB). Squatting is occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building, often in a residential setting. Some misconceptions exists around these buildings, and typical associations are often drugs, dangerous parties or that only junkies settle there. Before our PW began, our knowledge about the Mandril was limited to that it hosted “edgy” parties in the weekends and that the people who go there are perhaps a bit weird, alternative, radical, – whatever you want to call it. A lot of the common negative assumptions were thus somewhat coherent with our perception. However, as we began researching on their website in order to understand what we would be volunteering for, it seemed as the place was not so much about parties at all but it rather presented itself as a place for culture, art and politics. Still, this is all relatively vague concepts and so while we did decide that it sounded interesting enough for a project – a proper understanding of the Mandril was not yet reached and I think that even now after spending three days there it’s still difficult for me to explain what exactly the Mandril is, but I believe it’s important to try.
As our working days started, David, our mentor there, first wanted to give us a tour and then decide what we would be doing. We walked here and there, while he described the buildings history and origin. Eventually he showed us the basement, the main location for a lot of their events and in particular their weekly jam sessions. Said basement is a place filled with neon lights and music instruments. We stumbled upon an empty drawing on one of the walls, pointed it out, and decided that to be our task for the day – create something which would amplify the feeling of the space. Here is when I started to understand the concept and the structure of the Mandril. The answer is that there is none, and that is the point. We filled out form after form detailing what activities we would do, at what time and where, when the reality was that for our project week there was no way for us to plan the activities in such a manner. The Mandril operates in a way where the community (both the philosophical sense of the word and the physical space which it exists in) is made up of everyone who is willing to contribute to it. This was the first time we stepped into the place, we did not know anyone else beforehand nor had we any sort of connection to the group, but as we were painting the walls and making mosaic on the ceiling, I never felt like an outsider because everyone we met was also just working on their own ideas. What I realised was that the Mandril itself is not a project, it is a space which provides us with the possibility of creating our own.
Spending time inside the Mandril, together with the people there, made me feel what I think the Mandril wants to depict itself as; a free and open space. It felt like a home, which to the people who are part of the Mandril it is – this building is their home and everyone who comes are their friends. It’s like a big family, and in ways it could even be compared to the life as a resident at UWC (they also have the issue of dirty dishes). It is interesting to see something similar to UWC, which I have always viewed as a completely unique environment, coming to life in a real setting by people who genuinely believe in the values that they live by. I think spaces like The Mandril allows us a chance to use the theories and values that our school as a United World College tries to teach us and put it into practise. This could be especially relevant considering the art students. Participating in the opening of the art exhibition at the end of our week made me realise that the students from our art department could have easily displayed their own works there. Is it not worth to reflect upon the fact that our little community consists of a such large range of various talents and abilities, and yet it is restricted to ourselves mainly? What we as UWC students aim for is sharing culture, ideas and perspectives; so how come we do not go beyond the moat and share this with the outside world and especially the local community we are surrounded by?
What I hope to point out is that we as a part of this city, Maastricht, are not actually taking part of the place where we live. What the Mandril offers is so much more than simply a fun Saturday night in a hipster/edgy/alternative location. The Mandril frequently hosts events and workshops, usually promoting or suiting what UWC stands for: sustainability, equality and open-mindness. Besides from simply the arranged happenings you could find there, it is also a space which welcomes you as long as you welcome them. Life on campus is busy, and our little island is to some extent isolating us from the outside and I believe that the UWC bubble is inescapable due to the structure of the life as a residential. Still, living so close to a city provides a great opportunity for us to experience, learn and join the local life. Places such as the Mandril or LBB, are not junkie houses or just partyhosters. The buildings represents so much more, and it is something I have never seen anywhere else. These places are cultural free-zones which allows students, artlovers, political activists, musicians etc etc. to come together and create something (anything!), and spending these three days in such a space has opened my eyes to how much I have yet to learn about the place I live and the people who live there. Meeting students from Pakistan, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia and Spain is like UWC without the IB – it is everything our school aims for and I truly believe we are missing out on the chance to take part of it.


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