[i] Can you introduce. Would you introduce yourself?
[r] Yeah, my name is [name] , I’m 34 years old. And I’ve lived here for 15 years, over 15 years.
[i] You have something in your hand.
[r] Yeah, my phone.
Yeah, how’s that, your phone?
My phone is always in my hand, and now I happened to want to read you my poem.
[r] So I was figuring out my poem.
[i] Have you now?
Yeah, I got it.
Can you read that poem for me?
Yes, I’m going to read you one of my poems.
You’re a poet, you write, close?
[r] In my spare time, as a hobby. When I have nothing to do or am sad, I always write poems. And I write my poem in Amharic [Amharic] , that’s my own language. That is also easier for me. And my poem, the title [title] of my poem is ‘Geragebtoin’ [Amharic: “I’m confused”]. “I’m eating… but it doesn’t satisfy my hunger. I drink… but it doesn’t quench my thirst. I work… but it doesn’t fill my wallet. I’m learning… but it doesn’t enrich my knowledge. I dress… but it doesn’t look good on me. I work hard… but no success. In a foreign country, it can never be like it is at home. I know no joy… I know no peace. I feel empty… …without understanding. I feel scared… still deep in fear. With stress and sadness. With loss of courage. I get angry and irritable. With the loss of my indigenous ways of thinking. By loss of my good nature. I break with all my good habits. I put myself in a cage of bad addiction. This makes me feel like a drowning man. Struggling to survive without a purpose. Abroad, I’m considered a foreigner. I get so tired of the interrogation where I came from. As if I have no country, I am seen; a refugee without a home. It intimidates me not to exist. With false grimaces they destroy me. They undermine me. I live life without meaning. I live life without being able to do anything with it. I’m confused.” That’s my poem.
[i] Wow. It’s very beautiful. But it also contains a lot, a lot of subjects, a lot of emotions. When I get back, when did you write that poem?
[r] Um, I wrote that poem. I wrote it in 2004. That was almost eleven years ago.
Eleven years ago. Where were, where were you?
Then I lived in eh, in Soest. Soestdijk? Yeah.
[i] Do you eh, do you have residence permits at that time?
Um, yeah, just now. I just got a residence permit.
[i] There’s a lot of feelings in the poem. Like fear, emptiness, anger and sadness. And that, too, unhappy. Can you describe for me what exactly this moment was when you wrote this poem? How do you remember what time? And how yes, how do you feel in that moment.
It’s just my feeling, it wasn’t really that it was a certain time, or difficult time. Then I was, I was new and I just wanted my life to be a good direction, but sometimes it’s difficult. It’s not your language, it’s not your country. It’s also very difficult to be an asylum seeker. You try to do everything right and be on the edge, but it’s, it never comes out how you want. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You just feel sad, you’re empty, you’re without family. Um, you don’t understand things very well. And you work and you deserve it, but you don’t have it. And then I was, my dream didn’t come true. Then I thought, oh this is hard to live with, with things like this. And then I just wrote the poem.
Yeah, what’s the hardest thing here? You work, you earn, but you don’t have that much. But most of all, at the time, what was the worst? Moment? Is that your dreams not coming true, or what was the hardest?
You just feel empty, you’re alone. You’re just real, here’s just, don’t you come open the door, don’t everybody come to you or you don’t go to everybody. And I’ve really come from a lot of family in Africa, you know, so many people. And we all live close to each other. But here, you just feel alone, especially when you’re single and fled without family as a young woman. And then you want to, you want to study and the language is difficult. Then you want to work, the weather is difficult and, social contact is difficult in the beginning. And yes, then come, then you have a hard life. And then you feel empty.
Yeah. Do you still feel this feeling?
Um, well, not so much actually. It was really hard back then. I still feel empty, alone. And the warmth, those people close to me who aren’t here anymore. But, now I feel a little at home.
That’s after eleven years.
[r] Yes, now I can also speak the language and I also finished my education and now I work, a good social contact. And now I’m a little used to it. So, uh…
[i] Back then, where do you live? In the asylum seekers’ centre? Or?
[r] When I wrote this poem, I just lived in a room. With a group of others, with another group.
[i] Can you tell me back to your flight? You fled from Ethiopia. Where did you end up?
[r] I was in asylum seekers’ centre in OC Eindhoven for the first time. And there I had, I lived there for three months. After that, I got a house, not a house, just a built-up house. A group of minors together. In Hoogezand-Sappemeer, which is very far away, in Groningen. It’s very, very boring, very quiet. And not so many dark people either. Then it’s hard to start a life. Um, I’ve lived there for almost two years. Then I would have moved to Amersfoort with my girlfriends. From Amersfoort to Soest.
Um, Soest. Soest were you with a room, with a lot of girls?
[r] With two other girls.
[i] Is from the same country, or something else?
No, they’re from Somalia.
[i] From Somalia. And you lived with different people before that?
Um, yeah, I’ve lived with people from Zaire, too. And also from China. And yes, and also once with people from Ethiopia.
[i] Okay. How was that for you? Cause you’ve seen white people. And at the same time, you’ve got several people from Africa, from Asia, who have a background. Is that a difference, you see?
Um, you never feel at home in the beginning. And it’s… You don’t have your family. But the close you get to your people, you feel better. And fortunately, when I lived in Soest, I learned to know a lady. So she’s just like my mother now. Dutch lady. She helped me with my most difficult time, with all my problems. And she has always been [always been] ready for me. That’s made it a lot easier. And, yes.
[i] How did you end up with that lady in Soest?
[r] Um, through, actually, she rents a room for underage girls. That’s where I ended up through VWN.
[i] Refugee work. Refugee Work. And, uh, that’s where I lived and that’s where I got in touch. And, we still have a good contact.
How long were you with her?
Eight years.
Eight years?! So you’re just family, really.
Yeah, so she really became my mom, yeah. When I finished college, I found a job in Utrecht. Um, it was really hard to travel from Soest to Utrecht every day. And her house has to be sold, and then we have to move too. That’s how I came to Utrecht.
[i] What was the first impression in Utrecht when you came here? I know Utrecht…
[r] Well actually, I live in Soest, but I was always in Utrecht. So, for shopping Utrecht is a bigger city than Soest. So I can find anything, anything. I can shop, I can go city, I can grab a terrace. Utrecht is just a nice city. So I often come to Utrecht. But then I had to move and I found a room. And yeah, a little far away from [name Dutch ‘mother’] but, um, yeah. That’s how I got to Utrecht.
[i] Do you still have contact with her. She always lives in Soest.
[r] Still yes.
[i] I came to Utrecht, is that where you live, in this neighbourhood?
[r] At the first I lived in Overvecht. Yeah.
[i] How long?
Two years. Then I had to leave that house too, and that tenant has to give the house back to housing. And then I had a very difficult time. And because of that, I found a house called Corporations Hotel. And the Corporatiehotel in Blauwkapelseweg in Utrecht. That’s really only for divorced men. But the exception for me is for, as an emergency shelter, I lived there for a year. If you live there for a year and then have good behaviour and your own income, you get a house. That’s why I came here.
Were you the only woman there? In the shelter?
Coincidentally, two women.
How many men were there?
It’s just, it’s, you have your own room. Just cooking and showering you’re gonna share. It’s not a shelter, it’s a house, a corporation hotel. But it’s more for men. For divorced men who don’t end up on the street and stuff. That’s what it was for, the house.
How was it for you, among all those men. You were the only two girls?
At first I was very scared, but luckily I was treated like a princess there, it was very nice men for me and they were good. And, uh, yeah. I really don’t have a bad experience.
[i] That was, where was in Utrecht?
Blue Chapel Road, near Kleine Singel. That’s in town, actually.
[i] But shelter in the city. How long were you there?
It’s called the Corporation Hotel. If your husband is divorced, in this country, a woman has a right. So the men leave the house to women who end up on the street, huh. That’s why this organization is arranged. Or, uh, this corporation arranged. And that’s more for men, I think exists also for women. But this happened to be for men.
[i] Do you talk to those men about, uh, their divorce? Are you in contact somewhere, I mean.
I haven’t really had much contact. I work every day. So I leave very early and I come home to six. I’m usually in my room by then. And only if you go in that kitchen, for a little while. If anyone’s there, I’ll talk. But not about their own lives, a little bit, but not about everything.
[i] Was safe? Say, between those men.
With me, it was safe. I didn’t have any trouble. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Those were really nice men.
[i] Is only Dutch or foreigners in there?
[r] Most of them were Dutch, but there was one Iraqi, a man from Iraq I think.
[i] How many about men are there?
[r] It’s, it’s got four floors. And with me, there were two, three, four, five… Seven.
Seven. And in the whole building?
Yeah, four times seven, so you’re 28 or so.
But there’s no opportunity for everyone to get together just once, is there?
Yes, there is. Yeah.
What opportunity?
Yeah, we’ve had a barbecue once every six months or so, in the summer. In the backyard. And sometimes a group meeting. Cause we have a counselor there, huh. I don’t have an attendant, but all the men who live there have an attendant, because they’ve also been through a lot. So sometimes, if you have a meeting, sometimes we have a meeting once a month. If something goes wrong or if something is not clean, fortunately the one on my floor was very simple and clean. And very easy people were. But upstairs were a little… Difficult people were. Arguing often, and maybe meeting there often, with us was quieter. Just explaining the rules and if you’re new. Once, you live there for a year, at most. So if you get a house, then if you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll talk to fourth room. Then you get a house, that’s a one-time chance. Then you can’t ignore it. If you get the house, you have to accept. And no matter where, you have to accept that.
That’s how you accepted?
I’ve accepted it, but this is just a dream home for me, close to my work, everything. But I’ve been lucky.
But I’ve accepted it. Every time you take one away, another one comes. Then we’re gonna meet and explain. Yeah. Say goodbye, and so, so we’ve had contact.
[i] Then you’re in this neighborhood. What’s the name of the district?
This is Hoograven.
When was that?
Since 2011.
[i] 2011. Then you’re about six years old.
No, three and a half years. No. 2011, I came here, end of 2011. So, well, we’re 2015. I’m really three and a half years here.
Are you used to being here?
Yeah, yeah.
Is nice neighborhood to live in?
Yeah, very nice quiet neighborhood. So, luckily I live nearby, I work nearby. It’s just a five-minute walk. And um…
Where do you work?
I work here at Emerald Square, hairdresser Bruce.
Okay. So are you a hairdresser?
I’m a hairdresser, yeah.
Hairdresser for what? For man, woman, or?
[r] Of both, I went to hairdressing school and did that training.
Oh okay. You did the barber training. When was that?
That was 2004 and 5.
[i] Okay. Is that what you want to study? Dream job?
No, that was, now it’s my dream job, but it wasn’t in the beginning. No, it wasn’t. Actually, I always wanted to be an actress. Yeah, playing movies and dramas and stuff. But, uh, with this language it’s impossible. Then I was right, uh… Actually, you know how I became a hairdresser? I was mad at one hairdresser, that’s how I became a hairdresser.
[i] How did that happen?!
I had a while ago, I’ve never been a hairdresser here. And in Tilburg, I still don’t forget, my boyfriend lived there. And I was at my boyfriend’s house, and we had a party tonight. We have to go to a party. I said oh, well, my hair looks like shit, so I need to find a hairdresser. And a friend for us, he said, “No, I know a good hairdresser here, I’m gonna take you to the hairdresser’s. I went to the hairdresser’s, it’s really a lot to wait. Really long. And, um, the wish that I want hasn’t come true either. And I paid a lot of money.
[i] Oh.
And the hair wasn’t right at all. I wasn’t happy at all. Then I thought if this woman can be a hairdresser, then I can, too, because I can do better than that. If I really hadn’t been at the hairdresser’s, maybe my hair would have been better. And, uh, then I thought if she can earn a living as a hairdresser, then I can, too. Even without an education, I can do better than her. If I do the training again, then I can really just perfect profession [profession] , then I really had decided. I said, as of tomorrow I will start hairdressing training.
[i] Well, it’s going to be easy to choose that course.
J, I was angry, and then I chose training. But now I’m very happy to be a hairdresser. Cause I’m just happy. The work is so cozy, you make contact with a lot of people, then you make people beautiful. And it’s also nice when you, clients, are happy to see you. Satisfied people. So, uh…
[i] Right. You’ve had the experience of being dissatisfied with that lady. Do you have a job where people are dissatisfied, too?
Sometimes you make people dissatisfied. Yeah. Sometimes, if she’s dissatisfied, it’s not me, it’s their own problem maybe. They’re not really with a good… I don’t know how you put it, they might be angry at home, and with the anger there. They want to respond to you. But client’s king, so you’re just gonna take it easy, consult. Maybe if she’s mad at me, my colleague will take over or my boss. But most clients are very satisfied.
[i] Nice. And what kind of barber is that? That’s special for a certain breed or?
[r] No, I work and the owner is African. We do have black hair [afro hair/black hair] , more customers of black hair. But is black and white [black and white] . We have people from Suriname, Africa, Aruba, Antillean, we have Dutch. So we have all people, all kinds of people.
[i] Who comes most, I mean?
[r] Comes all races. Yeah.
[i] How do you like yourself, um, people, say, certain hairstyle, or certain? Yeah, what do you like better?
How do you mean?
[i] You get different clients, or Dutch or Surinamese.
[r] I don’t like just men’s haircuts.
[i] Okay, that’s what I mean.
[r] Yeah, if you go wrong there once, you can’t correct that, that’s a good thing. So if you don’t get it right, if you go wrong, it goes wrong.
[i] Okay, you ever let those guys down? Okay. You don’t like this, cutting men’s hair. Right?
[r] Men’s haircuts, I don’t like that. No, you don’t.
[i] Okay. What do you like?
[r] Well, anything. Especially with women’s hair, styles, braids, weaves, hair extensions, everything.
[i] And that goes well with your colleagues? The contact between your colleagues, your boss?
[r] Um, yeah. It’s been a little off lately, the contact with my boss, for some reason. But, um, I’m also a member of the union. And CNV. They helped. And thanks to CNV, I now have a quiet place for my work.
[i] What’s union?
[r] Trade union is a, CNV, that’s a, that if you have a problem and they’re going to get you a legal person, they can help you or you can get in touch, they’re going to explain it to you. And they’re on your side. With everything. It’s also good to be a member of CNV or a union. That is, they’re for professionals.
[i] How did you become a member there, yourself? How do you know they exist? Actually, I’ve heard of somebody from, uh, an old colleague before me. And what that’s like, about CNV. Then I read it myself. And, I’ve become a member, I’ve been a member for years. And then I pay the costs every month, but I thought at first I’d only pay the costs, it never comes for anything… But this year they really helped me. And I’m happy too, for the first time I stood up for myself. As an African woman, we accept everything. And then you never stand up for yourself. But this time I stood up for myself. And also sometimes when you ask your boss or somebody to sign something, especially some papers, it’s good to read, especially those general conditions, those small print and so on, before you sign. And also contact CNV to explain and show that letter. It’s good. It’s good. Now I’ve learned something.
Learned. That’s why you just signed it?
[r] Hm?
That’s why you just signed it all…
I didn’t sign it either, I read it. Actually, if you sign, I lose my right. So I contacted CNV. And they also advised me not to sign, and yes, they helped me and they explained. And they’ve also been with my employer. And, uh, I’ve been well helped by them.
[i] So are you proud?
[r] I’m really proud and I’m happy to be a member. And I’m also proud that I’ve learned to stand up for myself. And, um, yeah.
How come you have feelings for that, that you don’t have feelings for yourself? You know that? Have you been through something before that you can’t really stand up for yourself?
I’m someone who accepts everything. I never say no. And no matter how hard it is for me, it’s not easy to say no. But here, we learned at school, standing up for yourself. No matter how important it is, or if you don’t like something, you have to say no. But is, we’ve learned from, I’ve learned from home, respect for the elderly and don’t answer the elderly. Then you shouldn’t say no to the elderly and all that. That’s why I usually say okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But this time, no matter how old you are, also how, if you are my boss, or doesn’t matter, if you don’t like me, if I see that something is against my wish, or not good for me, then I shouldn’t accept it.
i] Do you think that, you say that from your upbringing, you took it with you.
No, I really didn’t learn that from my upbringing, I learned it here. Just from Dutch people and for school.
[i] No to say, that’s right. Standing up for yourself. But before that, before you said you have to say yes to everything, is that during your upbringing?
[r] Yeah, that’s my upbringing, yeah. That’s mostly African upbringing, you know. Mostly Ethiopian upbringing, I guess.
[i] Is that different from Dutch upbringing?
[r] Yes, this is where the women stand up for themselves. But in Africa, women never stand up for themselves.
[i] Do you see your girlfriend, colleagues, or eh, do you see of that?
[r] Yes, with everyone, with everyone.
[i] Yes?
[r] Yes.
[i] What are you going to advise then, are you going to advise people now, from now on, you’ve taken advantage of yourself to say no, are you going to advise other people too, colleagues or girlfriends?
[r] Yes. For people who, especially people who work, I’m going to advise to be a member of CNV. And people who really, also as my African Ethiopian, especially Ethiopian girls, those women, so you really have to say no to their wishes. If something comes up that they don’t like, if you think that’s not good for me, they shouldn’t accept it. Really, if you really accept a little bit, then another big one will come. If you accept the big one and then there’s a big one, you’ll never come out. So you have to show from the beginning that you can stand up for yourself. That you can say no. You can accept things that you, that are your wish, or that you need and that are good for you. But people shouldn’t push you to accept what you don’t like. A relationship could be, or a job could be, with your employers, or somewhere next door, or it doesn’t matter. But if you think now this is not good, that is not good. Then you have to say no. That’s what I’ve learned here, I’m proud.
Are you really self-developed?
Yeah, in this way, yeah.
Yeah, in this way. But how…
[r] It just feels really good, too.
Yeah, you don’t need anybody, you did it yourself. And then you’ve also, if you arrange help, you’ve arranged it yourself. And somebody’s not gonna take care of you. Then you have to do it yourself first, then help. You can’t always sit down, ask for help. No, I can’t.
[i] Okay. That’s a really big, big step. But for you, like this. But what steps should other people, or girlfriends of yours, or here, learn from you? It’ll come to you in a minute. Or through training, this developed? How did you accomplish that?
This was too much. And it’s too much. I’ve accepted the first little, little things. And then if you accept the small steps, then comes the big step. I wasn’t expecting the big step. And it wasn’t right. This isn’t right. [well] This is just abuse. And then I thought no, this is where it has to stop. And I have to do something about this. And, yeah. If one thing gets too much, you wake up. I woke up this time.
[r] Okay. But before that, you feel like you have to [accept] everything, you feel like you shouldn’t say no, you’ve indicated most African, or at least Ethiopian women have. What do you think’s causing it? It comes from culture, or upbringing?
Yeah, I think it is, it’s also our culture. It’s… We think respect is accepting everything. Respect is not accepting everything. Respect is what you earn, when someone gives you respect, you give it back. If someone doesn’t give you respect, you don’t deserve that respect. But we have learned, you have to respect an elder, just give respect. We think, oh yeah they give me respect or not, I have to, she has to earn it, I don’t. That’s how we learned. You have to do everything for the elders. Yeah, it’s okay, respect to the elders, but the elders have to respect you, too. Or respect your boss, your boss has to respect you too. If you give me respect, I’ll earn it back. I guess.
[i] What is the biggest cultural difference between the Netherlands and Ethiopia? You have now indicated about respect and to say no, is that something different?
[r] I like my culture, my traditions. I am not against my culture or my tradition. But certain things, for example as a young woman, as your parents used to say to you, I have not experienced that. But as your parents used to, your parents are going to arrange who you’re going to marry. You can’t say no, you have to accept because it’s what your parents want. It’s not your wish. That’s, that’s your father’s wish. You don’t know the man. But what kind of life are you gonna live with than this man? That’s just, it’s not nice, but maybe your parents don’t want to hurt you either. But they’ve also adopted the tradition of their grandparents. If you say no, you’re gonna have a problem there. So you’re gonna accept them. Then you don’t have a home to live, then you, you lose your parents. But here, I’m single. I live for myself. Nobody’s gonna decide for me. I just decide.
[i] So freedom?
[r] Yes freedom, yes. The freedom. If I’m from over there, going through exactly the same things here, no. That’s why I fled. I don’t want to go through that. Certain things, heavy things.
[i] Like what?
Like, when I’m in Africa, I might want to get my little daughter circumcised. But I’m here, maybe she’s gonna tell the father “yes, she should be circumcised.” I can say “no, she can’t be circumcised, she shouldn’t be circumcised”. Maybe if I was in Africa my parents, my grandparents decide that. Or if someone says to me “you have to marry this man”, if I’m not in love or if I don’t know the man then I’m not going to marry the man. Or, yes, or if you have to be under the man, if you know your husband can do anything, you can’t do anything. I can’t accept that. It’s just, people should be treated equally, not really women under men. That’s actually what I’m talking about. But as an African, you always think man is the boss. That tradition, I mean, well, that tradition I really don’t want to accept. But, the rest is really living together, and just the conviviality, and the hospitality, and that’s just fun. I really just want to take that with me forever.
[i] Okay. Is that your social life here, is that like Ethiopia or Africa? Are you friendly and hospitable?
Yeah, it’s not exactly like Africa, but…
Okay, how was your social life there and here?
Look, I was very young there, huh. I was just living with my parents’ house, I didn’t have a house to invite anyone to say. Maybe my classmates and stuff. I started living here for myself. So, uh…
[i] How old were you when you came to Holland?
Um, I was almost seventeen. Yeah.
[i] So you came to Holland alone, without parents.
[i] Okay. So how was that for you, taking that step yourself?
[r] It’s not easy, but if you don’t have a choice, you take the steps.
[i] And what were the standards, the values, the traditions, the rituals [rituals] that you kept? You came to Holland young, but from your…
[r] Most tradition is living and eating together, for example. Or my faith, respect for other people’s faith, respect for older people, a certain, certain limit, not really above the limit, not. And, helping people, if I’m better than them at certain things, I help. I’ve taken that from my tradition. Just standing up for myself, that’s from here.
[i] New?
[i] Well. And another thing, that’s important things that happened in your life, or here or there, that you really remember?
Every time something happens, but something really special, I don’t know.
Okay, do you have a fantasy, before you leave, what kind of life do you end up with?
You never end up with the life you think. And look, if, when, if I didn’t have a problem, I wouldn’t have fled. But because of my problem, I fled, but I thought, oh I can just easily get everything at first. Not that, as a woman, it doesn’t matter, or as a man. You have to work hard to achieve your life. And we also thought in Africa, you’re just gonna make money, you don’t have to work, no that. Then you have to work really hard and study and earn your own living. Oh you can get some, but that’s, that’s not so easy how I thought. But, if you work, if you fight hard for yourself, you’ll come, you’ll survive.
[i] Yeah. That’s just some kind of integration, you think?
Yeah, too.
[i] How are you here, I mean, for your own sake, are you integrated?
Must be. If you really are, look at this, you don’t live in your own country. You can’t say oh yeah, I need my own language, I need my own tradition, no, it’s gotta be fifty-fifty. You have to learn the language. To work. You need the language, even to go to the doctor. You don’t need an interpreter, you know. There are certain things you really want to keep to yourself. And it also feels good when you can just speak the language. Then you can get in touch, get in touch with people. And you go to work, you earn your own money, it’s fun too. It’s just a good feeling. But the weather isn’t always good here. You know how hard it is with cold, snow and this and that. Yeah, it’s hard sometimes, especially for cycling. You fall, get up.
Did you learn to ride a bike here or in Ethiopia?
Yeah, I learned to ride a bike here in Groningen, actually.
Yeah, nice?
Yeah, it’s nice. But sometimes, especially in winter, you can really fall and get up a lot. But is life, is it, cycling is also a good example for life.
[i] Yes?
[r] Life is trial and error.
[i] Wow.
[r] If you fall, then you must also try to get up. Then you go on, but if you fall and say, no, I’m not going to get up, then your life is going to end. You really have to get up and move on.
[i] Are you falling and getting up in your life?
Yeah. Yeah, anyway. Anyway. With everything, with everything.
Yeah? When? Yeah, what situation, for instance, in your poem so many things, yeah. Were there certain moments, “oh now I can’t get up or now I can’t go on”?
[r] Yeah, um. I also said to you earlier, it’s hard to be alone. And I miss my family, I miss the warmth, I just miss people around me. And especially when you’re sick sometimes, you’re just at home alone and nobody comes to visit you, and um. In Africa, the door is open, everybody can come. Not here. Then you don’t know if you, don’t know if you, your neighbors don’t even know if you’re alive or dead. And that situation,especially when you’re sick,I’m always scared. Doesn’t matter, I can call an ambulance, Doctor, but you need someone. And, uh, especially if you’re not in a good relationship or something. Then you think, oh. If it goes wrong, then it goes right wrong. And sometimes you go out there, you try to accomplish something, you don’t succeed, you try a second time, you don’t succeed. Then you almost want to give up, you think “well I’m never gonna do it again”. But I think giving up is losing, you should never give up, just… That’s why I say trial and error. Sometimes you come up against things, sometimes it’s discrimination, sometimes. For example in my poem, some people laugh with you, but that’s not good, that’s not true. They just don’t laugh inside, they just… I don’t know. They’re going to show you smile, but not from the inside. And you think, oh yeah, those people laughing for me, you really go when you want to get close, they’re just gonna distance themselves from you. Then you think, “oh, how weird, with me where I come from, people laugh, they laugh good. And they laugh from the inside out and they accept you really well. And no one’s not going to shut the door on you.” And um, is everybody gonna ask you, “Where are you from?” And you say where you’re from, the second question is “when are you going back?” If you’re in Africa for vacation, they’re gonna ask me “when are you going back?”. Am I not accepted in any way? That question always makes me angry, too. I said, “Well, I’m allowed to live, aren’t I? I’m allowed to live, aren’t I? Then why do you ask me when I’m going back?”. I don’t have to, I’m alive, they didn’t go, they don’t pay for me. I work for myself. And that’s what they’re asking. And they’re going too. They may only have one image about Africa, bad image. War and hunger. Africa has many sides. And the richest, the really, I don’t know, maybe Africa is one of the richest continents I think. But they just think about that war, about that hunger, and say, “Oh yeah, have you been there? Are you hungry too? Haven’t you had any food?” That question pisses me off, too. I said, “Leave me alone, I’m just gonna live my life.” Not about that question, just… I may have experienced it, but what’s it got to do with you? Why do I have to answer that question, you know?
[i] How are you gonna deal with questions like that?
They never make you feel at home. That’s what I’m talking about.
[i] In what way?
Certain people, not everyone, but in general, they’re never gonna make you feel at home. They’re always going to make you, you think oh yeah, I feel at home. But they don’t make you feel at home.
[i] You’ve called discrimination, have you ever been discriminated against?
Not really directly, but undirectly, it often comes.
Such as, for example? With your color? What opportunity do you feel uncomfortable with?
[r] The first one, if you are looking for a job interview or internship and so on, I can also understand maybe my language is not perfect, not like the others. And she can give as a reason, oh yeah, I can understand the language so well or so. But if they give me a chance, I can learn too, you know. They’re not going to say to you, who’s going to say to you, I’m not going to accept you because you’re black? I’m not gonna accept you because you’re black. Who’s gonna say to you, “Yeah, black go away. No, I haven’t been there. But indirectly, they’re gonna make you feel the same way. That you’re not welcome there. And they’re gonna say, “Oh, we’re gonna call you. They’re not gonna give you time for an interview, an interview, a job interview. Right, they’re gonna say, “Oh, yeah, we’re gonna call you back. You never get called back. No matter what degree you have, no matter how high you studied, I often see that from my girlfriends.
Okay. But are you disappointed? Say, you’ve heard from your girlfriend, have you? In a job interview, or any other disappointment?
[r] Yeah, yeah, yeah. That you’re not completely accepted.
[i] You feel that?
Yeah, sometimes. That’s why you think, I’m just gonna, you know, back off. I do my thing. Then if you don’t fit in, I don’t get there, you know.
[i] But then you feel safe?
Yeah, safe.
[i] Okay. Aren’t you scared?
[r] No, no.
Since of your work, do you work full-time?
Well, almost full-time.
So, what do you do in your spare time?
[r] In free time, yes, I go out, to Amsterdam or in Utrecht in the city. Just looking for the moat. And, shopping, watching television, writing my poem, reading my poem back, or visiting my girlfriends. I just wanted to keep in touch with my girlfriends for people from my country. Then I don’t want to lose contact.
[i] So most contact is with your countrymen or?
[r] I do have contact with Dutch people, I also have Dutch girlfriends and so on. And I also have a Dutch mother, so to speak. But, uh, most contact is, uh, yeah, with Ethiopian people.
Your Dutch mother, you mean?
[r] Eh, the woman I used to live with, she’s become like a mother to me. Not really a mother to me, but she’s like a mother. She calls me daughter too, so eh.
[i] So you have some kind of mother figure. [figure] What does that mean to you, anyway?
[r] Everything. Everything, she’s the sweetest woman, and she never lets me down. Even if you haven’t called a few times, she’s looking for me, she’s calling me. And she asks me where I have a problem, doesn’t matter, if you also have a money problem, or another problem, if you need someone to talk to, one thing I learned with her I can talk about everything, because she keeps it. She never tells. So I’m safe there, so I’ll talk to her about everything, then I’ll talk to the others. Then all the story is safe. She never tells. And, um, I’ll feel a little better when I’ve talked to her. Sometimes in Utrecht we just walk around in circles. And drink coffee. She’s not young, she’s old. She’s over 70. Yeah. But she makes time for me and I make time for her.
[i] So she’s coming to Utrecht?
Yeah, she’s still coming.
[i] Where are you guys going? Is that certain place, she likes it, you like it?
Um, mostly because she can, she has a hobby sewing clothes, she also sewed my curtain, actually.
[i] Wow, beautiful, yeah.
And, um.
That curtain?
Yeah, and we just go to open market, where those fabrics sell, or sometimes we go, uh, what do you call that thing? Textile store or something. There we go, she likes to go round there, there in the canal, at the Old Canal they have. And most of the time, I’m sorry, I work on Saturdays, but if I have Saturday off sometimes, we go to the Saturday market. And to look at fabrics, and then we go upstairs V&D to drink coffee. Um, yeah.
[i] Do you have a mother? Is your mom alive or not?
[i] What’s the big difference? Well, you have a mother figure. Then she’s, um, a mother figure to you?
Yeah, it’s… She makes me feel like I still have a mother.
[i] And she, too, takes you as a child?
Yes, she takes my child, she has children, she has grandchildren. But I’m also one of those kids.
[i] Well, nice. Do you have contact with her children as well?
Yeah, too.
[i] You’re like family?
Okay, fine. Okay, with your community, with Ethiopian community here in Utrecht, do you have much contact?
Yeah. Fair enough. Yeah.
[i] How do you guys get together anyway? In Utrecht, Ethiopian people? So there’s a lot of Ethiopians, and when do you guys get together?
[r] Yeah, how do we get together? Maybe one of them has a birthday party or something. You go to the one you know. And there’ll be more people there, maybe people you’ve never seen before. And then you get acquainted, where are you from, or when did you get here? And the next time we’re gonna have a drink or switch phones. And, also in church.
[i] Yeah?
[r] Yeah. I’m not often in church.
[i] Aren’t you religious?
[r] I do believe, yes, I believe in God, yes, I believe in God. But for me, I don’t make a difference between orthodox and protestant and all that. For me a Christian faith is faith. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus. And I go to all the churches that are open, then I go in.
So you don’t have a particular group or faith? And your girlfriend like that? I mean, your girlfriend is also, uh…
No, most of my girlfriends are Orthodox. But we don’t have a problem with a difference in faith. But if it’s a holiday, like Easter, you’re gonna invite you or I’m gonna invite them, and they’re gonna come with someone. We don’t eh, don’t make it difficult, you’re only invited, then you’re not allowed to bring other people. You’ve invited one, they’ll come with five. It’s cozy too.
[i] How’s that, if there’s not enough food?
[r] Well you share. You share what you have. Maybe, you have one loaf of bread, and have come with two people, you share with two. That’s what we’ve learned, sharing.
[i] Yeah.
[r] So you don’t make it hard you can’t say, oh I have food from three people, you just have to bring three people. If you bring more than three people, you share with that food we have. Also, we’ve learned to eat together, right, one big plate. It’s cozy, too.
[i] How you come up with plate, you played a movie on television, right?
[i] Okay, can you tell me?
Did you see that movie?
Yes, Abi.
Abi, yes. It’s “Sign blank,” is the title? [title] Yes. It was, in the movie, I played that I don’t speak Dutch. And Abi is a Dutch girl, Surinamese girl, of Surinam descent, but Dutch girl. She was playing outside with my nephew, so my nephew says: ‘Well, I have to eat, I have to go home’. She says, “Oh, what are you gonna eat? He said, “Injera. “Can I come too? He said, “Come on, but we’re going to pray first. Before we went to pray, I made injera with a big plate, I said to her in my language, but I also try to show her all the signals, with, what do you call, gestures, words and so on, and I said to her, ‘We’re all going to pray, when you’re back, we’ll eat together’. And she asks, she says to me, “all these for me? I have no idea what they said to me, I said yes. She, Abi has learned from home, she has to empty her plate. Her father always told her you have to empty your plate. But she just gets a little plate. So I’ve got very big plate for seven people, she’s tried to eat, and then she says, “How can I get this? She ate half and gave half to a cat and half in the trash. She just wanted to eat her plate.
[i] Is that the point of your message, really? Back then?
[r] It’s not my movie. It’s, it’s, I didn’t write the movie.
[r] Okay, so you get script and you get played?
[r] Being played, yeah. But Abi is someone who’s gonna eat at all the houses. She plays with different traditions, different races, and when she hears about food, she’s so curious. She wants to get a taste of it in all people. So by coincidence my cousin she came to taste with us, but if you don’t speak the language, you’re giving the wrong information. She totally misunderstood me, she ruined our food. And also to show that our tradition is to eat together. One is if you don’t know the language, then you give wrong information, miscommunication causes wrong things to happen. Is also new for Abi is that in one plate, seven people or that whole family eat in one plate. Abi has her own plate at home, just has mother, father and she just has a separate plate. And that is why she can also eat her plate empty. And she thinks, “Oh yeah, one plate, no matter how big it is, just for one person. That’s why she tried to empty it.
[i] Okay. How did you guys get this movie? “T’s series or something, bro?
[r] Abi is series, but Abi in Ethiopian people is just one piece.
[i] Is that in Utrecht, the movie made?
No, it’s in Amsterdam.
[i] Oh so, you guys asked from Amsterdam, the question?
[r] Yeah, we’re through, I don’t remember the name, we’ve been asked by someone.
[i] From Amsterdam, Ethiopian people they asked you?
Yeah, he’s been looking for Ethiopian people. And so he got our address, and he gathered some Ethiopian people.
[i] When you were asked to act for the movie, did you say yes?
[r] Um, I didn’t say yes right away. But you’ll have to rehearse for three days. And recording is also, it’s been almost four days. Then we have to be there four days from 9:00 to 6:00.
Where was that?
In Amsterdam. Yeah, we have to practice at someone’s house. And, uh, I need to talk to my boss about getting some time off first. And then I’ve told my boss about it, and I’ve explained to him how it goes and what it is and stuff. He said, “You can get out. Then I said, “okay, you can.
Is that a paid job or voluntary?
You’ll get a small amount of money.
[i] For the contribution.
[r] Yeah, it’s on. There were four of us, five Ethiopian people, people who really get a small amount. People who, big ones, if the main actors have played, they get a little bigger than others. But not that much.
[i] But you do have a dream of becoming an actress. Is that piece for you, your dream a little… Yeah?
[r] Yeah, I thought some other time too, because sometimes I write something myself, then, yeah, maybe it’ll come true someday, but I also wrote something about circumcision, kind of small drama. Then I thought, maybe one day I’ll play drama, yeah theatre, like a movie, little movie. And then I’ll have that drama, I’ve written that film in my language, then I’ll have to translate it into Dutch and so on.
[i] Can you tell me a little bit small, your script, what you’ve got?
[r] I wrote it, it was a Somali girl. She was circumcised and stitched up. And she grew up here, coincidentally, she was what I wrote. And when she met an Ethiopian boy who was adopted here, raised here. And, she wanted to marry him, he wants to marry her, too. Because that boy was raised here, by Dutch parents, has no idea about the circumcision and stuff. But she said to him, in our tradition before we get married, we’re not going to have any other contact, sex or anything. And he’s accepted that, so he’s never seen what it’s like. And she also said that because she was so ashamed to show that stuff. And so she, too, was very scared to suffer, to start with maybe she thinks, oh it hurts, and how to start it. Every time he says, okay, we’re getting married this year, she always wants to extend it. And then we had a fight, and he said yes, I don’t think you want me. You don’t want a relationship with me, or you’ve kept something from me. That’s how we had a big fight, and then she gets into another one, the other girlfriend intervenes. And she tells him with all her tears that she’s been circumcised and stitched up, and that’s why she’s gonna prolong all wedding days. Because she is very afraid of the pain, and she is very, very embarrassed to show the body parts that don’t express themselves. And when he said yes I don’t understand those things, but I can understand you. If you’re hurting, we’re gonna talk to a doctor. I don’t do it with my own strength and stuff. But she thought, “I’ve heard in Africa men do it with their own strength. And the woman’s gonna be in a lot of pain, that’s why I was really scared to start, and I’ve never done that and I never wanted to do that. And that’s why she went to see a specialist, a doctor. And then the doctor helped them, and then, uh, yeah, she’s gone too. Of her shame and her problems and all that. And he’s also learned something.
[i] She’s married?
Yeah, eventually married to him, to that boy.
Who told you, the woman or the man? That story.
I wrote it myself.
[i] Okay, but their story, is that the girl or the boy told to you?
What do you mean? Nobody told me.
Oh, you made it up?
It’s so…
[i] Is good, for the theater play?
[r] I made that up myself, but that story often happens. But if I thought, what if a girl who has been circumcised and has been stitched up is going to marry someone African, but that African boy here has been adopted by Dutch people, who never have a clue what the situation is. He’s also just like European. How are you going to explain him, how are you going to tell him? How do those women feel? How ashamed are they? How do you see the body parts, you know, how painful it is. And, but I’ve also heard in Africa the man opens it up to women himself. I think that’s really that much pain. What’s it like to have a woman sitting here with that problem? And then, she doesn’t have anyone to explain, and she doesn’t dare tell her boyfriend. And yeah, what it feels like, just really that’s what I’ve been thinking. I wrote that, but I didn’t quite finish it. But that’s about the story. You can’t sell my story.
[i] Yeah, who knows? [unintelligible]
[r] It’s my story.
[i] But have you ever had any education? Here in Holland about female circumcision?
[r] No, look, it’s usually that education is on Saturdays. I’m usually, Friday and Saturday I work. Monday and Sunday I’m free. On those days there’s never information and this and that. But I’ve seen videos. And a movie in Ethiopia. “The Desert Flower,” did you see that movie? Then you can learn from it, I’ve also lived with Somali people. I don’t want to talk the story for her, but she was also circumcised and stitched up and she had an infection. And we went to the doctor together, and the mother of me, [name Dutch moede[r] helped us too. And after that he said, yea, men don’t have to open, the doctor opened it for her. And took out all the infection. So I saw that. I didn’t see it myself, luckily. But I see. Look, you feel, if that one woman has a problem, or that one woman’s in pain, it’s your pain too, you just feel it. So you’re like a woman. Says what if my daughter happens too, or my sister? Or somebody, or my girlfriend happens? And I can meet another woman from Somalia, who has been through so much. Yeah. And I haven’t been there, but I can feel it.
[i] Is female circumcision also happening in Ethiopia?
[r] Yeah.
[i] Have you ever seen or heard of it?
Yeah. I’ve seen. Family of mine has really run away from home. And she was young. She ran away from the street, grabbed her brothers, brought them back. She saw the other girl going to be circumcised, and then she’s next. She starts running away, running away. Ethiopian girl, neighbor, neighbor girl. Is family, too.
[i] Did you really see when she was circumcised?
[r] I didn’t see that thing. I didn’t see how she ran and that she was brought back. And that she’s screaming, just crying, really loud. And they stuck her hand and stuff, and, uh, I didn’t see the rest.
[i] How was it for you?
And after that, she’s been really sick and everything.
Because of the circumcision?
Yeah, because she was very agile and they cut wrong.
How was that for you? Were you anxious?
Yes, very much.
But lucky for you…
Sad too. Yeah. Sad, too.
[i] But why is that? Your neighbors do that, but it didn’t happen to you.
Yeah, it’s just, my family was against it. Yeah.
[i] Well, thank goodness. Are you all right, yourself?
Um, yeah.
You’ve never been through anything weird, have you? Nothing happened to you or anything?
What do you mean?
You haven’t been through anything, I mean, you haven’t seen anything. Yeah with the girl who, you know, for girl circumcision, that’s really you?
[r] No, luckily I didn’t go through anything like that.
[i] See, you, you’re very persistent, girl. You fled from Ethiopia on your own and have learned Dutch, done some training. And now you work, you earn your own income. This is a big contribution, for the, as refugees for the Netherlands. Not only here, but also of culture. You keep the Ethiopian culture, you are going to share it. And even you play with theatre and film, don’t you? This is also about showing cultural difference, and now you also have the biggest taboo subject, for female circumcision, you have writing [script], perhaps in the future in theatre or film.
[r] That’ll come out, for sure. I really wanted to finish it, just once when I have time. And then I wanted to finish it, and then, if it doesn’t come in Dutch either, it can come in my language as well, then subtitles will just be Dutch.
[i] Okay. Do you see all this as a contribution?
[r] Eh contribution?
[i] Yes.
[r] No, that’s not contribution, just for me. Not nobody’s contribution. No.
[i] What do you think when you hear contribution? It’s in Ethiopian word too. [Amharic: contribution]
[r] Yes. Look, I wanted to volunteer sometimes. That’s a contribution, you know. Look, about that circumcision, if it comes out, that could be a contribution. Then I’m gonna… people who have no idea about the circumcision, they can learn something. And then the girls who have problems, she can say, yeah, this way I can talk about my problem. But if, look, if you volunteer, or you help people, that’s contribution. I think so.
[r] Of your opinion, but contribution is what you’ve done everything, until now. Until today, everything is a big contribution. If you see your work, example, economic, you are independent. That is great contribution, also for the Netherlands.
[r] Is that a contribution?
[i] Yes.
[r] Okay.
[i] Also, you’re black, you’re discriminated against, you make movement, that’s a contribution, too.
Yeah, I thought that, uh… If you call that contribution, I’ll say yes, I did. I thought that’s just.
[i] Yeah. Actually, you’re helping. Since…
[r] I’ve tried everything, in every way. I’ve grown a little stronger for that, too. I was really weak, sensitive. Yeah. But now I’m really stronger.
[i] Yeah. You’ve all been trying to connect, between two countries, between two people, I mean. The good things from your country, you want to, but bad things traditions like fgm, you want to get rid of that. You have contact with Dutch people, even in your own community, too. Find your connection, you know, with your college. Even with the union. That’s a big step, standing up for yourself. This whole thing is a big development, you notice that? Both of these?
[r] Yeah, yeah. It’s always moving forward. It’s the first one, that’s not giving up. You can fall, then you have to think when you fall, you can get up. That’s why I’m not gonna give up. At first I thought, “nah, I’m not gonna say that,” but I’m not gonna say that I’m not gonna. I’m just gonna try. I learned that, too. Don’t give up. And,um,it’s just,standing still is going backwards,then I’m not going to stand still. I just want to move forward. I learned that here,too. I’m here,too. Look. I’m,I can say I’ve grown here. I’m almost eighteen, but before that I was in my parents’ house, huh. So I don’t do anything for myself, it’s all done for me. This is where my life starts. This is where single life begins, this is where independent life begins. This is where it all started, this is where I became a woman. This is where I became independent. This is where I grew stronger. Here I learned how to take care of myself and stand up for myself. I’m grateful for that.
[i] Yes. All this development is a contribution for the city, for yourself as well.
[r] Okay.
[i] I see you, real go-getter, very strong. And clearly, with dreams all you want. I don’t know what dreams do you still have? Want to?
I really learned from my father. He was a real go-getter. I really did. I learned it from there. But achieving a dream, look, you dream so much, not all dreams come true. But if you, a certain dream comes true, then that’s enough. Look, I’m not young anymore, I’m not old, but I’m really middle-aged.
How old are you?
So I’m 34.
[i] Yeah, that’s not middle age anymore.
Yeah, this is average, right? Especially for African people, this is average age, isn’t it… In Africa people the highest is 65, so eh. As a woman, I just have to start living, have kids, get married. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And take care of my children. You know. I’m not gonna be a housewife, work and then be a parent. Yeah, that’s my dream. It’s coming true. I’m sure it will come true. Otherwise healthy, you can get rich, if you’re not healthy, you really can’t achieve anything. Health is most important. I think, health is the richest stupid thing of all. [wealth] That’s why I’m grateful to God, I’m healthy. If you’re healthy, then you can also make your dream come true. If you’re not healthy, then it’s hard to fulfill your dream… The first important thing is to be healthy, I’m healthy, I can work, I can run. I can make my dream come true, and so… Don’t stop here, it’s moving forward. It will. I’m reaching, I guess. And yes, with God, anything’s possible.
[i] You’ve always said you got your perseverance from your father. Um, your dad was important. Did you get anything else from your dad? “Oh, that’s me, from my dad”?
[r] The strong inside, that’s eh. And also, uh, with little things you have to make people happy, help them. And you don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to have much to help someone. And someone who has less than me, I can also help with that and make them happy. With little things, or um… I got that from my dad, too. So hard work from my dad, yeah.
[i] Okay. Do you have something for me to tell you, I didn’t ask you, or what you remember?
You’ve asked too much of me, you know. I didn’t think. I talked way too much.
[i] How do you like the interview itself?
Um, a lot. I like it.
[i] Okay, well, thank you very much. Yeah?
[r] Eshe. [Amharic: Okay.]