Returning to Oneself: A Series of Street Profiles in Amsterdam Oost by the Journalism Class of 2020/21

This is an article in collaboration with the Journalism class of 2020/21, who have sent in their submissions for an assignment inspired by Humans of New York.

Photo by Tal Ben Yakir

“I’ve lived all around. Prisons, hospitals, rehab clinics. Now I’ve got a place near Flevopark, it’s really nice. Before I was staying in this clinic near Oosterpark. A lot of fucked up people there. They’re not bad you know, just having a rough time. At one point, you know, when you stop drinking beer and start with the liquor…sometimes there’s just too much pain. And they try to keep it inside, the pain.

Look, here on my arms, this tattoo is my favourite. It’s about being balanced, about keeping things inside, it grounds me. This other one right here, this tattoo is about letting go. That is bad news for me, not good. But it’s a reminder. Not to let go. 

From January to March I was in a clinic in Laren. Afterwards I saw my niece again. Joyce, she’s 35. She’s having a really hard time. She lost her house recently because of these two guys. I warned her about them, I said, “They’re no good.” They threw her out. Now suddenly, she’s on the street with her bags and nowhere to go. 

Her father, all he does is smoke weed and scream at her. I hate screaming. Her mother doesn’t give a shit about her, her brothers don’t either. I’m the only one that cares about her. She’s so important to me.

At work, they told me, “Henk, just let her go.” I said, “No way. I’m not giving up on my niece.” 

When I was in prison I heard my kid died. But recently I discovered that she might’ve been adopted. So maybe my girl is still alive. That’s eight years ago. See, I’m strong, I can handle anything. But this mess is not about me, it’s about Joyce. 

She stays at my place sometimes. The other day she asked me “can I receive a customer here?” You know what she means by that. She needs money for her ketamine. 

If I’m with her while she’s high and I start preaching to her, that’s not gonna work. I gotta get on her wavelength, so we can talk. Her parents don’t get that, they tell me, “You shouldn’t do that. She’s fucked up anyway.” But I don’t care, I’m not giving up on her. I’m not letting go.”

Sumbission by Tal Ben Yakir

Photo by Anna Sara Rumi 

“I was born in Serbia. Back then it was actually Yugoslavia. During the 90s we had a really bad war and since then it’s called Serbia. Luckily for us, the war was not really in Serbia, it was in Bosnia, but that was the time I started forming my first childhood memories. I only remember that we had a big inflation and everyone was very poor. War was everywhere basically: on the news, people were talking about it, in newspapers. But luckily my family didn’t have any real consequences…except for living in inflation, being poor.

I think a thing with our parents is that they’re a generation that was raised by their parents who survived WW2 and had different kinds of problems: they had to think about food and about how they will find money to survive tomorrow. They didn’t really talk too much about emotions and how they feel: our parents were actually raised in that environment; hiding emotions, especially hiding hard and deep emotions like fear, anger, sadness or maybe unhappiness. So I think they have a tendency to not really talk with their children about things like war. Or at least I don’t remember that my mom spoke with me about what war is and why is it happening and when it will be over.”

Submission by Anna Sara Rumi 

Photo by Emma Kappeyne van de Copello

“I’m from Russia. I have lived here since March and I moved in with my partner. I grew up in a small Siberian town, then I moved to Saint Petersburg and just started living there. People are more kind and friendly here and everyone is so relaxed. I feel some kind of freedom here in people. Everyone seems happier. When I grew up, I felt constant stress. I went to a psychologist and we worked on my childhood traumas. Nothing special, just the level of life.

The government does not support people (in Russia). There was a crisis in Russia. There was crime and drugs everywhere. It was dangerous in the street. When you are a little child and you just go to the streets and there is garbage and things to put drugs in your veins everywhere, and your parents tell you, “Oh this is drugs, don’t look at this”. It is not unhappy but not very bright. It’s not so obvious and not so dark (here).

When I was young I was a goth teenager I was wearing all black and then I decided to be bright. So I started wearing something more colorful. Everyone is so natural here and it’s a bit weird for me. It’s a bit strange for me that there are so little people with dyed hair. It’s not a bad thing. Just a bit strange. I’m actually a 3D artist and I’m searching for work here or somewhere in Europe. In the beginning I was a game artist, now we have a small digital team. We are making AR apps, we do some exhibitions, and performances. For now I just do everything. In my art I try to do something funny and bright. I don’t like to think about something dark. It’s a safe place. I hope one day I will forget my dark past.”

Submission by Emma Kappeyne van de Copello

By Malena Bullman

“Our couscous bar is the only one in Amsterdam. Everyone comes here, Dutch people, Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese; just everyone. For the Dutch, couscous means salad. But for us at home it is a dish that you eat warm, a special dish that you eat at your mum’s place with the whole family. That’s why people always come here and tell me: ‘It tastes like my mum’s’.

I was born in Amsterdam East but grew up in the South of Amsterdam. Both of my parents are from Morocco and we usually go back to our hometown Féz every summer. I love the country, but it has gotten very touristic. Besides Dutch and English, I learned Arabic and also Berber, which is another common language spoken in Morocco, from my parents. 

Together with my family I have been running the ‘Couscous Bar’ for three years, here in Javastraat. It is a real family business. My sister is the store owner, my mother and aunt cook, and I am the manager. My sister also owns another store close to Javastraat, a sauna called the ‘Reload Club’. Before opening the couscous bar, we had another store in Javastraat which focused on healthy food, offering for example fresh coffee, nuts, and much more. But the modern healthy store didn’t work out in this neighbourhood.

Here in the Netherlands, the culture is just so different compared to Morocco. People here are more distant, they stay by themselves, don’t kiss or hug as much. It is not such a warm culture. But, for me, Javastraat doesn’t feel like Holland, it feels like home.”

Submission by Malena Bullman

Photo by Lisa Schmidt

“The workout is my excuse to come here, it’s good to be here. I found a spot to hang my
rings and still be in the sun. It’s quiet, nice, surrounded by nature. I have been doing this for
some weeks now. It gives me a lot of energy. I graduated from theater school, where I did
mime, two July’s ago. That’s 2019. The study was quite intense. I tended to isolate myself. I
had class from 9 to 5 so after that you are exhausted. I used the weekends to rest my body.
Now I have more space and I needed to get used to that. So, this is part of change.

One of my favorite parts of mime school was an internship where I toured with a group called
Demolition Incorporada’. The performance was called ‘A invenção da maldade’ which means “The Invention of Evil’. We created it in Brazil. The choreographer works really physically, more from the inside. In the performance we dance naked. We dance with intention but no fixed choreography. Every time is new. It started as an internship but continued past my graduation. I learned a lot better to find and feel my body in a different way. In the beginning I was jumpier, but then I started to find my ground. You start working on a different level, shifting your perception. It becomes a way of communicating on a different level. I am training on the rings to look for this perception, to move into my body instead of my head. It allows me to feel how I am in the moment. The performance opened the door for this and now with the rings I am finding pleasure in movement without any necessary meaning to it.”

Submission by Lisa Schmidt

Featured Collage by Emma Kappeyne van de Coppello

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