“I knew about Amsterdam from my school text books, as well as a song of the same name written by a band from former Yugoslavia. The singer sang about Amsterdam; about cycling there, and his bike being stolen, and of course about joints. I came to Holland when I was 16 as a refugee. At the end of 1994 I joined my family at an asylum seekers centre in ‘s-Gravendeel and we moved on via Bloemendaal to Amsterdam. In May of 1995 we were offered a house.
My first memory of Amsterdam is the Leidseplein. I found it to be just right. Not as sprawling as London which I had visited before, just cosy chaos. We also saw a man roller-skating in a thong. I looked up at my mother, what would she say to that? She didn’t say a word. But her eyes were huge.
My second week at middle school I sat at the front shaking. I hardly spoke the language and found it all too much. The Dutch teacher, Mr. Vleesch Dubois, explained what metaphors were, and told us about a teacher whose teeth looked like a burnt out graveyard. He then asked who knew which book contained this metaphor. Coincidentally, I had just borrowed my first Dutch language book from the library. Ivoren Wachters by Simon Vestdijk. I recognised the sentence. When I gave the teacher the correct answer, he nearly fell off his stool before saying, “We’re going to get on fine!” The class must have thought, “What a nerd”.
I work in Zuid and live in Noord, and every time I cycle over the canals it’s incredibly beautiful. How amazing it is that I live here. The city is small, but so diverse. I still lose my way, and find myself absorbing the tranquil images as light shimmers on the canals in the middle of winter.”