Meeting point: a search
Tanja Dabo

Meeting point: a search
Tanja Dabo
Love Shop

Sokol Beqiri
The Fear of Newcomers
Ivana Keser
Nebojša Šerić Šoba
Balkan - Ich wohne in berlin
Jovan Balov



A.G.K. (27)
Pleven, Bulgaria
  D.D. (35)
Niš, Yugoslavia
  I.S.P. (27)
Rijeka, Croatia

Meeting Point: A Search
Tanja Dabo

This work is the result of the experience of acquaintance and relationship with my best friend and her immigrant life in Amsterdam.

In September of 2001, I went to Amsterdam and polished the floors of three interiors that have been previously cleaned by three young women, I.S.P., D.D. and A.G.K.. All three of them are immigrants from Eastern Europe and they live and work in Amsterdam illegally, supporting themselves by cleaning.

Their testimonies, short segments of their lives, are stories about the experience of leaving one's homeland, in search for a better life, on a quest for a goal, realization, and about their experience of living and working illegally in Netherlands.

Texts are edited versions of interviews with I.S.P., D.D. and A.G.K., with minimal changes that don't affect their authenticity.

Tanja Dabo


A.G.K. (27), Pleven, Bulgaria

- history teacher
- loves her profession
- in Bulgaria she worked as a history teacher, kitchen designer and vegetable vendor
- unemployed for 2 years, she was financially supported by her sister who lives in Amsterdam
- she arrived in Amsterdam (for the first time in her life) in May, 2001
- she picked this city because her sister lives here (they live together now), otherwise she would have gone to Greece or Spain
- she left Bulgaria because of difficult economic conditions
- she also wishes to study in Amsterdam, perhaps history again, because her Bulgarian degree can't be validated in Netherlands
- she came to Amsterdam to earn money, and will stay for about a year until she earns enough to go back, she wants to return to Bulgaria to study English and get a certificate so she can study history in Netherlands in English language, if she manages to get a scholarship for study abroad
- she hasn't tried to acquire documents for a residence permit because she feels it's impossible to get them unless she marries a Dutch citizen, and she would never do it for this reason
- along with Bulgarian scholarship, she hopes she will acquire the Dutch documents - a one year residence permit (student visa)
- she fears deportation
- when she was leaving Bulgaria, she knew she would earn a living by cleaning
- now she cleans three houses and a hotel
- this is a hard and humiliating work for her, and sometimes she's angry and sad because she's forced to do this
- this work doesn't make her feel good, but sometimes it's interesting to think about the people (whose apartments she cleans), about their lives and the things they utilize
- she thinks people in Amsterdam are very friendly, but she suspects this is just hypocrisy; she thinks Dutch people are very energetic and they love money, although they don't use it for enjoyment, and they aren't arrogant; people seem to be calm and spontaneous
- she feels lonely, it's hard to find friends, she spends her free time only with Bulgarians
- she compares everything with Bulgaria, and in the beginning, Amsterdam and Netherlands seemed far more positive
- she's curious and likes meeting people, but she's unhappy because the realization of many things here depends on money one has at disposal, even entertainment...

Amsterdam, 9/2001.



D.D. (35), Niš, Yugoslavia

- history and geography teacher
- she worked 10 years in her field
- she's been in Amsterdam for a year, she lives temporarily in an organized provisional housing
- she left Yugoslavia for economic reasons and because she hoped for a better life in the West
- she never tried to leave her country in a legal way because she always hoped life would get better in the homeland, but the experience has proved that the state of affairs became only worse; this is why she regrets she hasn't left 10 years ago
- she arrived in Amsterdam 'via forest', illegally crossing all borders, together with three friends, each paid 2,500 DEM for an illegal transportation in a van from Belgrade to Netherlands (in Yugoslavia, you can do anything with money); she was very frightened; they travelled two days and two nights
- they had no housing, no plans when they arrived in Amsterdam; they contacted friends, but they hadn't expected their friends to offer them housing or work, just to instruct them about the procedures, the language, how to get around, how to get a job...
- she has no experience with Dutch administration and state
- so far she thinks life in Netherlands is terrible
- she feels OK about being a foreigner, she thinks Dutch people accept foreigners well (Amsterdam is a city of foreigners)
- she doesn't speak Dutch or English
- she works illegally, doesn't have a work permit, and she thinks 99% of "our people" (ex-Yugoslavia) live like this
- at the beginning, she was very scared, afraid of this foreign country, she felt like a foreigner, didn't know the language, and she was frightened that she won't be able to ask for help if anything bad happens; she couldn't cope with this psychologically, she was scared to leave the house - she couldn't go out by herself, she always had to have somebody who spoke her language; she experienced asphyxiation, rapid heart beating and crying fits, she had to go to a doctor; it's only in the recent two months that she's been able to leave the house by herself, and she has weathered the crisis
- she got the job of cleaning apartments through friends, for example, a friend who knew English well introduced her to an apartment owner who was looking for a cleaning person, she would arrange the job and guarantee for her; there were more than a few friends who did this for her
- she never did this in homeland; sometimes she feels this work makes her dull, sometimes she's angry she came and wonders if she should have stayed at home, but then she hears information that life is getting even worse in Yugoslavia, and then she reconciles herself with this situation; she wants to go all the way
- she is not angry about her life in Netherlands, but she is jealous of how Dutch people live, and she ofter compares it with the lifestyle in Yugoslavia; she's also jealous of how relaxed people are, and that they were fortunate to be born here
- she hopes she will get a residence permit soon, although she thinks she will never fit in with their lifestyle
- when she started her trip to Amsterdam - she expected it to be "a land of milk and honey", she thought all her problems would be solved, but when they arrived they realized their problems are only about to begin; she realized she had nurtured illusions...
- she thought everything would be guaranteed here, for example she thought there would be schools here for the children of foreigners where she could work, that she would get a small house in a couple of months and then, after a couple of years, that she would acquire citizenship, and that they would be whole heartedly accepted, just because they come from a war-torn area
- she's surprised by administrative complications about acquiring a residence permit
- ... this is not what she expected...
- she didn't come to Netherlands for a temporary stay, she came to stay for good, but if she doesn't succeed, maybe she will try to go to a third country before she goes back, with the help of a Dutch organization that deals with illegal immigrants
- her conditions for staying in Netherlands are: job, house, to live like normal people do...
- she agrees to wait for a couple of more years...

Amsterdam, 9/2001.


I.S.P. (27), Rijeka, Croatia

- economist
- she went to Amsterdam to study photography and search for a different lifestyle
- in 2000, she enrolled at the Fotoakademie in Amsterdam
- at the beginning of 2000, she attempted to obtain 'the documents' - residence permit (one year student visa)
- she missed the first academic year while she was waiting for the visa; after 6 months of waiting she received a negative response and no explanation
- she filed a complaint against this decision and added to her request a deposit of 15,000 DEM
- she waited for the response to her complaint for the same period of time, the decision was negative, and the reason are insufficient finances; private funding is not acceptable, and neither is Croatian scholarship, they demand a deposit of money in a bank, but a different (of course, larger) amount
- in the meantime, the new academic year has begun and the Academy requires that she must begin her study, or she will lose the option of studying;
- she decides to leave for Netherlands without a residence permit, and she leaves her apartment, her job..., in Croatia
- at the beginning of the year she moved to Amsterdam, she found housing with friends' help, in a village in the city's vicinity and began her study
- at the beginning of 2001, she applied for the visa again, with a new deposit of money in a bank
- she was denied again; reason: Academy is private and is not part of the Amsterdam university
- she engages a lawyer and registers another complaint
- now she's in Amsterdam and works illegally, mostly cleaning apartments; she earns about 800 DM per month
- she has a positive attitude towards this job (it's a job like any other), while she sees the downside of it in the metaphor of cleaning other people's living space
- however, she interprets this as a temporary necessity and the only option for the stay and study in Netherlands
- these have been one of the nicest 9 months in her life: a search for her own space and self-identification in a new life milieu
- at the beginning she was fascinated by possibility of choice: the ability to pick the kinds of new experiences she wants, the possibility for learning, the availability of professional literature... and she thinks that everything is available there, and one only has to decide in which direction one wants to develop; now she thinks that choice is limited, depending upon your starting position, i.e. how much money and time you have at your disposal, and one thing depends on the other
- with respect to all possibilities, she feels they aren't so readily available when one has to study and clean; it all boils down to money, and money offers possibilities
- in her starting position, she must put a lot of effort in maintaining this starting position, and she just can't reach those new possibilities...

Amsterdam, 9/2001.

[Momentarily, she's taking a one year break from the Academy, and she's staying in Croatia, uncertain if she'll be able to return to Netherlands]

Tanja Dabo
Artist based in Rijeka, Croatia

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