Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

– article by Fenna Riethof

The people living in and around Twijnstraat are just great

(c) Robert Oosterbroek

The grey parrot Tuti fondly nibbles Ali’s nose. Ali gives him a kiss on the beak. The bird lives in Het Twijntje shoemaker’s in Twijnstraat, where his owner is also the owner. “The bond with a parrot gets stronger every year”, explains Ali, “and they’ve been known to live to eighty. Much better than a cat. He’s escaped three times, but he’s very conspicuous so I always find him quite quickly.” The shoemaker bought the bird three years ago. “Before I had Mahdi”, he nods to his colleague.

In early 2013, Ali took over Het Twijntje from a friend. He employed Mahdi three years later when the business started to take off. As a tailor, Ali won several prizes for his work. He’s now pleased that he doesn’t have to do the clothing repairs himself anymore. “I prefer making shoes”, he says. “Shoes are important to people. I often get customers who want their shoes repaired simply because they’re so attached to them. They’re over the moon when they get a couple more years wear out of them. Good shoes make you feel good.” He grins cautiously at Mahdi, who is sewing a button onto a coat, but listening in. He shakes his head pityingly. “It’s the same for clothes, Ali.”

Ali’s father also repairs clothes for a job. “In Afghanistan, he made tailor-made clothing, but he can’t compete with the big chains here. He’s had his own business on Van Bijnkershoeklaan near Transwijk for several years. My mother welcomes the customers because her Dutch is better.” Ali says that his father really tried to get to grips with Dutch, but without success. “He wants to, but it’s beyond him. It’s often the way with older people. You can’t just tell them to ‘try harder’.”

Heaven on Earth

The Sarvari family arrived in the Netherlands in 1993, when Ali was seven. Afghanistan was a dangerous country and they’d heard that they were to be denied Iranian nationality in Iran, where they were living at the time. An aid organisation invited hundreds of families to board a plane and on arrival in the Netherlands, they were given a warm welcome. They were allocated temporary housing in a house in Arnhem belonging to Queen Juliana, Ali remembers. The children were given blankets and toys, and within no time, the Sarvaris were allocated their own home in Kanaleneiland. Not remotely like the way it is now, comments Ali.

He says he feels ‘totally Dutch’ (which is logical if you start integrating at the tender age of seven), but has sometimes experienced prejudice. “I needed a place for an internship when I was training for the retail trade. That was really, really difficult. I had a good CV, but never got invited to interviews.” He was eventually accepted at Aktiesport on Vredenburg, where he went on to work for three years as a stand-in worker until he graduated and was offered the position of manager. But Ali had known that he wanted to make shoes since he was sixteen, and so he spent the years that followed working in a shoemaker’s in Hoog Catharijne.

Name: Ali Savari
Place of birth: Afghanistan
Date of birth: 15 January 1986
Motto: ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

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