Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“No one has ever been married in the Wood Chapel in Máxima Park“
It’s Thursday, June 22nd. While her friends and family dash back and forth for Andrea’s wedding tomorrow, Andrea herself is perched, cross-legged, on a garden chair with a latte macchiato. Every now and then, the phone rings. First her brother updates her whether he and his children will be able to catch their flight from Romania; Andrea’s niece will be finishing her final exam ninety minutes before departure. A friend calls as well. “How the blond boy is doing?” Andrea asks, casting a look at the house. “He’s unloading the dishwasher. That means he’s nervous.”
The blond boy is Jan Willem. He will be saying ‘I do’ to Andrea in Máxima Park tomorrow, under the Wood Chapel’s gable roof, designed by artist William Speakman, who drew inspiration from wood storage places. Andrea shows a video clip shot earlier this week of a group of people sweeping the floor and mowing the grass around the chapel to create space for tables and chairs. They’re volunteers, because most people living in Leidsche Rijn are kind folk.
It’s the first time the fairy-tale Wood Chapel will be used as a wedding venue. It took months for the couple to obtain a permit, and this wedding is considered a pilot: if everything goes to plan, more weddings could be held there. Andrea isn’t nervous: her dress is wheelchair-proof and everything is tightly scheduled: “We’ve timed how long it takes to push me in my chair from Castellum to the chapel: exactly twenty minutes.”
Andrea first saw her blond boy in 2005. Both were part of a larger group who took on a European human rights project. She felt something special when she spotted him. “The rest is history.”
Around the same time, symptoms of what later turned out to be an autoimmune disease emerged: epileptic seizures, later accompanied by diabetes and finally cramping and stiffening of her muscles while walking. No doctor could tell her what was wrong with her, until a friend showed her an article in 2015: ‘Ani, you have this’. Andrea took the article to the hospital. “I insisted they draw blood, and two weeks later I received an email asking whether I could come in. They had found the antibodies after all.” Only eighteen people in the Netherlands have been diagnosed with ‘Stiff Person Syndrome’, and only one neurologist is knowledgeable on the subject. Treatment is a long way away. “My brain gives faulty signals. If I can hold onto something, I can walk, but it does hurt.”
Once, Andrea worked as a broadcaster for the Hungarian television network in Romania, and later for the Hungarian fraction in Romania, including at the European Parliament. When she moved to Utrecht for the love of her life in 2007, her career suffered a setback. She currently works as a freelance human rights expert and is involved with projects that strive for an ‘inclusive society’, one in which less able-bodied people can fully participate. “You can’t just remove physical thresholds. I also help organisations discover how they can be more accessible in other ways. I’m currently working with the Miffy museum.”
The jobs Andrea ended up with in the early years weren’t her favourites. Life in the Netherlands was occasionally difficult, but Andrea persevered. She crushed the language barrier by studying Dutch in the library for six to seven hours a day. Her illness turned out to be progressive, but Andrea has gathered aids to help her stay mobile: wheelchairs for different situations, a tricycle to get around town and a lightweight walker she can take with her. And Andrea always keeps this in mind: her life is full of love. From the blond boy.
Name: Andrea Naphegyi
Nationality: Hungarian and Romanian
Date of birth: 1 July 1977
Motto: “Don’t say sorry, do something about it!”
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.