Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“The Dutch are very direct, so the conversations are meaningful”
Araya spent his teenage years and most of his childhood in Zimbabwe. He sees this as his native country. “My mother is Dutch and my father’s from Ethiopia. We moved to Malawi when I was six months old and able to fly, and then to Zimbabwe when I was six. I loved living there, it’s a great place to grow up: you have so much freedom and so few rules. We played outside most of the time; the country is a few years behind when it comes to technology and the internet.” According to Araya, the people of Zimbabwe are kind and friendly. “People greet each other and if you go somewhere by bus, nine times out of ten you’ll end up chatting to someone on the journey. You learn a lot about the country and its people.” These conversations aren’t about the weather, like here, because the weather is always good. They’re about whatever happens to be going on that day: football, the state of the economy. There’s a lot of poverty in Zimbabwe. “Between 2004 and 2008, the country was in a sorry state. The shops ran out of stock, the shelves were completely empty.” Araya explains that the entire infrastructure ground to a halt in 2004, and that there was no communal water supply where he lived. “The pipes are too old and too expensive to repair. The government can’t afford it. I lived in a town and my father worked for the United Nations so we lived in relative comfort. People with a local source of income had a tough time.”
Araya had to get used to people spending so much time in the shower in the Netherlands, leaving the tap running while brushing their teeth and using a dishwasher. “It’s hard for the Dutch to understand that some people just don’t have clean running water and that the only thing they can feed their family on is onions and tomatoes.” Growing up in Zimbabwe may have influenced Araya’s decision to study geoscience and become an environmental consultant. “People have time for the environment in the Netherlands, they’re trying to do something about it. This really isn’t a priority in Zimbabwe.” Araya didn’t find it difficult to integrate into Dutch society. “The Dutch are very direct, so the conversations are meaningful and it’s easy to share your opinions. There’s not much I haven’t had a conversation about at some time or other!” Araya enjoys living in Utrecht. “It’s a fantastic city. The only downside is the winter”, he laughs. He loves all the lights, Sinterklaas and the fact that you can bike everywhere. “Utrecht city centre is the best. There’s so much going on, you can do practically anything you want.” The one thing he misses about Zimbabwe is being in de middle of nowhere. “It’s scary – if your car breaks down, you’re really stuck – but it’s exciting too.”
The pace of life in Zimbabwe is relaxed and slow, says Araya. It’s difficult to get anything off the ground. “If you make an appointment, it’s 50-50 whether it will actually take go ahead. My brother had to wait two years for a driving licence, for example. That laissez faire attitude is in me too. Luckily, the people I go around with know that I’m hardly ever on time.”
Name: Araya Negash
Place of birth: Maarssen
Date of birth: 30 August 1991
Motto: ‘Being considerate towards others is the solution to many problems’
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.