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 Annabel van Heesbeen

My life was in jeopardy in Sierra Leone

Foto: Robert Oosterbroek

“I moved to Leidsche Rijn in 2004. We had a lovely house, but I hated the area. There were hardly any foreigners I could identify with; I was one of very few ‘coloured people’. The locals saw me as an exotic specimen and I felt uncomfortable. Until the birth of our first daughter, when we suddenly became part of a different world. Thanks to her, we were welcomed into houses we would never have thought possible.” Babah now lives on Spinozaplantsoen in Nieuw Engeland and feels completely at home. “There’s a great mix of people here; I blend in. Home to me is a place where I can disappear and be part of a community.”

Babah fled Sierra Leone in 1995. Three years earlier, the president had lost power during a military coup. The new dictator was 27 years old and some of Babah’s school friends were made ministers. “It was bizarre.” Babah started writing letters about the injustices in his country to the BBC World Service Africa. They were read out on the radio every week. Although he wrote anonymously, people who knew Babah knew that he was behind them. His life was in jeopardy. He found a human trafficker to help him leave the country. Due to the ongoing war, the only two airline companies flying to Sierra Leone were a Belgian airline and the Dutch KLM; he chose the plane to the Netherlands because the ticket was a hundred dollars cheaper. Babah stayed in various asylum seekers’ centres during the seven years that followed.

The only things Babah knew about the Netherlands were Ajax and milk (‘Made in Holland‘ was printed on the milk cartons in Sierra Leone). Waiting for a residence permit in the asylum seekers’ centre was a long and tedious task. The Elfstedentocht in 1996 was one of the highlights. Babah was in Drachten at the time and remembers watching and celebrating with friends. “I thoughts the skaters were a weird bunch – why on earth would you go skiing with blades under your shoes?” But he met his first Dutch girlfriend during the event. Once he´d been granted a residence permit, Babah was allowed to study and went to Groningen.

Babah studied television journalism and made several programmes about cultural diversity. He then started writing about the subject and became a regular columnist for OneWorld Magazine. In 2010, he published his first book (The God with blue eyes) and is currently working on his third. It’s about his struggle to live between two cultures. “I challenge all the labels that’ve been stuck on me during my life. How do I respond to the way other people see me?”
Babah enjoys writing in the hustle and bustle of Het Gegeven Paard. He feels comfortable in Utrecht. ‘If people ask where I come from, I say ‘Utrecht’ rather than ‘the Netherlands’, because this is where I feel at home.”

Name: Babah Tarawally
Place of birth: Jailahun, Sierra Leone
Motto: ‘Keep on dreaming’

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.

Click here to view the other articles.