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

Hummus comes in more flavours here than in Lebanon

(c) Robert Oosterbroek


“Every year, I run the marathon in Beirut and in Utrecht: two places where I feel at home in this world”, Nesrine says. She ran her fastest time yet in Utrecht four years ago. She loves the section that goes under the Dom Church, although the cobblestones make running more difficult. The marathon in Beirut starts at 7 o’clock in the morning every year, before it gets really hot. Two courses with different challenges. Nesrine explains that Lebanon, where she was born, is a country with fewer rules than the Netherlands. The strongest always wins, even when it’s only a question of crossing a junction. It’s possible that this mentality helps Nesrine when she is running a marathon.

It is never peaceful in Lebanon, according to Nesrine, but that is something that has become ‘normal’ for its inhabitants. “I used not even to look up if I heard a bomb exploding in the distance. It actually isn’t a surprise for me nowadays either; I go there twice a year and I don’t scare easily.” Whether it is safe to travel or not: it doesn’t stop Nesrine. She feels at home there. “And my parents still live there, so I continue to go.”

Running and cycling
When Nesrine was 18, she and her sister left for America. Nesrine went to study; her sister to train further as a professional skier. Nesrine’s sister has represented Lebanon in the Winter Olympics three times. Nesrine studied computer science. On a flight from Lebanon to America, with a stop-over in Amsterdam, Nesrine met her Dutch husband. They were sitting next to each other on the flight and started chatting. Nesrine knew nothing about the Netherlands, but had heard stories about ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘drugs’. The first thing she asked him was whether he was also on drugs.

The following summer, they saw a lot of each other in Lebanon. Nesrine had temporarily moved back in with her parents; he was often in Lebanon for work. They got engaged after that summer. The wedding in Lebanon was a huge party: about 30 guests flew over from the Netherlands. After it was over, Nesrine flew to the Netherlands. She had hardly spent any time there: only at Schiphol during a stop-over. Nesrine found her first year in the Netherlands pretty hard: shops closed early, arranging to see people wasn’t spontaneous but required diaries and her neighbours were more withdrawn than she was accustomed to. “In Lebanon, you don’t have any privacy; you just leave your key in the door.”

Now, after 10 years, Nesrine feels quite settled. She trains with Hellas on the athletics track in Overvecht every week. “I like running more than is good for me”, she says. “I wanted to run the Sneek marathon this summer, but my coach felt that would be too much because I also want to run the Berlin marathon next summer. She enjoys going to the Maxima Park with her two children and she thinks it’s fantastic to take them to school by bike. That would be impossible in Lebanon. Missing Lebanese food is a thing of the past too. She can find most things in Comptoir Libanais in Hoog Catharijne and the larger supermarkets even sell Lebanese bread. Hummus comes in many more flavours than in Lebanon, but she is now able to appreciate the Netherland’s diversity.”

Name: Nesrine Leene
Place of birth: Beirut, Lebanon
Date of birth: 9 June 1983
Motto: “Pain is temporary; memories last forever. Never give up!”

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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