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

I think I’ve seen everyone who lives in Utrecht walking past thanks to my job in the ‘chip strip’

(c) Bas van Setten

“When I think about Congo, I remember all the friends I used to walk the two kilometres to and from school with every day. We messed around along the way, so it took us about and an hour-and-a-half”, laughs Theresia. The walks were the highlight of her schooldays. But they came to an abrupt end when Theresia’s mother would no longer allow her to walk to school: it was too dangerous. Soon after, the school was completely destroyed. It was war. Theresia tries not to think about this period.”

Theresia was eight when a tent was erected by ‘white people’ in her neighbourhood. There were long queues every day; everyone wanted to register. She later realised that it had been a UN peace mission. Theresia’s mother registered herself and her daughter. “We’re going on a long journey, but we can’t take much with us”, she told Theresia. Theresia decided to take a small musical box, which she still has in her home in Overvecht. It doesn’t look like much anymore, but it still plays a tune.

Own home
Theresia and her mother left their town Kivu in a UN helicopter and landed at the main Dutch reception centre for refugees in Ter Apel. Theresia was amazed to see all these different ‘types’ of people together. You occasionally saw a foreigner on the street in Congo, but you knew exactly who it was and who they were staying with. This was just a maze of people. They moved from Ter Apel to asylum seekers’ centres in Nijverdal, Culemborg and Leersum.

Theresia hated all the moving around. “I still don’t understand why we couldn’t just stay in one place after Ter Apel.” After five years of waiting and moving around, a residence permit was more than welcome. It meant that Theresia and her mother could move into their own home. They were allocated a house in Overvecht-North. “This district doesn’t have a very good reputation, but I think it’s peaceful and relaxed.” Theresia likes to eat at Millie’s Corner, a Surinamese restaurant in De Klop shopping centre. The Gagelsteede children’s farm is another of her favourite spots. She takes a group of children as part of her placement at Handje Helpen.

Theresia worked in the Broodexpress in the ‘chip strip’ in the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall for seven years. “In that time, I think I saw everyone who lives in Utrecht walking past at one time or another from my position behind the counter.” The demolition of the strip meant an end to her job. She’s currently working on a thesis for her degree in pedagogical sciences, and is planning to get married in September. She met her fiancé five years ago at the Liberation Day festival in Park Transwijk. The park is now their special place, and they often eat at the Asian restaurant Zinnia. Theresia will move in with her husband after the wedding at Montfoort Castle. “I’m really close to my mum; I’ve lived with her for my entire life, often sharing a room. So that will take some getting used to. I’ll still be in Utrecht, fairly nearby. After all, my mother is my only family here.”

Name: Theresia Kambale
Place: Kinshasa
Date of birth: 4 March 1994
Country: Congo
Motto: ‘Anything’s possible if you think outside the box’

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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