Nevin is from Dundee. He recently moved to Amsterdam. He’s visited the city regularly in the past twenty-five years, but this time he’s staying for good.
Why now? He doesn’t really know. But he does tell me he left school at sixteen and did some travelling before ending up at a comics house, where he published his first story at the age of eighteen. No, he wasn’t the artist, he wrote the storyline.
“The best days of my life,” he says.
That doesn’t sound very positive coming from a man in his sixties.
He likes to sit beside the water in the late afternoon. We sit together in silence.
Two lads with rods walk by. Nevin asks them what they’re after.
“Ahh, perch-pike. Delicious.” He grew up alongside the water. “Do the people here appreciate this place?” he wonders.
The sun sets behind Central Station. There’s a chill in the air.
“Sorry to ask,” he says, “but could you spare some small change?”
All in all, a gentle soul, Nevin. He leaves me wondering about the rest of his story.
It’s the end of the afternoon. The skies have cleared. A pale sun shines over the Amstel.
Here comes the Dude. He’s out for a walk. No, the Dude doesn’t walk, he saunters.
Where’s he headed? The Dude isn’t headed anywhere, he’s always where he’s at. And he’s always carrying his plastic bag. Sometimes there’s a DVD inside, sometimes there’s food, which he prepares for those that love him.
What’s on the Dude’s mind? He’s counting the number of benches he sat on today. Or whether it was yesterday or today that he last ate watermelon. And wondering when the next great American boxing champion will step into the ring.
How are you, Dude? “Splendid, man. Always splendid.”
“Good afternoon, sir!” he says. “I always greet everyone. Solidarity is important. Even if I have to keep greeting someone for three years before I get a reply. Solidarity leads to safety. And this is a safe country.
I’m from Somalia, but I live under the Oranges now, under the queen. I feel like a Dutch citizen. I have four children, all born here. The eldest is a gift from Sinterklaas. She was born on 5 December.
No, I’m visiting a friend here. I live out in the province, in Aalten. I’m here for three days. Things are very quiet in Aalten.
Look, a tram!
We don’t have those in Aalten.
Look, a bus!
We don’t have those in Aalten either.
Look at all these different people!
None of those in Aalten.
That’s why we’re sitting here, watching the parade, as we call it.
Look, I have special shoes. I had polio as a child. My foot was completely deformed. I had two heavy operations in Alkmaar. Now I can walk without crutches. All I had in Somalia was two tree trunks to lean on!
Why would I ever go back to Somalia? Things are great here in Holland. And they even have Heineken.”
“It’s an Akita Inu, a Japanese fighting dog. The samurai used them to hunt bears. He’s like three pitbulls rolled into one. He’s a male, right, so if any other male comes near him, wham, he takes him down. A while back, this guy came cycling past with his dog off the leash. So I say: Put a leash on him.
And he says: My dog doesn’t bite.
Yeah, I say, but mine does. And it will rip yours to shreds.
You should put a muzzle on him, he says.
So I say: You’re to lazy to walk your dog. Look at you, cycling.
And he says: What you see is what you get – you really are antisocial.
Just because I’ve got some tattoos. I work in a tattoo shop, right. Look at this skull on top of my head. It’s made up of details from paintings by Dali. Look, here’s the melting clock. I’m not a barbarian. Do you know what barbarian’s do? They chain their bikes to statues.”
“I really need the sun. I may look fit, but my body’s rotting away. Lyme’s. Caught it right here in the Vondelpark. It’s like HIV. My immune system’s totally buggered. I had pneumonia for two months. Look, I can’t even stand up straight. I used to be an instructor: Capoeira, Pencak Silat, yoga too. Now I can’t even get out of bed some days, so I do breathing exercises lying down. That’s why I still look so fit. I’m a fighter – that’s my main advantage. My childhood was crap, but you learn to survive. I beat cancer, but this…
I’m into mental coaching, these days. People need to start thinking about themselves: What am I doing right? What’s holding me back. A while back, there was this guy, an artist, who just kept screwing around, wasn’t making any progress. So I said: three sessions and you’ll know all about yourself. I let him talk and he had to write it down. I just sat and watched. The year after that, he sold a hundred-thousand’s worth of paintings. So he took me out to dinner.
Do you do any sports? Boxing? I thought so. Where? Bep Kneppers in the Jordaan? Classic style. Wait, watch this. You guys punch like this. I do this. Open hand. That way you can go straight for the eyes. Pencak style, yeah? Turn off your line, like this, now I’m next to you and you can’t hit me. I give you the elbow. That’s not allowed in boxing. Out in the street, I’d add a kick to the knee for good measure. And if that doesn’t teach them, I give them a stroke to the nose and then a slap to the ear. I can’t run away, see? So I have to be effective.
Boxing is brilliant. I love the English style: shoulders back a bit, front hand low, so your opponent can’t see what you’re up to down there. Shit, man, I’m in the mood to do some sparring with you. Maybe next year when I’m better.”
“People need to be taught the love of music. And the love of god.
I have Javan roots. I grew up godless.
I spent five years in a South American jail. That’s where I met god.
The fact that I got out of there alive proves that he exists.
My brother took piano lessons. I chose judo. We were allowed one thing each. This was back in the ‘50s. Meat on the table twice week. I taught myself how to play piano.
I’ve been locked up five times. Eight years total. All drug-related.
The first time, in Spain, I was twenty. Franco was still in power.
Then Morocco in ’79. I’d bought a bit of hash for myself and my girlfriend. The judge wanted to give me a suspended sentence: 3 months and 16,000 dirhams.
Then he asked my girlfriend if she had anything to say. And she started ranting that everyone’s corrupt and that all the cops are smoking it too. Goodbye suspended sentence; hello jail.
This is my favourite piece: Bach.
He wrote it for his daughter.
It’s actually too cold to play. It’s out of tune.
I’ll be heading off to South America again soon.
Of course, yes. I know what to do now. I won’t get caught.
When I get back, I’ll have some money. I’ll call you. Maybe we can set something up. Something good.”
Hij: ‘Most of us come from Ghana, I come from Brazil, and this man comes from Zimbabwe. Or is it Mozambique? We train every Sunday here between the flats. The field is a bit small, but that’s how we learn to play quick. Before we trained in Bijlmerpark, but we had to move when they start renovating. No, we do not play a regular competition. We organize matches with our brothers in Rotterdam or Antwerp. Some of the players also play in a regular team. Some are retired internationals from the Ghanees national team. That man was the first Ghanees player for Ajax.
Last week we won Kwakoe; this year it was only a small tournament, unofficially. Wait, de Gemeente will get the cup at home. We call him de Gemeente because he cleans the area when we leave, he is a good man. Do you want a beer, something to eat? Every week the players bring what they have: a bottle of liquor or some food. We share it.
The name of our club: F.C. Manya Superstar International. Manya means “happiness or drunk”, it is Ibu language from Nigeria. Now, let’s sing our anthem: “Manya… Manya-hé, Manya… Manya-hé, hoooooo Manya!’
– Do you mind if I take your picture?
– Rather not.
– Why not? You look great.
– I don’t think I look great at all.
– But those pants are great.
– I think I’m ugly.
– My family always said I was ugly. Everyone said I was ugly.
– This is not the first time I’ve noticed you. And it’s because you look great.
– Just look at how people are dressed. Men should pay more attention to their grooming.
– It’s fun to look good.
– I want to look neat and tidy. Grooming is important.
– So, do you mind if I take your picture?
– Alright then. But make it quick.