One foot here, one foot there

Darina came to the Netherlands eight years ago from Bulgaria. She is a single mom who runs two successful businesses and takes care of her daughter with a serious chronic condition. She has such a busy schedule that even her doctor is surprised a person can survive it. But Darina never complains, she is always cheerful and full of energy. And she is very proud of her daughter who is doing great at school and is planning to become a scientist.

Darina:

Sometimes, I feel ashamed to tell that I am Bulgarian, because people associate Bulgaria with corruption and crime. When I am here, I always want to go ‘home’ to Bulgaria. But after a couple of weeks in Bulgaria, I want to go ‘home’ to Holland. I am standing with one foot here and one foot there. But now I feel more at home here.

What I miss here is social life. Not only individual contacts, but the entire fabric of social life. For many years, I have not got any friends here. In Bulgaria, all my friends were either from school or from work. How can I get a Dutch friend? I have different experience, different problems, different interests. 

And now, when I go back to Bulgaria for holidays, I feel the distance between me and my best friends. When I am walking in the center of my home town, I don’t feel at home anymore. A lot of people I used to know left the city, I don’t recognise anybody anymore, and nobody remembers me. 

What I like about the Dutch is that they are direct. If you ask them for help and they can’t help you, they will say so. Bulgarians are not so direct. If you ask them for help, they will say: ‘Maybe tomorrow, I am not sure…’ They would never tell you directly that they can’t help you. But here ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no’, it’s very clear. I like it.

People here live under a lot of pressure, but you can’t see it in their communication. They always stay calm and polite. In Bulgaria people often show their anger and become aggressive. They can raise their voice, even the office managers at the municipality. They seem arrogant and unfriendly towards the visitors, even though their salary comes from our taxes. And here, even people on the street who don’t know you can smile and say: ‘Hello’. I find it absolutely wonderful! I am also a friendly person, I smile at other people. But in my own country I never get a smile in response. Here, you can just chat with a stranger about the weather, and it feels good.

Ambitions to become a scientist

I am surprised that my daughter strongly identifies herself with Bulgaria. She absolutely and categorically wants to stay Bulgarian. She can speak, read and write not only in Bulgarian, but also in Dutch, English and French. And the next year she will start learning German. In the beginning of our life here, I was so afraid that it would be too difficult for my daughter. But she is doing great! I am so proud of her!

Because of her excellent grades, we could choose the best school in the area. And she is planning to go to the University. In the beginning of the school year, all the kids were talking to their mentor about their goals. What do they want to do in the future, what do they expect to achieve? My daughter said: ‘I want to go to the University. I don’t know exactly yet what I am going to study, but I have ambitions to become a scientist.’ She was the only one in her class with such ambitions.

‘It is crazy, I admit it!’

I am a realist. People are waiting for a perfect job opportunity. And I understand that I can’t have the same job here as in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria, I was working for the Department of Justice, and here I began by working in cleaning service, and now I work in transport and logistics. I am jumping at every opportunity. I am not waiting for a perfect match. If I don’t know how to do a certain job, I learn. But I am not saying: ‘No, I am not an expert’.

I am taking care of my daughter alone, and, of course, it’s not easy. She needs constant attention. I can’t just go out with my friends in the evening, because I can’t leave my daughter alone. For now, everything works, but it takes me so much effort to organise everything: her school, her medical treatment, all the documents… I am now working 50 hours a week, but it might not be possible in the future when her health deteriorates further. Therefore, I am now looking into the possibility to become a professional caretaker. That will allow me to take care of my daughter and to get paid for it.

Because of my busy life I have developed a borderline depression, so I need to take it a bit easy now. The doctor even told me: ‘I did not know that it is actually possible to survive that sort of schedule for five years!’ It is crazy, I admit it. So now, on top of everything else, we’ve got a little puppy. It gives us a lot of joy, but it also requires extra care and attention.

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