I don’t know exactly why I left London. Maybe it was because of the Tories, the shitty housing market, or boredom. Actually, London didn’t bore me, it’s just a lot. A lot of noise, a lot of buildings, and people, and traffic. I’ve only lived in London but I wouldn’t dub it my hometown because I never considered it to be, even as a kid. I always dreamed of being near water, on a beach, on my own island, in the tropics – somewhere else. I’ve ended up in the Netherlands, which is certainly not the tropics, but living in Amsterdam, I am never too far from greenery and water.
Recalling the moment I stood in my mum’s kitchen, eyes swollen from crying uncontrollably, trying to express my disappointment with the progress of my life. I used to be passionate and enchanted with the possibilities of my journey. I knew what I wanted – to make music, inspire others to express themselves, and to muse over humanity, love and art. But I no longer cared about those things, and I couldn’t remember when I last did.
My friends, family and colleagues were amazing, and that added to my unnecessary guilt – how could I be so sad when I had such great people around me?
Here are the other things I felt shitty about:
- Having to work two part-time jobs because neither would provide a full-time contract, and being extremely bored. Every. Single. Day.
- Applying for numerous full-time jobs that I was either qualified or over-qualified for, and being turned down regularly.
- Not being able to move out of my mum’s house because there was no way I could afford to do so considering the above points.
- Spending the last year and a half in an on-again, off-again emotionally committed, yet verbally undeclared relationship with a guy I had only kissed 3 times.
My friends, family and colleagues were amazing, and that added to my unnecessary guilt – how could I be so sad when I had such great people around me? Well, I did, and I don’t think any of them knew just how terrible I felt most of the time.
My mum was quite frank about the whole thing, shooting advice and opinions at me. I appreciated her efforts but could not agree with her words. My sadness wouldn’t go away if I focused on becoming a registrar – a profession that she swore was easy to get into, paid well, and would highlight my “lovely handwriting”, as she would say. I can’t remember how long this dynamic went on for, but I know that she paced herself, didn’t take my rebukes personally, and was basically doing all the critical thinking, as I sobbed, hunched by the sink. Then she said bluntly, “Then just go. Leave for a while. You can always come back. Because you’ll make yourself sick being here.” I stopped crying for a second, subtlety agreeing with her. She mentioned Canada, as we have family there. She’d contact my cousin and see if I could stay with them for a while. The tears stopped. I hadn’t completely decided in that moment. But my mind was less foggy because it was a viable option, and she was right – I would get sick. I’d already been through depression twice (even though I’d never discussed this with her), and I had no intention of venturing back to the doldrums.
As I walked to my room, I thought of how long it would take for my mum to get in contact with our Canadian relatives. Bless her, she isn’t the most urgent person. So I thought of my brother and how many international friends he had. I sent him a text, telling him to contact anyone outside of the U.K to ask if they had a room and/or job going. He agreed. About two days later he got a response from his friend from The Netherlands. (My brother had connected us before. A few years ago when I visited Amsterdam with my best friend and wanted to find out about the local clubs.) We arranged a time to speak and she kindly gave me some tips about how to find a room. I found it odd that Facebook was the go-to platform.
I liked Amsterdam from what I could remember. It was just cool. The people seemed laid-back and I loved the canals. It was only a short flight away and everyone spoke English. So it seemed as if it could be a good choice.
The following days were spent figuring out the logistics. Yes, I wanted to run away, but I still had to be practical. I didn’t know what legal processes I’d have to go through, and I was surprised at what I found. It was fucking easy to move. I think I sorted everything out in a day – I told my local council, opened a bank account that worked with Euros as well as pounds, told my mobile phone network, and everything else could be done once I landed – finding a room and applying for a BSN number (a citizen service number). I had a bit saved, so I didn’t worry too much about getting a job. I would do anything for money (apart from what ‘Dam is known for, of course).
I casually browsed sites, thinking that it would be cool to have something secured before I moved, yet understanding that it might be a bit tricky. I looked into volunteering, and better yet, hotels and hostels that offered free accommodation in exchange for a few hours work. That became my back up plan. I found three – two I’d have to apply for in advance and another that only accepted in-person interviews. I applied for the ones I could, made a note of the other one and then searched for global companies that had Amsterdam offices. I found two that had suitable openings, and applied for them as well. I tried not to worry about receiving responses, as I had a few options. I was going to leave, regardless.
I was desperate, graciously handed an option, and ran with it.
A few days after handing in my notice, I was offered a job at one of the global companies. They wanted me to start on 1st May. Of course I accepted, and booked a flight for 18th April to give myself a few days to find a room. I knew I’d have to search obsessively to secure a room in time for my first day at the new job. But I had faith that something would turn up. If not… Well, I’d go back to London.
As planned, I arrived on the morning of the 18th and spent the first four nights in a hostel. In a bid to retain funds I moved onto a hostel that offered free accommodation (AND food) in exchange for a few hours of work a day. I spent ten days there, exercising my upper body strength (making 30+ bunk beds is serious work!). I met a few interesting people – volunteers and travellers – experienced King’s Day, spent my nights roaming the city centre, and partook of some puff. It wasn’t until day seven that Lady Luck pulled through and I secured a room that was a 15 minute ride from the office.
So I’ve been here for seven months and I’m still surprised that I actually live here. Not because I’m in love with it, or I think it’s the best city in the world, but because it all worked out, quite seamlessly. I was desperate, graciously handed an option, and ran with it. I had brief moments of despair, but I kept thinking that staying where I was, trudging through my everyday life and work was scary and uninspiring. If I were to accept that, then I might as well kill myself. But I didn’t want death, I wanted to experience what I knew to be out there, and available to me. I’d considered myself to be a brave person, and moving to a place where I had no family or friends seemed as if it could be isolating. But through my desperation I saw it as empowering. My loved ones don’t have to live down the road from me to enrich my life or offer me comfort. There is Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp etc., so I can contact them instantly. Easyjet offer cheap flights. A few people have visited, and given me an excuse to act like a tourist/tour guide/translator (my Dutch is so-so).
Again, I’m not besotted with the city, but here are a few things that I’m grateful for:
- The lakes/canals.
- The rabbits I pass on my bike ride to work.
- My adorable and clean housemates.
- My local “Turkish” shop that sells plantain, spices and the biggest papayas I’ve ever seen. (Basically everything that reminds me of my West Indian heritage and then some.)
- The amazing “cult” I work for. (I never thought that I could enjoy working for such as big organisation. Their ethics, incentives, learning and progression initiatives are outstanding. I keep thinking that it’s all a big-fat-Truman-Show-lie!)
- 30 minute lunch breaks. (At first I likened it to a form of punishment, but now that I don’t have time to take naps, I am super efficient.)
Since the move, I’d say that the biggest difference I feel is a greater sense of calm. Partly because my commute is short and I do it by bike. I’ve also stopped watching the news. Although I get the BBC here, I’ve probably only watched it once to hear a familiar accent.
At times I miss London’s vibrancy and cultural scene, but its not vital to me now. Amsterdam has its quirks and I’m sure that the longer I stay here, the more I’ll discover. I’m yet to see the rest of The Netherlands, and I plan to start doing so, as well as neighbouring European countries. What’s that saying about the world and oysters? It’s annoying, but kind of true. It’s so damn big! I don’t care to see all of it. But I choose to remind myself to seek enchantment and pause long enough to experience it. Although I have been thinking of the next move, I have tried to be mindful in my pursuit. No one place will give me everything I need and at different stages in my life, certain places will resonate with me more than others. Up until age 28 London was the right place for me. But right now, Amsterdam is fine, and that’s all it needs to be.