When I first moved to Amsterdam, I resisted the vibe, resisted the energy, questioned the culture. I had this love-hate relationship with the city because I had lived in Rotterdam before, where there’s a lot of big open space to be whatever you want. But Amsterdam, it gives you a tone, a color, it forces you to do something, to be something, it pulls something out of you. That’s what I love and hate about this city. Amsterdam brings the best and worst out of me, and I like it. It’s a push.
I was born in Kermanshah, Iran, but I come from the many people who surrounded me throughout my life. My dad was a chef and owned restaurants. My mom was a housewife like most women in Iran at that time. After their divorce, my dad went bankrupt and my mom trained as a hairstylist and opened her own salon. I am very proud of my mother for learning how to take care of herself and my sister in that difficult situation.
I spent the first 22 years of my life in Iran. If I were to describe those years from my mom’s point of view, I would say I was the child she never expected. I was a troublemaker, I played with the rules, loved the danger of it, and I always did my best not to get caught. As a teenager, I was a dreamer, I wanted to live outside the rules because I knew my entire being, my whole entity as an open-minded individual was dangerous in those surroundings. Being gay in Iran was also a huge risk, but that didn’t stop me from becoming who I am. It made me stronger and it made my teenage years quite adventurous. I always made the best out of that situation.
Government is a huge force in Iran and it played a role in every moment of my life growing up. It made me doubt my identity and question who I am from a very early age. As many people say, you reach faith through doubt, and that’s how I came to understand who I am. I managed to explore my identity under very difficult circumstances and I learned to have faith in that.
I left Iran to study in Italy when I was 22. It was the first opportunity I had to get out of the country and I took it, I had to really. I moved to Italy for a big change, but weirdly enough my experience of Italian culture wasn’t all that different from culture in Iran. I was looking for an environment where I could be myself and become comfortable with who I am, and that didn’t happen in Italy. Acceptance came later, and it came in stages.
When I moved to the Netherlands, I was lucky enough to start my life amongst many great open-minded, nonconservative Dutch people. I was in Rotterdam volunteering at a hostel and everyone was comfortable with who I am, they didn’t have judgement in their eyes. I felt like they had seen everything, so the way I am was nothing new for them, it was normal. That was the first time I didn’t feel like an outsider. I felt comfortable and that’s when total acceptance came.
Nationality doesn’t mean much to me. I’m a man of my own and I believe in connecting with the goodness in people around me. Iran didn’t shape me into the person I am today as much as it taught me how to identify red flags. I don’t think nationality should define who we are. I lived without papers in the Netherlands for almost three years before seeking asylum and those three years were the best years of my life! (laughingoutloud)
After a long journey, I’ve just received my refugee status here in the Netherlands. It’s been a difficult path and I’m now at the beginning of this relationship with me and authorities. I was very idealistic in the beginning because I used to live in a harsh dictatorship. I had such high hopes that things would be better, and of course they are, but I’ve become slightly disillusioned through the process of seeking asylum. That’s part of any relationship though, you get disappointed but you still have hope. This time I’m looking forward to having a good relationship with government even though we speak different languages [laughs] (I speak more round than square if you know what I mean). I’m sure we can be friends, but not best friends.
Nowadays, I dream of creating a space here in Amsterdam. Maybe it’s a hostel, maybe it’s a cafe with a living room, maybe it’s a residency where refugees can volunteer, I don’t know. I just want to create an environment where people can share love, share spirit, share positivity and share resources. I want to make a place where people feel comfortable with what they’re about and can share moments with one another. I’ve relied on so many wonderful people during my time in the Netherlands that one of my future goals is to become that person others can rely on.
When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be free. I knew the world was much bigger than Iran and I wanted to see it. I wanted to get in a van and travel around, express my feelings, be who I am in a way that wasn’t possible growing up. Right now, I know what I stand for and I’ve fought very hard to reach where I am. Amsterdam is a place to explore being free, a place to find out who you are, a city to develop yourself and share your energy with others.
If you really want to feel the vibe of Amsterdam, you have to surrender to it, experience it from dusk till dawn, let your dreams take form, and be careful what you wish for because you’re going to love it!
#EoA with Amin Mamaliany
Photo and Interview by Marilyn Volkman