If the lives of Achraf and Amir were football matches, they would already be 3-0 behind at birth. Because, as they say themselves: you simply have that when you come from that notorious Schilderswijk. “This neighborhood is sticking to you, man,” Achraf says. “And especially the negative reputation. But I can’t imagine that I ever want to live anywhere other than here.”
Always that pressure
Achraf Abba (‘like the band’) is 20 years old and comes from a Moroccan family. His cradle was in a small apartment on the third floor – one of those typical densely built social rental homes of which the Schilderswijk in The Hague knows a lot. He grew up there with an older brother with whom he shared a bunk bed, a sister, a younger brother ‘and a lot of love from his parents’.
But also: a lot of pressure. It was always there. Undiminished size. “We had to do our best at school, we had to stay friendly, get our diploma,” Achraf says, sliding his black cap over his head. He has long, black curls, they reach well over his shoulders.
“All children here feel that pressure. Because their parents want their children to do better than themselves. They are afraid that we will not make it if we do not try our best.”
His friend Amir Icar (23) is sitting next to him and nods. He comes from an ‘equally sweet family’, with two brothers, two sisters. His parents are from Somalia – his father taught Amir to be eager to learn, and the things he learned he had to teach others. That is why Amir studied social work, MBO level 4.
Does anyone need help?
The boys are both active at the Internship House Schilderswijk, a ‘house for the neighborhood’, as it describes itself. They participate in projects to make and keep the neighborhood liveable. For example, Amir set up a neighborhood prevention team – every Friday with a group of young people through the neighborhood: are things broken, can things be improved, does someone need help? Recently, around the turn of the year, oliebollen were distributed in the neighborhood.
Amir: “I do this because I find it fun and important. Not because I have to prove: I have foreign roots and live in the Schilderswijk, but I am a nice guy.”
Although they do have that stigma, they think. Achraf once wanted to apply for a job in Scheveningen, at a restaurant, he was about 17. “That woman called me after our conversation, they did not dare, because they had previously been robbed by an employee with a foreign background. I stayed calm, I said: ‘Then let me prove you wrong, ma’am’. ” So it happened.
The boys sit at a round table in the Internship House, a steaming cup of tea in front of them, next to their calls that light up every now and then – after all, life on Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp never stops. A playing field is visible from the windows, wedged between high blocks of houses. It is busy, children are playing, and now and then there is screaming and shouting.
Typically the Schilderswijk, the boys say. “Children who grow up here are always outside,” says Amir. “Because the houses here are so small. The TV was always on, there was always someone at home. It was busy.”
Not outside. His friends were there. Then Amir sat down on ‘his’ bench, near his favorite corner store, and everyone knew in no time that Amir was there. A little later, after this interview, Amir will also show his bench, with a straight back and appropriate pride he will walk there. A gray stone specimen, cold on your legs and buttocks in winter, and without a backrest, but it is: Amir’s place.
“That makes the Schilderswijk so familiar”, Amir tries to explain. “There are fixed places everywhere where you grew up. Together. You went there on your own, but you knew: within ten minutes friends will come here and it’s fun.”
There was always someone who said: “Get some seeds from the Turk here on the corner.”
Achraf laughs loudly – he wants to give his friend a box but changes his mind in time (corona). “Yeah, man. Sunflower seeds! They are part of the deal, right. Delicious.”
They don’t call themselves loitering kids because of the negative connotation. They are more chill youths. “Write that down.” They chilled all year round. Even in the winter cold, but ‘you get used to that’.
Then what did they do? To talk. About little cows and calves, the meaning of life, school, parents, movies, music, lots of music, and sometimes girls too (when they got older). “We also played football a lot,” says Achraf. “That keeps you warm. I even went to school wearing my Ronaldo football boots. I wore them under my jeans. It didn’t look, man, but I just did it.”
Yes, they did a lot of sports on one of the football squares in the district. And then they went to car garage Motec to provide their footballs with new air with car tire pumps. The most famous field is the Johan Cruyff Court on the Teniersplantsoen. It is one of the sports fields of the project of which Johan Cruijff is one of the founders. He wanted more football pitches in the Dutch neighborhoods to connect young people and get them moving. “We succeeded here”, Achraf grins.
In the Schilderswijk it is almost affectionately known as ‘the square’. “I am in love with that place”, says Achraf. He looks genuinely a little enamored – tinkers with the brim of his hat and then says, “It’s around the corner.”
There are three games going on on the field. Boys and girls shout from three sides, quick footsteps, bouncing balls. Here here, I am free! Pass me that ball! It’s a colorful place, bright yellow goal posts, bright green artificial grass, blue fences to stop the balls, surrounded by murals.
When Achraf entered puberty, he trained the youth here in the Schilderswijk. “Those little boys and girls who give you a banana during the break. And now they run me out eh. I recently got a panna from one of those guys. A panna!”
His condition is deteriorating. “I’m glad I can still breathe after two pots.”
About growing up
The square is central to the play that Achraf, Amir and two other friends made together with a director. It is called M.A.N, last December they performed twice in The Hague theater De Vaillant and at the end of October in Rotterdam. The piece was shown via a live stream.
It’s about growing up in the Schilderswijk and the temptations of the street – they wanted to show what that is like. They hope to be able to perform it in even more theaters after the corona crisis. “Our story should be heard”, says Achraf. He improves himself. “Must. It must be heard.”
Achraf and Amir ended up well, but smoking (that’s what it often starts with), laughing gas balloons, drugs are not foreign to some young people in Schilderswijk. “It happens,” says Achraf. “You can’t hear me denying that. But we don’t all do it.”
Pulling a bell
Whether the men themselves have ever given in to those temptations? “No man.” They shake their heads. Pulling a bell. That’s what they did. They went no further. Are they really that good?
“I’d rather call it strong,” says Achraf. “You save each other from stupid choices. I once had a friend who started smoking. I said,” Brother, I don’t approve if you do, but you have to know for yourself. But don’t smoke in my house. neighborhood “. He never took another hit in front of me.”
Social control is high in the neighborhood. “If I said I was going to play football, I really had to make sure that I was on the field. Otherwise my father would hear it through the media.”
What he just wants to say: everyone knows everyone. “My mother freaks out sometimes”, says Achraf. “Then she asks me if I would like to get a quick loaf of bread, I stay away for half an hour. I met another acquaintance.”
Also during the walk to Amir’s bench: the jovial greetings, elbow boxes and nods are flying around you. You never seem to be alone here. “Neighbor, tire flat?” Achraf asks when he sees a man making his bicycle. “No, no, maintenance,” replies the neighbor.
We cross a major intersection – the place where violent riots took place in 2015. There are incidents almost every summer, as Het Parool recently wrote about the neighborhood, but the riots five years ago were the largest and made the national news. The cause was the death of Aruban Mitch Henriquez in The Hague, who died after an officer held him in a neck clamp.
“Those riots were really violent,” says Amir. He still remembers how he looked from the balcony and thought: where is this going. “I didn’t think it was scary,” says Achraf. He looks at his friend. “You?” Amir shakes his head. “Not scary. It is painful. That your neighborhood is in the news like that.”
They don’t condone the riots – it’s not normal to throw rocks and trash cans at the police. But: “It comes from somewhere. There was so much dissatisfaction with the police. I can no longer count on two hands the number of times I was stopped to show my ID. Do you think that would have happened if I white? What if I were to walk through another neighborhood? ”
To illustrate, Amir lists a series of numbers with a grin. His social security number. “I’ve had to read it so many times that I know it by heart.”
Not a good reputation
The men admit that the neighborhood generally does not have a very good reputation. In the archives of the House of Representatives, the Schilderswijk is mentioned no less than 464 times in the period 2007-2020, wrote a journalist who researched the neighborhood for Vrij Nederland in August last year.
“It concerned”, the article said, “in dozens of cases parliamentary questions about anti-Semitism, ethnic profiling, the background of perpetrators, excessive police violence, IS and the controversial imam Fawaz Jneid who once preached there.”
“But do you know what it is?” Achraf says. “That is not only the Schilderswijk. Journalists only come when there is shit going on. Not with nice initiatives, like recently, when goodie bags were handed out to homeless people by three young girls from the neighborhood. And also not when we with the police talk. “
“Now things are really getting better. The agents are doing their best and so are we. Sometimes they just come and chat, talk, without us having to show our ID card right away.”
They saw the neighborhood change. They saw a new generation handing out pannas on their football field. And they saw themselves change. Achraf is almost graduating, Amir has moved on to a higher vocational education, integrated safety science. They think about plans for their theater performance.
It’ll be fine
“It all worked out with that success”, Amir grins. “Only sometimes I’m still scared …”
He pauses, leans back on the back legs of his chair. Then: “Yes, just, sometimes I am afraid that my background will not make it easy for me to get a job.” Achraf nods. He gets that. But, he also says: “Soon you will not only have a diploma, but also life wisdom, man. From your family, from your friends, but also from the street.”
What he wants to say: if the lives of Achraf and Amir were football matches, they would no longer be 3-0 behind.
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