Workers: 'Nobody really cares here'

Delta nr 36, November 2004

They are TU Delft's 'other' foreigners, the workers who clean, cook and do other menial jobs at the university. This week the English Page meets dishwasher Mohammed Ali Dammada, 34, from Ghana.

He dreams of someday being a car mechanic, but for now he's happy working as a dishwasher at the Faculty of Industrial Design. And rinsing off dirty dishes isn't Mohammed Dammada's only contribution to a smooth running TU environment; he's also a cleaner at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geodetics.

After finishing English and Arabic school in Ghana, Dammada attended technical college, but had to drop out early. "I had financial problems and basically needed to work in order to take care of myself," he says. "I wish I could've finished college." Because of a lack of jobs in Ghana, Dammada went abroad in search of a better life. He traveled to Sweden in 1993, staying there for six months, but Sweden didnít turn out too well for Dammada, so he returned to Ghana and began trading in sheep: "I bought sheep in northern Ghana, brought them to the city, and sold them.Ē

In January 1999 he decided to give life in Europe another go. This time Holland was his destination. Friends had said that Holland was a nice country with "mixed colors". Upon arrival, Dammada began living with Ghanaian friends. "I thought it was going to be easy, but it wasn't," the dishwasher says about his introduction to Dutch life. "The journey to Holland used up all my money." To survive, Dammada worked 'black' (illegal) jobs as a cleaner.

The turning point for him came in August 1999, when he met a Dutch lady at the annual African Festival in Delft. They started dating and eventually made a commitment to each other. Two years later he returned to Ghana to apply for a Dutch visa, a procedure that took 14 months. His Dutch girlfriend came to visit several times and eventually he was granted a Dutch residence permit. Dammada and his Dutch partner then got married and he took the compulsory one-year Dutch language course.

Today, Dammada's Dutch language skills are poor; at home he usually speaks English. He mainly speaks Ghanaian to his kids, although occasionally he tries to speak Dutch with them. "I'd like to take Dutch classes again, but at the moment it's too difficult," he says. "I have to support my family."

Apart from temperature, Dammada sees quite a few differences between life in Holland and Ghana. "In Ghana, everybody cares about somebody; here, everybody cares about themselves," he says. "When I felt lonely in Ghana, I could visit friends unannounced, but here you must call first and sometimes they just say you're not welcome because it isn't a good time or they don't have enough food." Consequently, Dammada now mainly hangs out with other Ghanaians: "With them there's never a problem with food or drinks."

One thing Dammada does like about the Dutch way of life is that nobody cares here. "You don't have to be ashamed of yourself here," he says, "you can wear whatever you want and do whatever you want." When it comes to Dutch culture, Dammada admits he doesn't know much about it: "I usually go to African parties." He's familiar with Dutch birthday parties though, but finds them boring: "I don't understand the language well enough, so I donít know what people are talking about."

Dammada hasn't been back to Ghana since he married, because he can't afford the trip. "I've only had a steady job for about four months; before that it was on and off," he says. "But I definitely want to take my wife and children to Ghana to show them where I'm from." Currently, Ghana's economic situation remains problematic. "Job-wise, it's still the same there," Dammada says, "but the political system's going well. It's the best democracy in West Africa."

Meanwhile, the cleaner is very happy with his Dutch life. "Living in Holland hasn't been bad for me," he says. "I now have a wife, a job and two beautiful children. I thank God for bringing me here."


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