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“Food brings people together and it has also made me make new friends in my new home country”

I am Vimala. I was born in South Africa. In the year 2017, I immigrated to the Netherlands and lived in Seizoenenbuurt Zuid in Almere Buiten.  This is my story.

I was born in a Province called Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. I am the fifth generation of South Indian origin. My forefathers came to South Africa as indentured laborers and ended up staying after their contracts ended.  As a result of my ethnic background, my childhood memories are redolent of the spices and flavors of my forefather's homeland, India. I have memories of us coming together as a family for special occasions and celebrating with traditional dishes.

South Africa is a very diverse country and has 11 official languages. Our home language was English. I also came from a very sporty family and played volleyball and tennis.

When I was little, I remember hearing stories of my parents and grandparents growing up during the apartheid era.  My siblings immigrated to New Zealand in 2000 for better work and life opportunities which they never got in South Africa.

After completing secondary school, I studied Hospitality Management and Communication. I moved to Johannesburg for career opportunities.

In 2011 I had my first son and 2 years later my second son. It was then that we started our immigration process to move to Australia, however, the process was expensive and long. In February 2016 my husband was offered a job at ABN AMRO, which he accepted and moved to the Netherlands in June.  Due to our delayed paperwork, we only joined my husband in February 2017. 

When we arrived it was like a holiday, everything was exciting and new, however, the language was confusing.  My boys started school in April and I was very overwhelmed not having friends and not knowing the language.  I then enrolled in the ROC language course for adults.  I started making ex-pat friends who became my support structure in my new home. I started feeling confident. Google translate became my best friend, especially when I went grocery shopping. Food brings people together and it has also made me make new friends in my new home country. I started my Events Catering Company in 2019 at the Hembrug Market in Zaandam and that is where I met most of my meaningful friendships.

My boys went to a Taalcentrum where they learned the Dutch language very quickly and this helped them integrate and make new, friends, and start settling in. My main goal was to give my boys a safer life with the opportunities to grow and succeed, so for me, my motto became “failure is not an option”.  I embraced all the challenges and changes which was not the easiest at first.

In the Netherlands, I was totally out of my comfort zone learning new things that added value to our new lifestyle, like learning to cycle and driving on the right-hand side of the road which is the opposite in South Africa. 

My husband got us our first home rental in Almere and a year later we ended up buying the same house.  I love Almere and the diversity of the Expat communities, It’s also a central location, and we live in a family-friendly neighborhood.  I  studied Dutch and I now own a small Events Catering Company. Completing a Women's Empowerment Course, helped me network myself in Almere by doing various food events.

I do miss the South African sunshine and the beautiful mountains, which we don’t find here. However, life has had its fair share of challenges but I have an amazing and supportive husband who is a great teammate.    

I will always be South African at heart but a Dutch citizen. We still uphold our traditional and cultural values so my kids still have their identities.  Diwali, the Festival of Lights is a big celebration in our home. It’s a celebration with delicious South African cultural food, traditional clothing, and an absolute cultural experience.  We still observe our religious meat-free Mondays and Tuesdays.  We have a South African and Dutch life balance that works for us. We are proud to live in beautiful Almere.

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Photos, Interview and Text: Lyla Carrillo Quan - van der Kaaden
Text Revision: Babette Rondón
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