‘Promise me you’ll never run, I urged my son every morning’

Elitsa-Yordanova-greyELITSA YORDANOVA (39) came to the Netherlands in 2001. She’s a social worker, head of the Bulgarian school, and runs a construction company with her husband.

“One night, my husband and I were sitting at the table when I finally mustered the courage to say it: we can’t keep living like this. It hurt. It was the late nineties. I had graduated from university and my husband had just completed his military service, but there was no way to find a job the old-fashioned way. You had to know the right people, or bribe someone. We had to stand in line for hours every day to buy bread, milk, or oil, while our money in the bank slowly evaporated. The democracy that was promised after the fall of the communist regime was stillborn. We were exhausted to the point we didn’t even concern ourselves with politics anymore. All we wanted was to live an honest and ordinary life. I proposed leaving Bulgaria.

The first attempts to travel to the Netherlands failed. Bulgaria was not part of the European Union yet, and being a young, Eastern-European woman, the Dutch embassy figured I had to be a prostitute. The day we finally arrived at Schiphol Airport I was ridiculously nervous. Our luggage couldn’t give away we wanted to stay in the Netherlands for good, so I packed barely anything. The only keepsake in my bag was a Bulgarian flag that said ‘remember your family and your language’. By settling somewhere else I wanted to give my child wings, but I realized he would need his roots as well.

There we were, at Amsterdam Central Station, with two bags and not a clue where to go. I found a job as a cleaner and babysitter. No dream job, obviously, but I felt very proud. Progress, finally.

Promise me you’ll never run, I’d urge my son walking him to school every day. If he fell we wouldn’t be able to take him to a doctor as we lived here illegally. One day he ran a high fever. I had heard of a doctor in the Red Light District who helped illegal immigrants. I got discouraged when I saw the long line of junkies and prostates waiting, but when I arrived with my sick child, everyone made way. I remember thinking: if even prostitutes and drug addicts care for one another, we must have made the right choice in coming here.”