A home under the bridge

In the biggest park of Amsterdam there is a bridge. Under this bridge, people seek shelter for the rain, hangs out with their friends, plays music during the day and sleeps during the night. This article and photo essay gives an insight in how the life under the bridge in Vondelpark is.

By Elisabeth Ulla Uksnøy and Christina Hanson


“The Dutch system treats me differently”

It’s a windy day in Amsterdam. The rain is drizzling slightly, but not so much that it bothers anyone. Under the bridge in Vondelpark, in shelter off the wind, a small group of men have gathered around a bag of clothes. One of them is carefully picking up pieces of fabric that he hands out to the others. A man with a black cap holds a pair of blue pants up against his hips as to see if they’re his size. Another one takes off his brown, worn out shoes and tries on a pair of light coloured new ones, but he can’t seem to get his feet to fit in them.

Almost every people biking or walking by is taking a look at the men gathering around the small bag, but the men themselves doesn’t seem to notice. They don’t approach the pedestrians, not even when they are walking in the middle of the men’s conversation. Well, not until a man with a sixpence on his head enters their little cave. His black beard with grey spots in it looks freshly cut and his shoes are clean and shiny. He politely greats all the men under the bridge while he’s throwing a water bottle up in the air before catching it again, a movement that shows off a small coffee stain on his neatly tucked in white shirt.

His name is Faical El Hakim. He is originally from Morocco, but he moved to Amsterdam with his family when he was little. When he was 18, he got his Dutch passport. “It varies from situation if I identify as Dutch or Moroccan”, he says, but right now, he’d rather be a Moroccan. For him, under the bridge has been a place to hang out in between his appointments in the last weeks. He is currently working on collecting money so that he can be able to work on his art and volunteer around Europe, but he doesn’t feel like he has the support that he needs in Amsterdam.

El Hakim is not happy with how the Dutch system has treated him lately. Earlier this fall, he spent four days in prison because of a tweet the court found threatening. El Hakim is an artist and tells the tweet was a drawing of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders surrounded by birds. “Wilders posted a drawing of me first that I felt threatened by, but I didn’t go to court with that. If someone has a problem with me, they should come to me and we can talk about it”, he says. He feels it is unfair that he was punished for something he thought of as art, and which he says was never meant as a threat, while the other person walked free. “The Dutch system treats me differently because I am not originally from here”.

He also claims the Dutch government got him deported from Turkey. El Hakim says he was working there driving an ambulance as a volunteer a few years back. “I was just trying to help people and they put me on the terrorist list for no reason”. As for now, he doesn’t trust the Dutch government and system, and is working on getting a proper Moroccan passport.

His biggest fear however, is that the Dutch system will treat his children badly because of their father’s background. He has two children; they’re eight and ten years old. “I don’t want them to end up like me”, he says as he quickly gets up from the rock he has been sitting on. “I’m going to flip the country upside down if anyone ever touches my children”. •