Recently I had the privilege to interview Majed Zain Aldin. Majed is a stylish thirty something single guy, living in Den Haag.
First impressions go a long way and looking at Majed I never would have thought he arrived in the Netherlands only about 10 years ago by himself with none of his family or relatives around. In those 10 years he studied, became fluent in three languages, graduated, started a job and recently applied for his Dutch passport. He is the type you don’t want to miss out on, and although this is not his first interview about his remarkable journey, it is the first one based on Maslow, of whom we both turn out to be a big fan.
For those of you who don’t know Maslow, a short introduction: In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed his paper: “A Theory of Human Motivation” that showed the world the famous Maslow Pyramid, A psychology-based theory of which the use is widely spread in different types of disciplines.
The pyramid, like pictured here on the right starts with basic needs, which can be divided in psychological needs, and safety needs. Psychological needs can be seen as survival and bodily needs. Safety needs relate to stability, safety in family, in society and in one’s organisation.
The next bit is related to psychological needs, which can be divided in belongingness and love needs, and esteem needs. Belongingness relates to mutual social and intimate relationships, or to memberships of groups. Esteem needs relate to competence, approval, status and a sense of achievement. The top part of the pyramid focusses on self-fulfilment needs, these are needs related to wisdom, discernment, and understanding. Basically, relating to a context for one’s life: This can, but does not necessarily lead to the type of self-fulfilment that can lead to a new focus on helping others.
Enough about Maslow for now, time for the interview. Let me visualise the setting first: we are at my family home, just had dinner all together. After dinner we stayed taking at the dinner table. I’ve known Majed for about 5 years, and I got to know him as a soft spoken, adaptive, eager to learn, motivated, optimistic and most of all highly inspirational person when it comes to the way he structures his life. He is the perfect combination of “street smart” and “book smart”, and I have the honour to ask him about the journey that let him to become the person he is today.
My first question is: “What was your plan?” To explain this question a bit, when he arrived here in the Netherlands, a little over 10 years ago, he arrived as a refugee from Iraq, his application got denied and just before that he had started his Social Studies at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. That made me wonder, what was his actual plan by going to the Netherlands?
Majed replied: “Well, study was not my priority at first, I was looking for a sense of security and safety. Basic human needs you could say: safety, security and a sense of acknowledgement. That was the first step, and it took me about 2 to 3 years to get there. When you are new in the Netherlands, so many things happen at the same time, bureaucracy wise, and the IND is a special organisation, let’s keep it with that. Some people have to wait years and years for a little piece of acknowledgement. In my case, this was the acknowledgement of being a refugee, when they withdrawal my residence permit after 2 or 3 years, I lost that part of acknowledgement and went back from being a somebody to being a nobody in this country.”
Majed continues: “I had to reinvent myself again, what did I want? I started studying at this point, and I had to be legally in this country to work or study. You know, to be able to do your thing, like everybody else. To make a first step into a becoming part of a new society. You start with a temporary residence permit, in my case this was valid 5 years, and that is the one that got withdrawn by the IND, because they claimed Iraq was a “safe enough” country. For me personally going back would have absolutely not been safe. Long story short, after lots of court sessions I lost my case and thereby my permit to stay here. Luckily for me I was already a student and I could transfer my permit into a student permit. A special fund granted me my tuition fees and after I graduated I had one year to find a job. You can imagine how relieved I was to find one after only 2.5 months. I started as a youth coach. Unfortunately, this job did not meet the criteria to be able to change my permit into a work permit. I was advised to find an NGO, because through NGO’s it’s cheaper to obtain a work permit, which makes the step for NGO’s smaller to hire someone like me if you would compare it to commercial companies. When I saw a job posted at the UAF, the foundation for refugee students in the Netherlands, I applied. I got the job and I also received my work permit within a few months.”
The UAF is the same organisation that helped you when you started your studies in Den Haag. Now you are working for this organisation. How does that make you feel?
“It’s like a circle has been formed, the people that helped me are now my colleagues. I get to help others from my position that are now in the same position I was when I arrived here in the Netherlands.”
Do you feel an appreciated member of the Dutch society?
Majed is very clear on this: “Well, not by the Dutch government, I distrust them. This is just based on the fact that the let me to believe I was on my way to become part of the Dutch society, when they took my refugee status from me. This treatment had so much injustice in it, never in my life I will forget the letter that said, “Iraq is safe enough, so go back”. Picture this: I’m following a lecture in the morning, chitchatting with my Dutch fellow students about how we spend our weekends and then a few hours later I am at the IND “repatriation and departure service”. Makes you feel bizarre.”.
“Things are different now though, in fact, two months ago I was eligible to request a passport, which of course I did. Now I am waiting to be invited for the ceremony to become Dutch!”
The negative feelings the Dutch government gave you, drew back to the fact that they took away your psychological needs of belonging and acknowledgement, how about the Dutch people in your surroundings, did they give you the same feeling?
“Absolutely not, throughout this whole process everyone around me, my fellow students, other friends, where full of understanding. I believe that when you put goodness out there, you get goodness back. I want to live my life thinking and acting unconditionally and sincerely. In return, I expect to be treated the same. I like to believe in the good in people, so for myself, I would not focus on the fact that my Dutch has an accent or might not be good enough. Or that my hair is black, and not blond.”
“Thinking like this is actually something I picked up here throughout the time I have been here. This is very remarkable to me. I was reborn in this country, I felt part of this country. Then I learned the word “allochtoon” and “autochtoon” (roughly translated as immigrant and native). In the Dutch society people talk about 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants. I realised this was part of the Dutch society. What it means is that people who belong to this group of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants feel different than the white native Dutch. When you arrive in this country, coming from a country that has no diversity at all, you feel like you are in a true multicultural society, diversity in the Netherlands is everywhere. Look around you in the cities, or in a train station.”
Although I personally have a strong opinion about this classification (I might actually address it at some later time) for now I am really curious how this comes across to a new Dutchie?
Turns out Majed is not a big fan either. In fact, he says that being confronted with this way of thinking over and over again, you start to apply the generalisation and stereotypical thoughts behind it yourself. This goes a little like: “Ok, so these people are Turkish/Polish/Surinamese/Moroccan etc. and of these people “we” think this and this and this.”
“This is not a conscious thing, it happens subconscious that you start to participate in this way of thinking. In my case, it also applies to myself. So now I see myself as a 1st generation immigrant. This is a quest to identity, or, my identity in this country. I keep wondering, what is my part in the Dutch society? I’m not born here, and I cannot change that, my roots are in Iraq. I am proud though to be part of the Dutch society.”
Where does this pride come from?
“It comes from being treated righteously. Not by the government, not by right wing-oriented populist political parties, but by the people. The majority of people in the Netherlands strives to live harmoniously. Trust in people, the power of people, that has always given my so much energy.”
How about the safety and security you were initially looking for, does that have anything to do with this pride?
“The Netherlands is a safe country, and it does offer certainties, but I am still my own individual, as is everyone. People make their own choices, everyone that live in this country moves around in his or her own bubble. Going back to the previous subject of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants, I believe that the way of thinking that comes with this classification: “the bubble of Turkish will do this”, “the bubble of Moroccans will do this” is very dangerous. Following the crowds, I’m not a fan. Unless these bubbles have a person like Ghandi to look up to and follow, but the change of a leader like this is small.” Majed says laughing.
You had to work hard for your current life, are you considering yourself more aware of your own capabilities?
It’s personal I think, but also you learn to appreciate more. The Dutch way of raising kids is very comfortable. Everything is planned and arranged. All expectations are clear beforehand. There are so many certainties and granted situations and opportunities. A country with this many fixed patterns does not fully stimulate the brain. See a brain is a lazy organ, one that needs lots of stimulus. Without stimulus the brain gets lazy. With everything so easy and well-arranged here there is less striving for Maslow’s self-actualisation.
Is that the key that forms the core of your personal journey? A new environment will create stimulus to the brain, which then functions like a catalyst to develop new thing and only then the full potential of human motivation, as indented by Maslow, can be developed?
“Attention, acknowledgement, love, that’s what life is about. To achieve that you need to listen to each other. I can still wordily remember the conversations I had 20 years go with my family in Iraq during a power outage. Your luxury holiday of last year probably is half forgotten by now.”
So, in order to reach the top of Maslow’s pyramid you need a brain that is stimulated by challenges, change and life experience, otherwise achieving ones full potential seems too far to reach.
To finish with a metaphor Majed tells me the following: “Your whole life, you have been in an “intercity train”. My whole life, I have been in a “stop train”. I had to undergo way more transitions, that affects you. Like I said, the brain is a lazy organ and you need stimulus and life experience to grow in life.”