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Marja, 56 years old

“When I was 23 years old I wanted to get sterilized, but the gynecologist wasn’t having it. He said: ‘You’re a woman, you’ll change your mind at some point’. Just like that. But that’s not what it was like. I knew from a very young age I did not want to take on the responsibility of kids.”



It’s the sixties in Nijmegen. Irene, an eighteen-year-old Dutch girl has a one night stand with a student from Senegal. He goes abroad to study in Paris and Irene stays behind, pregnant. Marja is born, but Irene does not want to see her daughter. The baby is adopted by a couple from Den Haag. He is a journalist and an art critic, but also an alcoholic. She is a very skilled dressmaker, but also suffers from manic depression. “It’s a mystery to me how Child Protective Services placed me in this family. I felt wanted though. They were good to me and did the best they could do, within their abilities. My mother could sew me anything we saw in the stores. And my father was more like a gentle uncle to me. He was an intelligent man who read a lot, took me to museums and taught me to listen to classical music. But at home it was impossible to live a normal life with my adopted brother who beat me up frequently. At school I felt like an outsider. When I was twelve I walked away from home and tried drugs for the first time.”


Harmony is the only way

“I had an amazing guardian, Rita: a wonderful person. At her house I saw that relationships and families can actually live in harmony. After witnessing that, I never wanted to settle for anything less. Right now I have little money, I’m only responsible for myself. My ex kept coming back to me, but eventually I had to call the police to take him out of my house. In one way or another I always ended up in violent relationships.”


Children are not a solution

Marja gets pregnant three times in her life, all through rape. She has three abortions. The desire to have children never comes. “There’s always this pressure from people and society. People just feel like it’s the normal thing to do; to have children. But I think it’s a responsibility you should think through. When a relationship is not going well, sometimes people have a child in an attempt to save their marriage. But that doesn’t work. When you have a child, you’re both responsible and you have to stay connected because of it. It’s a burden you are supposed to carry together. You have to sacrifice your own life. I didn’t want that. Besides, I was addicted. In rehab I had a friend that gave birth to an addicted baby. She had another child and in the end Social Services took both children. It just gave me the extra confirmation: there are so many children growing up without love. It’s not what I want.”


Vegetables, freedom, happiness

Behind her home in Tuindorp-Oostzaan, Marja built a public garden for her and her neighbors. Throughout the entire year people can harvest and enjoy the fresh vegetables and herbs that grow here. “The garden is my pride. In my own way I managed to become a community person. I used to live on the first floor of another building and I saw this wasteland in between the houses. I read about a neighborhood budget. Together with help from Maria, a local community worker, I applied with a plan. The project received 314 votes and I couldn’t believe my ears when I received 20.000 euros to execute my plan. I’ve been living here for sixteen years and before I only knew my neighbors superficially. But working in the garden connects people. I’m open about my past, it’s not a secret I smoke five joints a day. I follow my own instincts and I can feel it in my gut when something is restricting me. Don’t live your life based on fear or the fear to be left behind alone. Be willing to choose yourself, you are the most important person in your life. I’m definitely not lonely, actually I’ve never been this connected to who I truly am.”

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