Applying for a job at the nursing home was a decision I had made when I was 16 years old. I was still unsure whether to pursue a bachelor’s in medicine or in architecture, but the insecure late-teen that I was needed money. Thus, the logical choice was to work anywhere else than the field of architecture. The work at the nursing home was good. It paid pretty well, and I could orient myself within healthcare. There were no real healthcare task for me however. I was the coffeeboy that was initially hired to be a social outlet. It didn’t take me long to realise: I don't really like helping people.

I had just announced my resignation after five years at the nursing home. To be frank, it was a summer job that had gotten out of hand. Though I sometimes hated the work, I actually enjoyed the Delfshaven elderly and colleagues, and the salary was enough to keep me there (when in doubt, ask for a raise). One of those elderly was Jay, a relatively young man from Curacao, who had an accident a few years back. He was one of the few clients that had been there since I started working at the place. A strong and handsome man that definitely enjoyed life more than he worked it. And being the 60 year old Antilian that he was, he smoked anything that he could find. I liked him for that, but the nurses hated it. “Has he been smoking again?!” was a standard phrase I would hear at some point during my shift. Honestly though, I don’t think they actually hated it. Half the nurses used to smoke weed at some point in their lives. They were just taking the piss out of him, which he always found funny. At some point during the five years, I had made a promise with Jay: on my last day of work, I’d share a fat joint with him. But Jay’s pot was about to run out. Since walking to the coffeeshop wasn’t an option for the older man, Jay always got his supply from his fiancée. However, his fiancée recently broke up with Jay, after finding out he’d been talking to other women on the phone. Jay had gotten more desperate for weed. Someone had to step in, and so I did. “Do you remember my promise, Jay?”. (...). Jay looked at me with a smirk like a young boy that just found out that his christmas present made guitar noises.

I punched out at 19:30, went to Jay’s room, and rolled a joint. I wasn’t afraid of anyone storming in on us. The night shift is always slower, and if you ask me, probably also stoned to the bone. Because Jay was preparing to go to bed, we decided to smoke in his apartment. The smoke was lit orange by the setting sun that gleamed over the roof terraces into our midrise building. I was peeking out of the window as Jay pointed towards the harbour.

“Ya see the yellow crane near the cruise ship?”. I squinted. “I used to work there when I arrived from Curacao.”

“You used to smoke weed in Curacao?”, I asked.

“Yes, of course. Ever since I was 14 years old. But my father always disapproved of it”, Jay said smiling. “When he found my pot, he’d always get mad, only to smoke all of it himself afterwards.”

“Can’t relate.”

Morning round

It was the summer of 2020 as Covid had just emerged in the Netherlands. The Sunday morning streets were quiet. In front of the Jumbo stood an elderly woman with a mask on, waiting to do her groceries before the peak hours. Inside the nursing home whiffed a constant tension in the air, as if the virus could enter at any moment. The clients were to stay in their rooms to prevent the spread of the disease. It was lonely for the elderly, as before, they would come down to the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As the coffee boy, I had to be extra careful not to cross contaminate the elderly. I clocked in at 7:30, ready to serve breakfast. Coffee, tea, bread, cheese, ham, milk. Starting up wasn’t ever nearly as bad as closing off. Though I was hungover as usual, I found waking up the elderly and preparing breakfast for them kind of soothing.

Floor 1, room 410. Els, our oldest resident. She was a toilet lady at V&D until her marriage. In the Netherlands it was normal to retire as a woman after marrying and bearing children. Her husband had worked in the harbour as a crane operator, which wasn't uncommon in Rotterdam. Everyone knew someone who worked in the harbour. As a matter of fact, my own grandfather had worked in the harbour of Heijplaat. Back to Els: she was as Dutch a grandma as you could imagine. Sweet and caring, but having experienced the war, also extremely protective. In that sense she was like many other Dutch clients. The worst thing you could do to them is give them clear soup. Clear broth soup without veggies would mean a riot.

Floor 1, room 412. Sofia, Cabo Verde. Cabo Verdeans came to the Netherlands in the 50s as part of the first wave of labour immigrants. However in contrast to the Moroccans for instance, it wasn’t government policy that brought them here. They were a seafaring nation, and Dutch freighters offered forgiving work environments with higher salaries.

Oftentimes these freighters were stationed in Rotterdam, and Delfshaven actually houses the biggest Cabo Verdean community in the Netherlands. “Bom dia, você quer pão?”. Sofia understands every word of Dutch, she even spoke it before. But she had suffered a stroke, and now only speaks Portuguese. Only my Cabo Verdean colleagues did not understand her either, “she mumbles”.

"The last time the police visited us was when a paranoid client thought she was being held hostage by us"

Floor 1, room 414. Akshita, Suriname. Now Akshita was a special one. She was known to be super clean. Therefore, locking oneself up for a virus was nothing new to her. She’d spend hours there, only coming downstairs to ask for extra toilet paper. But her obsession came with a caveat. She would never have more than one item in the trash bin. To her standards, one item would mean that the bin was full, and needed replacing. She’d always burn through her bin bags. Not only that, she even asked for stuff to eat, only to throw it away. All this couldn’t really bother me. I kind of supported it. It was pretty funny. Until one day, when two policemen came into the building asking to take a look on the first floor. My middle aged colleagues looked confused. The last time the police visited us was when a paranoid client thought she was being held hostage by us. “We got a report that someone’s been littering from their window”. Oh my god. I knew it was her. She always had an empty bin, but we never saw her take the trash out. Will my Akshita be sent to prison?! “You will hear from my children!”, she snarled furiously to the policemen. Of course we knew, her children were also long done with her shit.

“Goodmorning, would you like your breakfast? Oh I’m fine. Coffee? No, I don’t have a girlfriend”, it was a shitshow that repeated itself at every doorstep. Forty doorsteps a round, four times a shift. But everydoorstep was a frame through which a different spectacle took place. Forty performances where people from different countries, backgrounds and families took the stage. I always thought that having crazy stories and crazy people was normal in a nursing home, but a colleague who was transferred from East told me “this place is fucking mental”. “Welcome to Delfshaven”, I replied. A place where the first generation of labour immigrants still reside, where the Netherlands' oldest football club Sparta has its main pub, and where the Rotterdam accent is native.

The nursing home is a living archive, but like the city, constantly changing. Sometimes this change leads to the breakdown of identity, pushing out what's old, forcing in what's new. Delfshaven seems to have found a balance in this, simultaneously preserving the existing while embracing creativity. The trick is to assimilate, and let the one unified soul of a city speak for itself.