I can still smell it: that mix of home cooking, cleaning detergents, shampoos, beauty products, and something I can only describe as freshness, probably from my roommate’s freshly made coffee.
It’s been three years since I’ve moved out of that apartment, Wardehofplein 15C, but that smell still lingers faintly to this day. And why would it not? After all, this the place of many adventures and friendships and heartbreaks, and the first place that I could call my own, away from my family and the security of home for the very first time.
By Lebanese standards, it was tiny. But to call it tiny would be unfair to its significance.
Sure, it had a tiny kitchen, a tiny toilet room that I called Narnia, and a tiny balcony, but it was big enough to accommodate three girls who were once strangers and gave each one of us her own space.
I had the biggest room- call it luck or the fact that I arrived first to the city of Maastricht, on a beautiful day in August 2011.
This room was nothing special: a standard single bed with what I would later discover, the most uncomfortable mattress ever manufactured, a large desk with a backache inducing chair, a standard issue bookcase, and a standard closet- all in a non-distinct standard color of brown wood.
Slowly, I began to make it my own. The trinkets and photographs that once hung up on my bedroom walls in Beirut now hung proudly all around this room in Maastricht, alongside new trinkets and photographs and notes from courses- a reminder of where I came from and where I wanted to go, who I was and who I wanted to be.
Slowly, I started feeling at ease with this place, even calling it home.
Every time I would look out of my bedroom window, I’d breathe and take it all in. The scene was unlike anything I had ever seen anywhere else: green, nature, quiet. Like it had come out of a painting and manifested itself right before my eyes. And if it happened to be raining or snowing? Then I would just plaster myself against the window, watching this scenery become even more beautiful.
But that process didn’t just happen overnight.
I cried myself to sleep every day for the first two weeks. I was baffled by this new country I had just gotten to, I wasn’t sure I would be able to undertake this masters program I had signed up for, I was scared of not making any friends because everyone seemed so sophisticated and advanced and just very different. Also, I cried because there was no air condition in my room and that concept was too unfamiliar to me.
It got better- I adjusted to the city, to the university, to the people. I made sure I was never alone in Wardehofplein 15C ,and if it had to be the case, then I had music on. Or I moved to the living room and turned on the TV. I had my shampoo bottles and personal products scattered around the flat and walked around in my beat-up nightshirt like it was no one’s business.
When I came back to Beirut that December, I was anxious to go back to the Netherlands because my parents’ house didn’t feel mine.
I was an intruder for two weeks, sleeping in my old bed, in my old room, that did not smell like Burberry Summer, my perfume of choice that year.
In Wardehopflein 15C, I learned to cook for the very first time.
In that tiny kitchen without basic amenities such as an oven and a freezer, I experimented, making dishes I had known my whole life and trying new things. The more I cooked, the better the house smelled.
So I persisted. I burned some dishes, like microwavable lasagna, but that only seemed to enrich the smell of the apartment, making it more and more familiar. I stocked the shelves with all my favorites so that I could make a meal at any moment. I even had zaatar from home to make sandwiches for guests (and that was a success every single time).
Then there’s that joint dining room/sitting room that the three of us shared and the reason why you can’t call the place tiny.
Because it could always hold more people than we ever expected it. Let alone those massive windows that had a view to die for.
Like when I had that crazy idea to host a Lebanese night for over 20 people. We thought the place would simply not fit, but after we pushed the furniture around, it ended up being the location to one of my most favorite memories. We danced, we ate, we sang, we took photos all night long- and no one felt uncomfortable.
And that wasn’t a one-off incident. Through the year, there was always someone over, and they enriched the space in ways they can never imagine.
Their stories and experiences only served to make the place bigger than it actually was- and that made me truly happy.
Wardehofplein 15C is not a place I can forget easily, just like the city of Maastricht is not a place I can ever forget. I could probably write all the posts I can to describe my experience and still not come close to how I truly feel.
Just like I started the year, I ended it crying myself to sleep. Not because I was scared or anxious about not having AC, but because I did not have the heart to leave the very first place that I could call my own.