Annett is a very active Dutch woman who has lived in Skopje (Macedonia) since 2006. Here she tells us about her life and how Ajvar and Pinjur have been adopted by her big family…
Annett, you seem to be a very active woman, with four children, two dogs and one husband…! Would you like to tell Expatclic about your expat life? When did it start and where?
I studied human geography in Groningen in The Netherlands. There was a lot of traveling organized for us and in 1992 I went to South India to write my thesis.
It was a wonderful experience since not many foreigners were visiting the remote area where I stayed. People were wondering whether I was a man since I was wearing jeans and since I am blond and they had never seen that before they assumed I was grey and 60 years old instead of 24!
After I returned from India I met my husband and two years later in 1995 we went for his work, a Dutch telecommunications company, to Budapest. We really fell in love with Budapest! There’s so much to see, we enjoyed going to the Opera and Ballet and the climate with real summers and real winters we really appreciated too.
Our first child Sanne was born in Budapest. Her second name, Noemi, is Hungarian so that she will always be reminded about the place where she’s born!
After 2 ½ years we moved to Dublin, again for my husband’s job.
Our second child Ruben Cillian was born there. I didn’t enjoy Dublin very much. I was spoiled in Budapest with the great climate and a nice expat community. In Dublin everyone assumed it was easy to settle because of the language but most Irish were very busy with their own social life. Also most people were meeting in the then still very smoky pubs, not an ideal place to bring your children along.
After again 2 ½ years we moved back to Holland. We bought a house in a new suburb near The Hague and I felt very much at home. A lot of people are complaining about the weather in Holland but after my experience in Ireland I never joined in.
Then out of the blue my husband got an offer for a new job in Skopje. We had to look at a map to locate Macedonia and decided to visit Skopje first before accepting the job.
Our first impression was that Skopje was an okay place to live. Most important it looked like a safe place, the school seemed to be okay and we saw some nice houses.
What I didn’t expect was that the international community would be so nice and welcoming, thanks to the efforts of the International Women Association (IWA) of Skopje because I think they’ve created an unique atmosphere.
Now, after 2 ½ years we’re on the move again. Back to Holland to our old house, the schools, sport clubs and friends. I am not looking forward to leave my friends in Skopje but on the other hand I am happy to be closer to my family, enjoy the luxury of a more developed country and most of all to have my children in a ordinary Dutch school.
When you decided to move to Skopje, what was your reaction after so many years living back in Holland? What do you like more of living abroad? And what less?
It was easier since I had experienced the expat life before. Because of the children it was not hard to meet people and also the Dutch community is very welcoming and tight knit.
What I truly didn’t and still don’t like is that you need to go by car to get to school and to get your groceries. In The Hague I did not need a car because I could do these on my bicycle. Also getting groceries and other shopping is a nuisance in Skopje. It’s either unavailable or out of stock. Shop assistants are often very ignorant, not willing or able to help.
For the children the longer distances and the unsafe traffic means they live in “golden cage” and especially the two eldest prefer therefore to live in Holland.
The positive side is that Skopje is an ideal base to explore the region. I often go skiing nearby and the summers are nice and hot. Most Macedonians I’ve met are really nice and so are the internationals. For the children it is a good experience to broaden their view
And to find out that The Hague is not the centre of the world.
Then, in Skopje you got involved with the MAWS – Macedonian Animal Welfare Society. Would you like to tell us how the society started? And who are its members?
Three ladies started to organize an animal welfare group because of the harsh condition the animals in the zoo were living. They looked for people to join them and I was one of them.
We decided we also had to focus on stray dogs and stray cats. Later in future we might also occupy ourselves with farm animals and wildlife.
The City zoo is reorganizing and they do well. EAZA (European Association for Zoos and Aquaria) has sent a consultant and in about two years the complete renovation will be finished.
We assist the zoo in finding funds and contacts. The cooperation is important for both parties since helping the zoo means that the animals get better care sooner.
For the stray dogs and cats we cooperate with the Municipality of Skopje. We believe that taking care of strays is the responsibility of the city rather than of an animal welfare group and that is why we prefer to join the city in her efforts rather than start our own program.
And I’m happy to say that this cooperation has been very positive so far. The mayor supports our efforts to educate pet owners to spay their cats and dogs and to build a bigger and better equipped cat – and dog shelter.
Officially we’re registered since February 2008, so we are a very young organization. We started as an offspring of the IWA but now our team consists of men and women, Macedonians as well as foreigners.
MAWS thinks that something can be done to improve the general situation of stray animals in Skopje. Can you tell us what?
First we have to control new inputs of strays. This is very hard to achieve since we have to convince pet owners that it is not mean to neuter a dog or a cat. It is widely believed that neutered animals are unhappy creatures, which of course is not true.
Second, we need to introduce a new law about microchips and registration of dogs and cats. Right now the dog catchers often have problems to distinguish the strays from the pets. This is keeping them up in their job. We promote registration of dogs with chips so the dog catchers can do their work more efficient. Lost pets can be returned to their owners, attacked people can get an insight of vaccination records and the owners of stolen pets can prove their rights and get their pets back.
We are also going to assist the dog shelter to find homes for the puppies they take care of. The general purpose of the current dog shelter is neutering stray dogs and placing them back in the place where they were found. When you see a dog with a yellow earmark it means it’s spayed. Till now we have supported the dog shelter with food and vaccinations and some improvement of the building. The people working for the shelter are really dedicated so it’s very nice to support them in their work as well.
In May, MAWS is going to offer some special events dedicated to stray animals, Skopje’s City ZOO while also fundraising will be organized. We know Tomoko and her beautiful violin concerts! How did the idea of a concert for MAWS developed?
MAWS is very proud that Tomoko choose our organization to benefit from her concert. Since Tomoko is coming back to Skopje shortly before the concert we will organize the event for her. The concert is planned for May 6th but the location is not yet known.
Besides Tomoko there will be her German husband, two more Japanese musicians and some other Macedonian musicians as well. They will play compositions by Vivaldi and Bach.
The other event planned for May will take place on May 11th. It will be a dog fair with loads of stands and nice activities and demonstrations.
Since we are an official registered association now it’s also possible to become a member of MAWS.
Annet, you and your family have adopted two stray dogs… what does it take to adopt a stray animal?
I grew up with dogs so I knew what it takes. Our first dog Ajvar came to our place as a puppy in a very bad condition of scabies. According to my husband he was by far the ugliest dog in town and I think he was right about that.
Without treatment he would have died in about a week. It was hard work to give him the medical treatment he needed but now he is very healthy and beautiful dog.
My opinion is that you have to train a dog properly otherwise you have problems instead of a pet! So I organized puppy training at my garden for the IWA since there were many members with a puppy at the time.
My husband found our second dog Pinjur.
The puppies were adopted by my friends Nong Prenton and Karin Seewoester. First I thought to take care of Pinjur in the street as she was used to but I got so attached to her that I had sleepless nights worrying about her and getting out on the street checking wether see was fine. In order to get some sleep I decided to adopt her as well as a pet. Since Pinjur was more than a year old and very street wise it took nearly a year to change her into a really attached pet. Again I am very grateful to Mitko who helped me with her training.
Every day I take them for a long walk in the fields and also the two eldest children and my husband take them for walks.
Right now they are part of the family and I get really upset when people ask me whether I take them with me to Holland or not.
Dogs are hard work on one hand but on the other hand great company too. People considering taking a puppy really have to think about the commitment they make. I have found many homes for puppies I have found and I always ask the future owners if they are aware of the responsibility they take upon their shoulders.
When living in countries with strong social and economic problems, one may think that caring for animals is a bit… childish if not useless. On the contrary many believe that one does what he can and feels right to do so that caring for animals, environment or road security among others may contribute to build a better life for the very people of that country. What is your opinion about it? And what is – according to your experience with MAWS – the reaction of Macedonian families / authorities towards MAWS campaign for stray animals’ better life…?
The first impression visitors get from Macedonia is the great amount of garbage everywhere, the beggars and the stray dogs and cats. I don’t think that’s a very good way to promote your self as a country.
I do not only feel sorry for the poor dog and cats living a tough life in the streets, it’s also unhygienic and some times even dangerous when dogs get aggressive. In this sense I think poor people are even more affected by the negative side effects of stray animals.
Since a lot of problems in Macedonia are either political or so complicated, I thought that the best think for me was to focus on animals.
Despite some people thinking that I don’t have the right priority, many people are very pleased with our initiative, foreigners as well as Macedonians. We really should not forget how many people in this country genuinely love animals!