Eindhoven's New Hairdresser: The Story Behind A Brazilian Expat
Superficially, Eliana is a lucky expat. A Brazilian woman who was able to find work and open her own hair salon just a year after arriving. In reality, during her first year in Eindhoven, she cried a lot, applied for jobs, took English and Dutch lessons, lost her father, fought cancer, registered as a freelancer, and started a business. To me, the question is not how she did it but, what does it take to have her resilience? Who is this expat woman who fights adversity and refuses to give up? How does one settle down and is happy in a new country? What can we learn from her?
Her first years by Vacaria River, Brazil
Eliana grew up in the north southeast of Brazil, a rural region with no name, close to Vacaria River. People live from their crops. During prosperous times, they plant and harvest corn, beans, rice, potatoes, and other vegetables. Unfortunately, the land suffers from drought and poor soils, so people have to figure out a different way of making a living. Some stay, some leave and come back, others don't return, like Eliana.
to school takes her one hour, one way. She's other crystal clear memories from then: daydreaming by the river, looking up at the mountain, envisioning herself living somewhere else. A better future, a good life. She also remembers her mother's energy and might: mother to seven, a volunteer in the community, the man and woman of the house. "My strength comes from my mother," she acknowledges. Later in life, as hopefully sooner or later we all learn, the gift of understanding and forgiveness will come.
Goodbye, Vacaria River. Hello Josenópolis!
In 1995, just a thirteen-year-old girl, she has to leave her parents behind: in order to pursue education, she must move away. Her journey begins in Josenópolis. It's here where she takes the first steps into figuring out how to survive and provide for herself: fight and keep fighting. Keep dreaming. Visualize it. A better future. A good life. She's only 13.
Eliana does what everyone else is doing, including her sisters: leave home, go to a bigger town or city, find a family to live with, and help with the housework in exchange for food and a roof. A kind of au pair. As she remembers the first family she lives with, her storytelling comes to a halt. She struggles. Glazy eyes. A frozen image. A despair feeling. Tears roll down her cheeks. This was the first of several families she'd live with. Many things happen but will remain unspoken. "I remember calling my mother, crying, and asking for help." Her mother replies she must endure and keep studying. Staying strong is all there is to it. Her mother neither lets her give nor helps out either. At this point, another important lesson is learned: She isn't going to be rescued. Eliana learns the surviving skills that'll lead her to where she is now: grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life. Even in the Netherlands, this will come in handy.
A gift. Highschool. Prep course. No university. Then what?
Later on, Eliana moves in with her sister Bianca, a kind of second mother to her. Bianca will four siblings are reunited here. It's on this tropical island where Eliana's future as a hairdresser starts taking shape.
At this point, university is not on Eliana's map but still needs an income. She doesn't want to do housework for others anymore. She dreams of something else. Something better. One of her brothers, Elton, suggests asking for a job at the neighborhood's hair salon, Ideal Hairdresser. He could talk to the owner and recommend her. Until now, Eliana's hobby is doing her own hair or others but just for fun. She isn't sure...but what is there to lose? Remember? Grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life. So she does it. Builds-up her courage. Goes and asks for the job. Starts a new dream. She just needs an opportunity., a beginning. It happens.
As time goes by, Eliana's doing well at work, earning more responsibilities. Learning, learning, learning. With the help of Elton, she studies and completes two courses, Telemarketing and Introduction to Computer Skills. At the salon, her future seems bright. There's a hairstylist in her and she knows it. Her boss knows it. He offers a deal: You'll go to beauty school and I'll lend you the money. He can take a little bit from her paycheck every week. Thinking about this, I reflect on how life is like that: If you sweat it, then you appreciate it. She earns it, she owns it. The after taste is one of accomplishment and power. She puts her soul into it and does what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life.
Four years go by. Let's keep in mind they're living on an island: buzzing summers, ghosty winters. Work is seasonal, and you know our girl. She grows restless. She dreams, day and night. She wants to grow professionally. Everyone, family and friends, knows her and agrees: Eliana needs to take flight. She's on a mission and there's no stopping her. Time for a change. Grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life. Taubaté, here she comes!
Work, love, and failed attempts to move abroad
Once in Taubaté, Eliana falls in love and finds a job at Gessy Hair! She's bubbling, she's happy, but then,
"My relationship ended and I went to live alone...the hardest part of my life because I started to hate my parents for never having helped me...today as an adult I understand that they didn’t have money...I spent 5 years living in a 10 square meter room... it seemed that the more difficult it was, the more I wanted to grow professionally."
tries to move abroad, not once but three times. No wonder they say the third one is the charm, right? First-round, she's interviewed to work in a hair salon in the US. The result, they can't cover the VISA fees. Round-two, it's 2008. She applies to be a hairstylist on a cruise ship, The Onboard Spa by Steiner. The interview doesn't go very well. She needs to be able to talk about why she wants to work with them and what her goals are. Eliana exclaims, "I couldn't even introduce myself!" They say her profile does fit the position, so they give her three months to improve her English. She goes full speed, hires a teacher, memorizes possible answers. As a result, after a second try, she is invited to take the training in London! But, do you know how it's said that life is not fair? Eliana can't afford to go to London, least to even borrow the money since, in the end, she might end up not getting the job. Grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life. Leave that dream behind, stay in Brazil, and keep growing.
As life goes on, Eliana keeps taking courses and gaining experience. In 2014, she gives herself the greatest gift: her first-course abroad, at Pivot Point Academy in Buenos Aires. She's there for a week, specializing in haircuts. After she comes back, her clientele increases and her reputation grows. Life is sweet. Finally.
Partners in love and in dreams
The Netherlands & Catharina Ziekenhuis
"When I arrived here, I cried a lot," she confesses. It's December 2018. Andrey and Eliana land in Eindhoven and find a nice home, close to Parktheater and the city center. It's better than a dream! They feel everything is just perfect now. Like for many expats and situations in life, this is the honeymoon phase: brainport Eindhoven, Europe's innovative region, first world, a bright future on the horizon, add newly married to it. Eliana and Andrey think they've settled and he jumps into work. Eliana thinks a hairdresser is needed everywhere. This won't be hard. In March, armed with her relentless optimism, she looks for job openings and applies. She'll start from the bottom. That's fine. No? She applies again. What she's facing now is something unexpected: not enough English, no Dutch. What she hears is, Go. Study. Then come back. No wonder this is enormously frustrating! Not even being able to show what she could do? She's fought so much, done so much, survived so much, and now this? But then she also knows what needs to be done. We also know. Grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life. She starts English and Dutch lessons. If language is the obstacle between her and a job, then she'll learn. Fast. What can stop her? Her health? Not even that. In her words, "My health didn't stop me, it just slowed me down."
She goes to the huisarts. She's discovered a tiny lump on her neck. It's cancer. Inescapably, her routine changes: keep the doctors' appointments and get on with Dutch and English. In July, she has her first surgery. Every week there's a doctor's appointment, at the hospital or home. In the beginning, her husband comes to help with the language. After a few months, they both understand she needs to fly solo on this: she needs to learn to navigate the world with however much English she can manage, and he needs to work. It's decided and Eliana starts going to the appointments by herself, her husband coming only to the critical ones. She's obviously nervous but so full of life. Always smiling and buoyant, always ready to do whatever's needed. Everyone at the hospital loves her: her positivism, her endurance, her will. And she loves them back. Here I ask Eliana what she thinks of the Dutch health service since we usually only hear and unfairly believe the negative side. "For me, not only the doctors but Dutch people are amazing. If you are nice and friendly, you're home."
First client thanks to Instagram and bad news from Brazil
Andrey, being Eliana's best and loudest supporter, tells his friends and colleagues about his wife and her profession. Maybe he's conspiring with the universe, we won't know. One fine day, a Brazilian friend of theirs, Murilo, asks Eliana for a haircut. She's so excited! A haircut! What a gift to be able to do what she's good at. This is the spark that gives birth to the reality of it all. At this point, Instagram and the whole universe conspire, and the first "real" client gets in touch. Through Instagram, Eliana receives a message from a lady she doesn't know. "Are you the hairstylist to the pictures you're posting?" "Yes, I am. They're from my clients in Brazil." "Could you do my hair?" "Sure I can!" Eliana is over the roof, to the moon, and not back! Not only that, but this is also the beginning of the journey she's dreamed of and fought for. More messages, more calls, more haircuts. She'll go to every home, carrying the tools on her bike. It's exhausting but keeps going. She works hard, more and more people are making appointments. There she goes biking, scissors, brushes, blow dryer and all, so Dutch! She's Mary Poppins with a bike instead of an umbrella or Dorothy with scissors and a brush instead of red sparkling shoes!
"I remember you and one client telling me that the language is not a problem for someone who knows how to do their job. So I kept going, trying not to worry about it."
It might look like everything is going according to her plans, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We mustn't forget she's taking Dutch and English lessons and there are other appointments to keep, the ones at Catharina's. She's tired, probably exhausted, but brimming with burning desire. What to do? Grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life. Advised by a Dutch friend, she gives it a try and starts seeing clients at her home: Philippines, India, Macedonia, Finland, you name it. If it works, I'll register, pay my taxes, and be a responsible citizen. She also gives up a language, postpones Dutch, and keeps going with English. Just as she's focusing on sending all good vibes to her body, asking them (I wonder if ordering) to let her be healthy, heartbreaking news arrives from Brazil. Her father has died and she can't fly back. She grieves the loss, thanks his love and guidance, and keeps going on.
Registering at KvK
Eliana dives into the internet, reading all she can find related to registering as a freelancer and opening a business in the Netherlands. Next step, she makes an appointment at the KvK and Andrey comes along. He's unsure and has many questions. For Eliana, it's clear she not only wants but needs to register as soon as possible. She remembers how after leaving the building, she sits by the sidewalk and starts crying. Too many responsibilities, too much compromise. Her husband wants to have time to think about it for a little longer. Eliana can't stop crying. After everything she's gone through, the next step needs to be her call. She doesn't want it taken away from her nor give that power away. She feels she must be wholly responsible, and she should register, ASAP. Grin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life.
Eliana gets things done. She has a new appointment. Once again she goes through the glass door of the KvK building, by herself, and registers.
Opening a business bank account
Next step, the bank account. More appointments, flying solo. The unexpected happens. At the bank, they explain that because she doesn't have a Dutch passport, the business account can only be opened by phone. It's a security measure to check if you're legal and to track money laundering. She thinks, Oh my goodness! A phone call in English with the bank! Oh my goodness! And even with all the oh my goodness in the world, she still has to do it. She's learned that she can't and shouldn't be dependent on her husband. He has his own worries and she must build her strength and security. (Do you know the chorus to the song, What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?) She needs to get things done.
"I remember once you told me I needed to solve my problems without someone...to be independent. I learned this from you."
She makes the phone call, not once but many times over several weeks because easy is not fun, right? During each call, there's always something she doesn't understand and the phone call comes to an end. After nearly a month and thanks to someone with a lot of patience, the account is officially open.
A place in Strijp-S
rin and bear, adapt, do what's necessary in order to have a better future, a good life.
Eliana Martt? She was completely taken by surprise. She whispered, "Ay, Laura..." I tenderly observed her, imagined how a million images popped into her brain, a million feelings burst through her veins, a million moments rushed into the moment. I've been her English teacher (and life coach as she says) for a year. I've seen her struggle and I've seen her bloom. I understand what she means. How to comprise your essence in one sentence or in a short interview?
To be who we are, there is a lifetime of events, insignificant and monumental, that shape us into who we become. This is a story where an expat got what she always dreamed of, living abroad while keeping practicing her profession. Truth is, this is not everyone's journey. For many, coming here is part of a family dream: The husband/wife gets a good job, their quality of life improve, and the children have access to better education. This is the honeymoon phase. It usually doesn't last forever. There are many untold stories about the struggle it is for the non-working partner: His/her personal and professional development stagnates. It's a struggle to decide which language to learn and feel the motivation to go for it; how to adapt and fulfill inner needs; the effort that daily functioning takes while wishing to be somewhere else, someone else. The thought of impossibility at reinventing oneself. My advice is to love yourself first in order to be able to be there for others, or else speak out and ask for help. You are not alone.
Life is an instant
Admire who you are
*To contact Eliana Martt, you can check out her Instagram @elianamartt or visit:
𝙶𝚕𝚊𝚜𝚐𝚎𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚠,𝚃𝚘𝚛𝚎𝚗𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚎𝚎 𝟺𝟻 𝟼º 𝚏𝚕𝚘𝚘𝚛
𝙴𝚒𝚗𝚍𝚑𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚗 | 𝚂𝚝𝚛𝚒𝚓𝚙-S