Anas Abu Daqa in the Hot Seat

Sometimes it takes only seconds to be certain: this is someone I want to know more about. Anas Abu Daqa, second-year student of Electrical Engineering and originally from Saudi Arabia, is just such a person. A few weeks ago the nineteen year-old Bachelor's student came along to Cursor to talk about the first International Cantus, organized by international student association Cosmos, where this year he is a board member. An energetic and enthusiastic chatterbox, who nonetheless carefully weighs his words - the ideal Hot Seat occupant.

When did you remain silent when you should have spoken up?
“I'm no shrinking violet. I'm pretty outspoken, and not quick to hold my tongue. Except when my parents ask me to. In the Middle East, where I come from, as a child you have the greatest possible respect for your parents. And that never changes, even when you are an adult.

My parents live in Djedda (Jeddah), a lively and very liberal city on the Red Sea, where I was also born and grew up. I was last there in March. I try to call my parents at least every two or three days; sometimes it's very short, just to let them know that I'm doing fine. I am not their only child abroad. The eldest of my three sisters has been living and working in Germany for years; my elder brother came over to the Netherlands at the same time as me. He is doing a Master's in Delft.

It was mostly my dad who made a point of encouraging me to go abroad. A European or America diploma undeniably offers better chances than a diploma gained in the Middle East. But my mom still finds it difficult, you know. As the youngest child, I've always been a little spoiled.”

Make a choice: being blind or deaf?
“A difficult choice, but I'd choose being deaf. Besides, I already wear spectacles, my eyes are -4 and -7, so I'm already partly blind, ha ha. I would miss things like the sounds of nature, birdsong, the rain and so on, but less so than my sight.

What's more, I think that life as a blind person is just a little more difficult than being deaf. You are more dependent. There are various options and resources that can help deaf people to regain some of their hearing, but blind is blind; as yet it's not something we can fix.”

What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought?
“That's easy: my PC. Although technically speaking it wasn't my money; so far I have been given everything I have by my parents.

I built my computer myself, in 2015. The parts, which cost about a thousand euros in all, I bought with pocket money and birthday money I'd saved up. It's just like LEGO really; if you know what you're doing, you can put it together in no time. What's nice about self-builds is that you can make a more powerful machine than you can get for your money in the store, which is especially good for games. You can customize everything and if something doesn't work, you can fix it.

I'm not a big spender, but then again I don't live really minimally. For everything I have a budget plan and I keep a record of my income and expenditure in a housekeeping book. If I had a million? Then I would buy things for my apartment, for my kitchen especially; more pans of different types, for example. I really like to cook. And I love sour candy; I buy it online by the kilo. But that's only going to get through at most five hundred euros.” Anas falls silent for a moment. “No, I don't even think I could spend a million.”

 When was the last time you cried?
“Last week. I'd had an intense week and had fallen asleep while there was still a lot I wanted to get done that evening. I woke up around midnight and felt like crap. Then everything just came out. I am doing a board year at Cosmos this year as well as taking a lot of pretty tough courses. The responsibility is all mine, I accept that. Because I come from outside Europe, a fourth year would be really costly for my family; so I want to be finished in three years and not take a year out. Until now that's been going reasonably well, but it makes for a busy life.

Crying isn't a big deal for me, although it is for many men where I come from. People there are definitely less open about their emotions. Even though, for example, you sometimes need to cry to release tension. But then preferably alone; if at all possible I simply prefer not to trouble other people. And when I've had a bad day, I start out trying to hide it - even so people usually notice right away.”

Who deserves a second chance?
“Whoa. That's a bit of a philosophical question, I'd have to ponder that for a long time. I think I'll just swap this one.”

Who or what do you miss terribly?
“Even if someone is really important to me, I am not the type who misses other people terribly. On the contrary, in my family people have always gone abroad, we see people come and go all the time. So I've been used to that since a young age.

But if I have to mention people who I miss and would really like to see again, that would have to be my family and my very closest friends in Saudi Arabia. I've known these friends since I was thirteen or fourteen. WhatsApp was not so big then, but we've been part of the same, very active Facebook group for years. Everything comes up in the group, including personal topics. When I'm not feeling happy in myself, these are usually the first people I go to.

To my mind, you don't need to see people every day to be really close. I believe in different levels of friendship. When you've just got to know each other, you do a lot of stuff together, you spend a lot of time with each other. But after a while the need for that physical closeness ceases. Then you reach a sort of higher level of friendship, to my mind. Some people I can see after a space of five years and then simply pick up the thread like nothing has changed.

But what I do miss a little is the food from home, dishes that I have grown up with. My mom's salads, certain soups, tabbouleh (tabouli), stuffed vine leaves. I have to say I have tasted plenty of Dutch cuisine. I don't like cheese, but then again stamppot seemed very familiar. And I love kapsalon (fries with shawarma strips, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce and garlic sauce), bitterballen (fried snack balls) and frikandellen (sausages) - although it's sometimes hard to say what's in them. But I guess some questions are best left unanswered.”

For our column In the Hot Seat we ask students and employees to pull five cards from our top hat full of questions. One question may be exchanged. The next interview will appear in three weeks' time.

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