”We had a complicated relationship. She had a tough childhood. When she was still a baby, her mother tried to jump out of the window while holding her. As a result, she wasn’t affectionate with me. I was nine when I made my first portrait of her. She had the most beautiful, outspoken deep eyes. I would often crawl into bed with her. She would lie, smoking cigarettes and playing pocket solitaire. She wasn’t snappy or anything. She just couldn’t show any signs of affection. I always tried to get close to her, searching for confirmation of her maternal love, but she always kept her distance. So drawing her was the closest I could get to her.

It might sound crazy, but her dementia came as a gift to me. She was in her early eighties when it started. It made her softer, sweeter, and more approachable. When I visited, she proudly showed me copies of my illustrated books translated into Japanese and told me that her daughter had made them. We spent hours in silence while she sat in her chair looking out the window while I drew her. In the past, there were many moments when I could have cut off contact, but somehow I never did. All my life, I felt somewhat incomplete. When you hold a love for someone, but you can never express that love, it’s killing you inside. So with dementia, she allowed me to get close, take care of her, and even bathe her. For the very first time, she allowed me to love her.”

”Our first meeting on the first day of high school was weird but also funny because we had just discovered that we are cousins. We are now good friends and do most of our school projects together. Today we are making a video about Amsterdam for an English assignment. We picked five tourist sights from the Jordaan; we call it: ‘The Jordaan report.’ That’s why we dressed up as reporters. So we are now on the Johnny Jordaanplein, then we go to the Westerkerk, the Anne Frank House, and the Noorderkerk, and we end up at the Old Dutch candy shop. Of course, we must try all sorts of candy for this item. You know, teachers in school expect a lot from us, but sometimes we have to remind them that we’re just 13 and 14-year-old kids.”

“As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He had a little sewing workshop but everybody in Istanbul knew him. I was six when he taught me easy sewing techniques on a small piece of fabric. After a while, he taught me how to sew buttons on a blouse. I was 11 when I made my first pair of trousers. I still have them in my closet. I was sixteen when my grandfather passed away and two years later I moved to Amsterdam. Shortly after that, I got married and my wife and I had four children. I have two daughters and two sons. Children are gold. I would have loved to have more. Twenty years ago, I took over a sewing workshop in Amsterdam and I still love going to work every day. I often think about my grandfather. I still use his old thimble. He didn’t just teach me a craft, he also taught me how to talk to customers, that you should be honest, communicate well, and always pay off your debt right away. “

”I’m always down for random spontaneous things, so when a camera crew approached me at the airport in Japan and asked if they could interview me, I said yes. They were collecting human stories from the airport for a TV show. After the interview, I went on with my vacation and never really thought about it again. One year later, I suddenly received an email from one of the producers that they would broadcast my episode. Right after the episode aired, I was scrolling through Instagram and received a message from a girl named Hana. She said: ”You look really cool.” She was smoking hot. From that moment on, we kept talking, and we fell in love more and more every day, so I asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend. I wanted to wait until we would meet in person, but due to the travel restrictions, it was uncertain when that would be. After one year of texting and video calling, we finally met for the first time four days ago. When I saw her at Schiphol airport, my first thought was: ‘Wow, she’s even hotter in person than in her Instagram photos.” When we first hugged, it felt so comfortable, like I already knew her. The way we met it’s not normal. It’s a gift from the universe, and I’m so fucking happy.”

”I spent most of my twenties traveling the world by myself. I would always avoid winter and chase the sun. Just as I avoided my depression, I avoided the discomfort of winter and the cold. While traveling, I certainly had beautiful moments, but deep down, I was miserable. At the beginning of this year, I moved back to Amsterdam. This time I decided to stay. I’m no longer running away from my pain. For the first time in my life, I’m in therapy. There are tough days, but I’m no longer ashamed of it. Like yesterday, I wasn’t feeling too well, but I still went to visit my friends. A few years ago, I would have locked myself up in my room, but now, I allow myself to be there, even if I’m having a bad day. I wear my pain with me on my chest, and I allow it to exist. This year, I learned that in life, you should not avoid the dark winter days. They have a purpose; to make you grow.”