A few years ago my brother-in-law, Wim Ruiterkamp from Vorden, sent me an excerpt from De Stentor, a regional newspaper in the province Gelderland. This newspaper wanted 'Greetings from emigrants' and Wim suggested I'd write something about our experiences. The result was that De Stentor published an article about our family and the effects of emigrating .
I have attached the above article as I know that my blog is read in The Netherlands. It is easy to use the translation facility although the result is often not quite the way the article was written. I did enjoy writing this little bit of memoir although it was challenging to keep to the number of words required.
After living 52 years in the same country, the same city, the same suburb I can only say that I love Dunedin. But I still remember the first years when so many issues came together producing the effects of home sickness.
|On m.s. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, May 1960|
Write about settling in a new country? Which aspects to use? Language, housing, home sickness, work place, new friends? Here are a few very random thoughts:
Language : Together with German and French languages we had studied English for five years at high school. After high school I had also worked as an au pair in London. Yet, after arriving in Dunedin it was hard getting used to this 'other' language, many words and nuances being very different from the formal foreign language we had learnt.
Housing : In May 1960 I wrote in my diary: 'With the overnight ferry 'Maori' we cross to Lyttleton and from there we have an unforgettable journey by train to Dunedin. Flat land, valleys, mountains covered with snow, so much to see. Little huts in remote places. I say to Bart that we might end up in a similar hut that night. In Dunedin eight people from the Opoho Presbyterian Church are waiting for us on the platform and Dick van Barneveld, an elder in the church, takes us to our first home in Dunedin.'
How lucky we were.
We had left Holland at a time of housing shortage. What a thrill it was to rent a four-bedroomed house for just the two of us. To be able to close the door on a room with 'stuff' that needed sorting but never was! Together we danced in the hall!
Early 1961 we rented a 100-year-old wooden house with three bedrooms where wallpaper on scrim walls moved during stormy times. This house had its own character, a loo outside didn't bother us, and we made it our home, and were proud to show newly-made friends our painting and wallpapering skills. We stayed there until February 1966 when we bought our first home.
Homesick : Oh, yes, I was homesick, don't mind admitting it. It is a long time ago now but I still remember wanting to talk to someone, for someone to acknowledge that homesickness was a reality I had to learn to live with. Letters from home helped, and my letters to our large families became 'newspapers' according to my sisters. A real blessing was to have access to such a fantastic library (I mention libraries in a previous blog) and I read and read and read those first years and still do.
Workplace : Bart started work at the Dunedin Botanic Garden the day after our arrival in May 1960 and six months later he got a job at the Otago Catchment Board which later became the Otago Regional Council. I started work at the laundries in the North East Valley and soon learnt another way of speaking English. The girls in the office enjoyed teaching me their skills and I'd come home at night, spouting new words and Bart telling me that it was better not to use these words in 'proper' conversation. After six months I applied for and did get the job as secretary at the Wool Research of New Zealand, and stayed in this job until shortly before our first baby was due.
Friends : We were lucky to meet older Dutch immigrants who took us under their wings, ready to help settle. When I started work I made other friends, extending our circle, and gradually the warm rippling effect of friendship became wider. I have an old recipe book, totally chaotic. If I want a certain recipe I have to browse through lots of loose papers. I don't want to change this because every time I look for a recipe I see handwritten recipes given to me by friends who are no longer here. Elvis Presley is not the only one who sings that 'Memories are made of this'!
Back to the Dutch article: In this article I mention that occasionally I'm aware of having one leg here in New Zealand and the other leg in the Holland of my past. Leading a double life? Not really. These are also feelings of reality, of having my life being geographically and emotionally divided. In the beginning it was hard not to mention the past, we'd come here to make a new life so we were told to only think ahead. Soon I learned to put a cover on my 21 years of living in the northern hemisphere. But times have changed, we have become more cosmopolitan, people travel more and I just love watching Asian students walking together in town, laughing, having fun and talking to each other in their native language. I still cannot do this, whenever Bart and I are in town we use the English language. Old habits??
Below is the first chapter of my nearly completed novel The Orange Garden. I hope to put it out as an e-book before too long.
"On the morning Anna and Roland climb into the waiting car. Neighbours huddled in winter-coats pulled over pyjamas, slippers on their feet, have come to say goodbye to the girl they’ve known since she was born. The gears of the Mercedes crunch as the car begins to move into the distance, red tail-lights glowing in the dark.
Anna takes Roland's arm, squeezes it tight against her breast. She turns slightly to look through the back window of the car. Other cars are waiting on the village square and they speed behind them, following through the flat landscape, through the little villages with the narrow streets and across the newly built bridges spanning the wide rivers. As they reach Amsterdam, Anna stares through the window at houses; rows and rows of houses. The straight streets, the lights, people riding bikes on their way to work.
At the end of the day those people will return to their homes.
Inside the car it is warm, but the dampness of the streets seems to filter into Anna’s body, the cold clinging around her as snow covers a mountain after a heavy winter storm. The coldness; the damp and the fear. The fear of leaving.
But there’s excitement too, moving cautiously at first, slowly building and heating the marrow of her bones; already her fear of the journey ahead is dissolving. Roland shouts, ‘I can see the ship.’
Anna's fingers touch the large gold clasp of the three-strand necklace of coral beads her mother fastened around her neck when she turned 18. Her mother's voice, 'This necklace belonged to my grandmother. It will keep you strong and protect you from ill-health. You must wear it.'
Roland puts an arm around Anna’s thin shoulders, tightens his grip. ‘We’ll make it.’ She smiles up at him. They stand close together for those last moments; Anna, Roland and their sisters and brother milling awkwardly together. They have never done such a thing before, never said goodbye not knowing if and when they will see each other again.
And ahead of them is the ship. The Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Anna keeps glancing towards it, checking that it is not moving. Soaring above them are the giant chimneys, yellow at the base with a black band at the top. The portholes are like multiple dark eyes and Anna can smell the salty seawater. She clutches Roland's hand, ‘Look at the lifeboats on the top deck of the ship. At least if the ship sinks we can get away.' Roland squeezes her hand, 'You and your imagination.'
But the memories are still with Anna. Bombs. Droning aeroplanes. Hiding in a cellar. Danger is always around. There is a man standing, now, at the gangplank and people begin to move forward giving him their tickets. There is desperation in Ada's voice as she cries out, ‘I’ll miss you, Anna. I’ll miss you so much.’ There are hugs, kisses and tears. Roland's brother, Jaap says, 'You must write. Every week, promise?'
High up on the top deck Anna and Roland look down at the small figures below waiting close to the railings. Waving. Waving and calling, Goede reis, tot ziens.’ Bon voyage. Farewell. We’ll meet again.
Roland has his arms around Anna’s shoulders, ‘It’s really happening. Our new life. I’ll work hard, Anna. I’ll make a go of this.’ ‘We'll do it together,’ Anna says.
Roland walks to the bow of the ship, his long legs confidently swinging. She remembers a freezing night, remembers those long legs. She'd decided to go to the skating rink and, circling the large, frozen area by herself, she heard her name called out. ‘Anna. You’re back! How are you?’
A tall young man in a green anorak skated towards her. Roland. Turning her feet inward, she braked. He shook her hand. ‘How was London? You look so different.’ They skated, talking till the rink closed. Slowly they biked towards the village where Anna lived. As they reached her house Roland touched her arm, ‘Come with me to the film tomorrow night?’ ‘Why not?’ Anna had said, already composing a letter to Lucy in her mind. ‘He's lovely. You won’t believe how he’s changed since we left school. He's so thoughtful. He asked if your fall on the ice had left any scars. He’s not too shy. He's good-looking. He’s taking me to the film. O la la. He even kissed me.'
Lucy, her best friend since the first day at school. Already Lucy has become a memory. Already home has become the place where things happened in the past. Roland walks towards her on the deck. A wide grin on his face. Anna opens her arms, 'I love you.'
Our family is on the quay. Tomorrow I won’t see them. Neither tomorrow nor next month. Not next year. Their faces and bodies will become only images to be remembered as they are now in future years. They will return to me like flashes in a silent film.
She remembers the visit to her aunt. Remembers Tante Clara's fearful expression as she clutched Anna's arm, ‘But do you really want to go so far away? What sort of a country is it where you’re going? Are there really more sheep than people? Do they have streets there? Is it safe, Anna? Will you be safe?’
Is this how it will be? And is this really what she wants? What has she done? Will she ever see her mother again? If she and Roland have children will they ever meet their grandparents? How will we be able to afford to make the journey home?
Goede reis, tot ziens."