Brazil , Pakistan, Japan, France, Israel, the Netherlands: This is Sueli’s story
Sueli Brodin has lived in the Netherlands for almost two decades, but her journey to the place she now calls home has been a whirlwind adventure like you've never heard. This is her story.
When people ask me where I come from, my thoughts inevitably take me way back in time to the early 1930’s and to a place on the other side of the globe, the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This is where my story starts.
During those years of economic crisis, tens of thousands of Japanese people, including both my mother’s grandparents, decided to emigrate to Brazil, in the genuine belief that they would soon be back home, having made a fortune after a few years of hard labour in the coffee bean plantations near São Paulo.
Unfortunately their dream didn’t come true, and when the Second World War broke out, they even lost contact with their families back in Japan. After the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, my grandparents were convinced that all their relatives had vanished together with the entire city.
Although born in France, my father grew up in New York, where his own father had founded the Free French University and played an active role in the cultural life of the French community.
After spending many years travelling around the world, including one year in Japan studying the language and exploring the country, my father arrived in Brazil where he took on the post of director of an Alliance Française in Rio de Janeiro. Wishing to further his knowledge of Japanese, he was quick to pay a visit to the Brazil–Japan cultural institute across the street, and this is where he met my mother, who happened to be the director’s secretary.
I was born in 1966 in the picturesque quarter of Laranjeiras in Rio de Janeiro, at the time when Brazilian Bossa Nova music was conquering the world. I often heard my parents say that Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim composed their famous song ‘A Girl from Ipanema’ in a bar very near from where we used to live.
In 1969, a year after my sister was born, we moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, where my father became the new cultural attaché at the French embassy. I started going to the British nursery school and learned my first nursery rhymes in English. My brother was born in the neighbouring town of Rawalpindi. During the Bangladesh war of independence of 1971, the entire French community living in Islamabad, including my family, sought refuge in Kabul, Afghanistan. I still remember helping my father cover our white car with mud in order to camouflage it, setting off in a long convoy of cars and trucks, and attending a small French school in Kabul.
The year 1972 saw us relocate again, this time to Tokyo, Japan, where we were to spend four unforgettable years. My mother immediately started off an official procedure to search for her long lost relatives in Hiroshima. My grandmother from Brazil came to live with us and was present when an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs phoned to inform us that our family in Hiroshima had been found.
After 40 years of silence and separation, my grandmother was finally reunited with her aunts, uncles and cousins, who miraculously enough, had not perished during the war. As the eldest daughter, I accompanied my parents when they too travelled to Hiroshima to meet our relatives. It was an emotional encounter: my grandmother’s cousin kept hugging me, my mother’s eyes were filled with tears and my father kept repeating: “This is a historic moment in our family, Kyomi, engrave it in your memory.”
Our stay in Japan came to an end in the summer of 1976. My father was appointed director of a secondary school in the east of France and this final move marked the end of our travels abroad as a family. This is also when instead of speaking a variety of languages at home (Portuguese, French, Japanese, English), we all switched to French, including my mother.
After three years in the Vosges region, six years in Tours in the Loire valley and one year in Paris, I obtained a Bachelors’ degree in English language and literature and won a scholarship to study at Rutgers University in New Jersey, US. My year abroad also gave me the chance to get to know my grandparents in New York better and to do some voluntary work at the UN headquarters.
Back in France, I started working for the international editions of the French women’s magazine ELLE in Paris. But my feet were still feeling restless and a year later, I was backpacking throughout Europe on my own. I had decided that my final destination would be Israel, where I wanted to learn Hebrew and work as a volunteer on a kibbutz.
One of the other volunteers at the kibbutz was a young Dutch man from Dordrecht, whom I quickly became friends with and later married. We worked together at the cowshed, enjoyed the kibbutz lifestyle and stretched our time in Israel for as long as we could. We were both there during the first Gulf War and put our gas masks on every time Saddam Hussein sent a Scud rocket towards Tel Aviv.
We have now been living for the past 17 years in the Netherlands, and 15 years out of those in the Maastricht Region, just outside the city of Maastricht. I’ve never lived this long anywhere before and I deeply enjoy the feeling of finally having found myself a home. Our three children were born here and speak Dutch with the soft Limburg accent. When people ask me what brought us here, I always answer that it is the Treaty of Maastricht, which set the city on the European map and also made it known to me.
What kept us here is the charm and beauty of the region, its historical appeal, its attractive geographical location, so close to other European states, its good-natured and easy-going people, its peaceful green and hilly landscapes, its gratifying quality of life and naturally the open and friendly international community I was able to find here.
Sueli Brodin blogs for the Maatstricht Region community website: www.maastrichtregion.com and is the founder of Crossroads, an English-language web magazine aimed at the international community living in Maastricht and surroundings.
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