Who is Michaela?

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I tell people I'm from somewhere in the North Sea. The truth is that I'm not from anywhere in particular any more, though my passport says that I'm Dutch.

Judging by my place of birth and upbringing, that's undeniably true. Going on other criteria, like my values, outlook on life and taste in breakfast, I'm British and proud of it. Yet from early childhood, I've had a strange and inexplicable fascination with all things Latin American and since I've spent time there, I know that’s where I belong and want to be.

Rio de Janeiro - my redemption

I grew up in the 70s in a village outside of Rotterdam mostly inhabited by tomatoes. I detest tomatoes. To get to school, I battled 10 km into the wind on endless country dikes come rain or shine, only to find that the wind had turned by the time I cycled back. Then I discovered hitchhiking. And pubs full of retired sailors. Missing geography, I listened open-mouthed to 'sea tales' of Hong Kong, Singapore and Rio de Janeiro. Maths was replaced with playing dice and that most Dutch and inexplicable of all card games called 'klaverjassen'. Mysteriously, I also picked up whatever I needed to pass my VWO exams (A levels) with top marks.

 

My career choice focussed mostly on combining a knack for languages with opportunities to leave Holland. Diplomatic service was out of the question for a rebel without a cause like me so I became a journalist with a view to becoming foreign correspondent for Latin America. But fate decided otherwise and made me fall in love with a British astronomer who worked in the US. I went abroad alright, but neither as a journalist nor to anywhere Latin. I spent three years in the US, followed by 18 in the UK. The mad scientist astronomer was impossible as a husband and we were divorced after five years. He left me with two things – a daughter and the valuable lesson that you cannot observe a star when you’re sitting on it.

Christmas 2001 in Brazil

My next relationship, with a sculptor-musician-fine arts lecturer, left me with another child and a long hard think about lost property. I mean plans, ideals, the life of my choice. Plan 'A' involved 'up-skilling' to an MA in Investigative Journalism and indeed this brought a brief spell of success writing on Blair's education policy, but it failed to get me employment. In 2001, daughter number one left home for university. This is when Plan 'B' kicked in - a TESOL diploma, getting rid of everything I owned and going travelling with my then seven-year-old.  Brazil to Venezuela by plane, car, bus, lama and anything else that moved; from Curacao round the Eastern Caribbean to Cuba working as crew on luxury yachts; Nicaragua to Mexico by chicken bus. And just when I'd found a teaching job in Mexico City, fate again had other plans – my father became critically ill so I returned to the Netherlands.

 

I'm an immigrant in my own country. For the first time in all the trials and tribulations of my existence, I’m not managing to build myself a new life. The Holland that I live in is vastly different from the Holland experienced by most expats who come in with a job and a decent income. I came in without a job and 400 job applications later, I've still not got one. I've translated a book about the Indonesian legal system and have written an eco-tourism holiday guide but have mostly lived lock, stock, and barrel in the clutches of Social Services. Believe me, Holland's not pretty from down here. Necessity is finally making a writer out of me – I've created a blog , www.oh-brave-new-world.blogspot.com and I've got two or three books planned, one of which on the nomadic lives we lead. I also raise funds for Building New Hope, an amazingly creative, empowering, capacity-building project in Nicaragua, together with my daughter's class of 12-year-olds. See www.kidsonthestreet.nl If I can bring it off in two weeks, there'll be another event on Queen's Day. Watch this space.

Michaela is one of Expatica's guest bloggers.

18 April 2007

[Copyright Michaela 2007]

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