I was born, of Dutch parents from Netherlands, and raised in Rhodesia which is now called Zimbabwe. My first language is Dutch but of course my schooling was British as the country was a colony.
My childhood, I understand today was privileged, but as we never had servants at home and my father treated the workers who helped him with respect, it never occurred to me that there was a deeper issue in the country that I so came to love.
I loved the hot days, which are followed by warm nights, the wild bush, the animals that I regularly saw in the national parks – elephants, rhino, wildebeest, antelope, giraffe and so many more. I loved the native people who were ready with a smile and a greeting.
I was married at 20 and my first husband was then in the army, fighting for responsible government so we understood, but when independence came and he was called into the army to prevent the two African parties from killing each other, and Mugabe had made it clear that he wanted white people to leave, so we went to live in South Africa.
South Africa was a shock! It was the time of Apartheid and I had never seen such oppression and segregation in my home country. However, it was also the first time that I started reading books about the founding of Rhodesia and this was a turning point in my life, I realised that my entire history education about Africa was founded on propaganda and it took me some time to reconcile myself with this and the fact that I had been so blind.
My husband died in an accident after 6 years of marriage and again this made me realise how little I knew of myself and what my own opinions and choices would be having spent so many years making joint choices and being with him for 8 years. At the time I was left well taken care of but this brought me lessons on how to prevent being taken advantage of and how to learn that not everyone was acting in my interests, even if they said they were. I started to become an independent woman. Strangely the tragic death of my husband was the trigger for a different life.
I started working with women’s organisations, networking and organising events to make women more confident and assured, informing them of opportunities and understanding the challenges that we faced across racial lines and economic divides.
This was also a time when I ventured into business with my partner running a wholesale business importing housewares from all over the world (or at least those countries prepared to trade with South Africa at the time). Regrettably my partner who was in charge of purchases invested unwisely and he sold the business and himself into a new partnership … leaving me without a thing … Another life lesson.
After 10 years of being alone I met and married my second husband who was a part-time opera singer and had a dream of being professional. I sold my house, moved to UK, to make his dream come true and I’m sure you can see the next life lesson coming up. After 22 years I had to leave, after which my husband was diagnosed as bipolar and manic depressive … regrettably the damage to our relationship had been done.
However, a new door opened … without any assets, without much money, without a life partner, without any pets (regrettably only months before I lost my 17 year old dog), without many possessions … what would I do?
I asked myself the old question “if you could do anything … what would you do”?
After 20 years in Europe, I was tired of the winters and being cold, constantly adapting to different cultures (I lived in UK, Portugal, Luxembourg and Spain), always being the foreigner … I knew I wanted to go home.
It was also the first time that, in my time away, I started to see that the people of Africa wanted something better for themselves, especially in Zimbabwe and the tide has turned with Mugabe being ousted from his overly long rule. I felt enlivened by the idea that what I had learnt in South Africa and Europe about business, economics, coaching, the women’s organisations and so much more, there must be a contribution I could make at home.
Thus the answer was … I am going home. The idea of just flying home somehow felt wrong, I also realised that after being away from Africa so long, being in a difficult relationship for so long that what I really needed was a journey … a journey to rediscover Africa and a journey to rediscover myself. As I’ve driven throughout Europe and America, and I love driving and navigating, I thought driving Africa would be the thing to do.
I set out and over the past almost 2 years I have done a huge amount of research, searched for the right van and bought it, built it out mostly on my own (acquiring new skills in carpentry and much more). I also felt that I wanted my journey to have a greater purpose and in my research on Africa and from what I know I saw the need that I wanted to contribute to and registered a non-profit called Kusasa (tomorrow in the Ndebele language of my region).
Today I would say that I’m ready to undertake a new chapter of my life and as best prepared as I can be to drive home and further Kusasa and contribute to a better tomorrow.