IV. Kill or Be Killed

   10 years old and living in South Africa. Don't get excited. "OMG she lived in Africa. How cool!" GTFO. If you go as a tourist, you'll only see all the stunning wildlife, national reserves, and beautiful blue coast lines. Yes it's amazing I'm not going to lie. Totally go see it if you have the chance. Live there? A whole different scenario. These beautiful things get stripped away like a bandage while the wound is still open. Well at least for me they did. 

  I had just come from a place that I considered home and was immersed into something I never wanted to be part of in the first place. I arrived with a negative mindset and I know now that that was by far the worst thing to do when arriving in a new country. 

   We moved to South Africa because my father was a pastors as well as professor. The language was Afrikaans and we learned it super fast because we called it "baby-Dutch". It was similar in all forms of pronunciation and comprehension so it will always be the easiest language I've ever learned. Even though the language was new, we were a part of a community that was fully Dutch. These people immigrated from the motherland and became a community in Pretoria. It was weird now that I think about it as an adult. These were the people that I can't stand now. The ones who move to a completely different place and settle down but never NEVER become a part of the whole community and culture that is already existent there. Ugh. But, perhaps this experience made me realize my opinion on this matter when I became more mature. 

   My Dutch language skills became dominate and I feel like because of my age and surroundings, Dutch became so primary. Sure we always leaned towards speaking Dutch at home but I never thought it was my “mother language”. But if this wasn’t, what was? I still consider English being my second language but I was raised learning both languages equally. When French came into the mix after Montreal, I tended to lean towards speaking that with my siblings. Still to this day, we’ll drop a few sentences in French together. Why? Probably talking trash about people around us. Lets be honest. If theres a bunch of people together with my last name and we start a conversation in one language and end in another, we either didn't know the word or phase we needed to move the conversation along, or we may have been talking about you or the people around you. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

   Back to my time in Africa. I was unhappy. I hated it. Here I was in a place that I totally didn’t want to live and I had just left my home. Home. I didn’t want a new one. I was now stuck in a bloody fucking hot place in December and everyone around us was excited to Christmas and the holidays. Get out. It was fucking hot. I will not have a pool party on Christmas Eve. I just won’t. It’s unnatural. This is not how Christmas was intended to be. 

   So there I was. Grumpy and freaking out about everything. We lived in Pretoria and I’m not going to lie. It was unsafe. At first it was fine *whatever* we’re all getting used to living in a new place. Don’t let the news get to you. Don’t let peoples stories get to you! But after a while, those bloody murder photos on the front pages of the newspaper and those stories of violence became reality. To the people around me. To my family. When painful things happen to people around you, you’re always thankful it isn't you. But there, everyone fends for themselves. It could be anyone and you could be next. Go outside = Don’t get killed. 

   Four meters walls with barb electric wiring attached to the tops surrounded every house. Every house. This was our neighborhood. Well more like our compound. Every neighborhood had their additional gates and fencing surrounding the area. And this was considered normal. Everyone had a minimum of 2 dogs. Not intended to be your pets. They’d be trained to rip apart anything that came over your walls. Good luck sleeping. 

   Even though the gun shot wounds on my fathers forearms will haunt me till the day I die, there were beautiful memories that happened while we lived there. We always would go to the Cape and spend our holiday in February. It was our time to regain our strength before returning to “war zone” up north. Lined with wineries, good food, beaches and oceans the Cape was everything. If you know me, you know I get most of my joy from the water. I know this joy has been passed down to my from my mother. Oh the beauty she had while she was near the water. The happiness that was in her life when she was on the beach with her duckling children. All the happy memories I have from living in South Africa are from the coastline. I rarely have a memory from up north that is affiliated with happiness. 

   If you’re wondering if my feelings and thoughts towards my time in Africa are the same for my whole family, you’d be wrong. Both my parents and siblings all have their likes and dislikes from living there. I had a sister stay and complete a whole university degree there. That’s a long time. She loved it there. That is her home. Her roots. My parents returned a few years later and continued their life there for a while longer. They loved the sun. Will I ever return? No. If I can stay away from that place, I will. If I’d ever go to therapy *laughs hysterically*I’m sure they’ll say I experienced traumatic things that a regular 10-12 year old shouldn’t, but I already know that and I’m a Neele so we power though these “experiences” and continue our lives with fire and perseverance. We all dealt with our time living in Africa differently and at our own pace.

   We learned and we moved on, or we learned and we stayed.

lll. Wandering Youth

Uniform Days

   Please play Greatest Love of All by Whitney (verse one obviously), and enjoy my time as a private school girl. Carry on. 

   I was roughly 8 years old and everything was French. Everything. Here I am, a young-ling, excited to be moving to Montreal with my family. Excited for change. Reality hit very soon and I was enrolled in a French private school and French language school. The parents had the idea we'd stay there for a long time, so they did what any parent would do: Throw your kids in the deep end. Learn French fluently. 

   So there I was, bilingual dictionary on the dinner table doing homework. If you've ever hated doing homework, I recommend doing it in a language you don't know. Let me know how it goes and let's compare notes. *sigh* After dinner, it was off to French language class which was the absolute worst. Verb tenses that never ended. Pronunciations that was always filed under "things that sound like" in my brain. Chaos. 

   Few months went by and our night courses at the language school came to an end, so we had to fend for ourselves at school. Private school was interesting to say the least. Add a new language and environment to uniform brat girls and you've got yourselves a hella good time. Body image issues and bullying came full force that year. I dealt with it alone as long as I could before it got bad. I recall having a teacher, Madam Pote, who was and is by far one of my most influential and passionate teachers I've ever had in my youth. For some reason, I think she understood the frustration of me trying to deal with that was happening around me. If you've ever met me, you'd know I want to be the best, at the top, and everything has to be perfect. *Aries Alert* Now imagine me being none of those things and trying to fit in. Trying to become fluent in a language I don't know. Trying to become, well me. Not my finest hour.

   Madam Pote though, she could speak English perfectly, but never spoke it when I was around. She would always encourage me to figure it out as much as I could in French. She was the encouragement I needed when everyone and everything around me was getting my down. The patience that woman had, I don't know how she did it. Even though I was only 8 or 9 years of age, she was everything I aspired to be when I started teaching in Cambodia so many many years later. Yes, me a teacher. In Cambodia. More on that later. 

  Summer holiday was spent waiting for my baby sister to arrive. Mum was glowing and about to give birth at any moment. I will always have an image of her drinking her tea on the back patio of our house smiling as she watch us, her ducklings, play in the pool. Such a small but lively moment will always be one of the last memories I have before my final sibling came around. When she arrived, we named her Salóme. With her wild black hair, she was finally there. I know it wasn't easy for my mum. She went through a difficult birth (which I was informed of at the time but only comprehended when I was much older), and had an additional surgery directly following a birth of a child. No kidding my youngest sister was the final sibling. 

   There was a lady that joined our family to help us out while my mum was in recovery. I don't recall clearly, but I think her name started with an "H". For story sake, let's call her H. I know my mum thought of her as more as an annoyance than a help, but we can't win 'em all. She lasted a few weeks with us before she went back to where she came from. Will I ever see here again? Probably not. Do I feel bad writing this? Not really. 

  My dad went on a business trip to who-knows-where *oblivious child* during this time too. While he was gone, he arranged for us to be picked up from our house and brought to school everyday so my mum could rest.  (Please don't judge the rest of this story). Black Lincoln's picked us up at 8am and dropped us off post school. While these drivers were on rotation, we had a few that we had more often than others. The ones we had more often were the bomb. One time when we all were ready to go, waiting in the sun room for him to pull up into the drive, like he always did we waited. Seeing his tail lights at the end of the street and he wasn't moving. Not one bit. So after a few moments, we said our goodbyes to mum and we walked to the end of the way. There was a FUCKING LIMOUSINE waiting for us. Obviously we got in 💅. Our favorite driver was so excited to have us that morning. Not only was it just a casual limo, it was Celine Dion's limo. Canada's sweetheart. The queen of Canada. My heart will go on and on Celine. Our driver let us mess around with all the buttons till we got to school. Lights, retractable bar (!!!!), tv screens. It was and still is by far the weirdest morning I have ever had. Of course the commute felt like only 2 minutes had passed before it was all over...

   When Christmas season arrived, I had become comfortable enough to do homework without a dictionary beside me and I started to feel like I was settling in. Winters in Montreal were insane to say the least. When it started to snow, it never ended. Icicles on the mailman's beard? Check. Snow piles till mid-April? Please. -40* windshield? I can't even. *rolls eyes* Even though it was by far the worst season, it was the dominate one and we had to deal with it as much we could. Don't ever think that we get snow days. I had one. ONE SNOW DAY! For the entire season. There was snow meters high, it covered houses. But no, don't stop the education. Once you survived the winter seasons, it was and will always be one of my most favored cities on earth.

   Montreal became my home. I was in the mindset that we were going to stay here for a while. I was perhaps naive of what the living sitch was, but I honestly though we wouldn't have to move again. Maybe if I were older I would have "read the signs" better or looked at life in a different perspective, but I honestly didn't want to move again. I was sick of it. So I did what I will never do again after Montreal; I settled my heart down and started to plant roots. That was and still is the biggest regret I have from living there. I settled. I made it home. 


   A few months later, we moved. 


ll. Early Days

Beach Houses


   One of the earliest and most favored memories I have as a child were the days our clan spent at Lake Michigan. We had a beach house that we rented and spent all of August at the water. Let's not get carried away with casually renting a lake house. It was the tiniest log cabin situation, located in half forest/half dunes.  The living space was connected to a patio that looked out over the lake. One large window and a screen door that never closed, connected the outside world with the inside. Kitchen was exactly in the middle of the house. Barely no space to hold more than two people, but the liveliest place after dusk fell. Let's not forget the side room to the right of the house. Connected again with a screen door it was basically a shed full of summer fun. Beach toys, tubs, surf boards came into that tiny side space at night and everything from the lake came along with it.  Bunk beds and sand everywhere. It was perfect. These times were perhaps the only steady thing that happened in our young lives.  

   Every morning was the same. Wake up, eat, run the hundreds wooden steps down to the waves and do all the things before dusk fell or you got hungry. Climbing all the whose steps back up the the cabin was the absolute worst. After the first day of unplanning, it became very important to plan out food, water, toys, anything before heading down to the waves in the morning. You didn't want to run out of anything or it would be an unwanted workout. Of course if you were the chosen one to run them up to the house there was always a list of things requested to be brought back down.


l. Laying Groundwork

A Family Introduction


   There are the top four, as we like call them the “best four”, and than there are two little ones. Some might even say the two extras. By the time I was born, I had two sisters and a brother. Girl-boy-girl, and you guessed it, everyone thought I’d be a boy, but surprise I have a vagina. Years went by before the two extras joined the clan, so no questions asked, I will always be the baby. 

   Contrary to popular belief, we all come from the same two people. The parents. They're quite traditional in certain areas. Not all areas, thank god, but certain ones. They did the classic “fall-in-love and get married” thing and started a family. Not many couples have a bunch of kids and travel the whole globe together but more on that later. I forgot to mention that my parents are Dutch and that both sides of the extended family still live in The Netherlands.

   Side note: If I’m fluent in Dutch, don’t ask me if I’m from Denmark. It's not the same. It’s embarrassing for you. Just stop. 

   Back to what I was saying; as far as I can backtrack, we are the only family from both sides to ever leave the motherland. We are proud of where we come from and will always defend our king, queen and our football, but other than that we’ve moved on. 


Where Are You From? 


   This may be the worst question for someone that has grown up around the globe. We've been labeled 'third culture kids' or TCK's as I'd like to call us. If you're unfamiliar with the term TCK, let me explain. If you have more than one acceptable answer to "where are you from?" perhaps that's a marker. You may speak multiple languages fluently but have never studied them on a grammatical standpoint. Even been homesick reading National Geographic? It happens.

   While growing up I've always made it a point to explain where I was from because I thought that was the norm. I've always had people ask, so why not tell them straight out the gate. As I've grown I have completely stopped explaining. Not that I no longer want to, but I don't have this need to explain why I may say things differently or have no shame in asking what the hell people are talking about because I wasn't part of these cultures as a developing child. Things such as american football, prom, national anthems, culturally correct ways to greet people. All these things: 'normal' for someone who isn't a TCK. Too many times have I greeted someone with three kisses when it had to be two. Hugged when I had to bow. Lets be real, after a few culture changes these things start to blend together. 

   As I became more independent I found loopholes that help learn cultural norms much faster. For me, sitting alone in coffee shop, sip on a drink and just watch. Watch as life goes on around you and take everything in. You'll start to notice how people communicate with one another. Learn the language as fast as you possibly can. Taking language courses isn't my cup of tea but immersing yourself completely in a new culture is the way I've learned best. 

   Too many times I have meet other travels that will always compare. Compare their home-culture with the current culture their in. Comparing how things are being said, things are being done. But I always wondered, if it was so good back home, why are you here? Of course some things may run better a certain way in one culture, but if this culture hasn't changed its ways for hundreds of years I have a feeling they're going to be just fine. Accept that you're in a new place. Accept that you may never go back to where you just came from. Move on and be grateful for the change you've discovered. Embrace it.