For all Diana’s Canadian friends: She lives all the way in Canada and has reserved a place for ‘Mermaids don’t drown’ (Fun Fact: Élamy Agency believes the book should be available in English and in French. If you want to know what the book is about, you can read the blurb) in her bookcase. I have been following her on Facebook ever since the birth of my oldest daughter Floor (11). Why? Because the life of my former classmate Diana van der Voordt (van der Have) intrigues me.
She exchanged Bruinisse for Canada. She exchanged the dykes, the polder (reclaimed land), the water and the mussels for the bush bush, bears in the backyard and home-grown vegetables. And she has been living in the second largest country in the world for over 15 years now.
Her husband is an old acquaintance of mine
Diana is married to Remco, also an old acquaintance of mine. Remco and I once worked at “Sailor’s Inn” (a restaurant at the old marina of Bruinisse, back then to be found in the passage that is no longer there). He was frying French fries in the snackbar, I cleaned buckets filled with onions in the restaurant kitchen. I also follow him closely on Facebook, his photos of his truck and adventures are awesome.
Interview with Diana van der Voordt (van der Have)
Diana and I meet on September 14 via Messenger, on video chat. For me it’s approximately 9.00 pm, for Diana it’s 4.00 pm. Her boys’ homeschooling day is already over.
The moment we connect and see each other again for the first time in many, many years, we both laugh. We laugh together for a moment.
But not awkward at all at the same time.
I decide to get started and ask my first question.
In three words: who is Diana?
Diana looks at me, a deep wrinckle of thought appears on her face.
“Difficult, isn’t it?” I say. “I sometimes ask students this during my lectures. It’s such a difficult question.”(It comes from the “test ” that all 16-year-olds in my novel “Dreamer “are subjected to).
“Patient,” Diana says. “I’m patient. And… – do I really need to pick three words or can I add an expression?”
‘Heart of gold.’
And then she laughs. ‘Stubborn.’
“Wait a second,” she says. “I have to shut the door. They (she refers to her two sons, Quintin and Damien) constantly leave that door open!”
You have left Bruinisse. You now live in Canada. Was that from Bruinisse to Canada in one go, or was it preceded by another move?
“First, Remco and I ended up in Nieuwerkerk in 2001, where my in laws also live. We couldn’t find a house in Bruinisse. Nothing affordable, at least.”
And then Canada. How did you come up with this?
“Friends of ours immigrated to Canada in January 2005. In May, we went on vacation to Canada to visit them. Funny detail: coincidentally my older brother, Wim, and his wife also went on vacation in Canada at the same time.
Anyway, we were here in Canada for a week and… how do you say that in Dutch? “I fell in love”.
We talked a lot. A LOT. We traveled there for three weeks and immersed ourselves in the country and the culture. We found out that nurses and truck drivers were needed there. Remco was a truck driver and I had been working as a nurse in the Cornelia in Zierikzee since 2000…. Once back home, we dived into it even deeper.
After having talked about it over and over again, we decided not to talk about it anymore. But at one point we took a very critical look at what we actually had in the Netherlands except family. Everything and everyone is so close together (litteraly: The Netherlands is one of the densely populated countries in Europe).
The people are not gentle, but generally quite tough.
The Netherlands is a country of rules, especially many tax rules. So then we started researching and arranging everything. That was a long-term process.
We didn’t talk about our plans until we got permission to come to Canada. Only then we started talking to everyone about it. And then my brother Wim called on a Sunday evening to tell us something… And he told us exactly the same news: he was going to emigrate to Canada with his wife… At home, Wim was the first to be blamed. He was the one who must have ‘infected’ Diana with the Canada-virus. And then Remco was the stirrer-up. But in the end, it was me all along. I was the one was the most excited about Canada from the first moment.
Immediately afterwards, we collected boxes and packed them continuously. Summer passed – we put all summer clothes and gear in our extra bedroom. And then we sold our house. That all went fairly quickly. The neighbor arranged a sea container. We really packed everything for transport to Canada. Also our furniture. It was cheaper to take everything with us from the Netherlands, because we had to take all clothes, photos and such anyway. We labeled and stickered everything and made lists.
Yes, and then we first went to Tenerife for a week, because we knew that a vacation would no longer be possible after the move. There wouldn’t be any money for that. We were there in Tenerife with our oldest clothes, that we threw away afterwards. I will always remember Tenerife, because Remco was busy studying for his drivers license all week in a lounge chair by the pool. The traffic rules in Canada are a bit different, so he had to get the right papers for that.
Then we lived with Remco’s parents for another week. On December 5, 2005, Sinterklaas (Sinterklaas is kind of a Dutch Santa Claus) said goodbye to us at Schiphol.
Once in Canada, we first stayed in an apartment. We lived there more or less with people who kept walking in and out. Knocking on a door before you enter? – They had never heard of that before. We hardly had any privacy. And we didn’t have any room for our furniture. We just had room for a sofa and coffee table. We stored all the rest. Remco was immediately on the truck and I was not allowed to work the first year. Fortunately, we soon got a tip that there was a log cabin for sale reasonably close by. We bought this house in early April 2006. But definitely not all at once. The decision about the house was easy, but it was quite a long story. Because we couldn’t show “credit”. It was very odd. Because we certainly had money of our own. And we were creditworthy. But in the Netherlands it is always best that you have no or as little debt as possible. Here you show that you can pay for things with debts and credit cards and your repayments. Bizarre, huh? Ultimately, we were able to buy the house with a mortgage from a Credit Union. We paid a percentage to prove we were creditworthy. “
Diana sits on the edge of her seat. The expression on my face tells her that I’m amazed. She tells another special detail.
“We had to rebuy all electronical devices. All connections are different here. And not just the connections: everything here is 110 volts instead of 220. Only the hob with oven and dryer use 220 volts. “
Canada is, along with Russia, the country with the most time zones. You’ve landed in New Brunswick, Woodstock. How different is life there, compared to here in the Netherlands?
“Try and go back in time about twenty years. We still put the garbage in bags along the road. And by ‘along the road’ I mean all the way down. Otherwise the bears will come to your house and garden. And I really don’t want that.”
I respond with: “I can imagine that.”
But I can’t imagine that. At all. I think: Oh. My. Mermaid. And then I think about my girls’ teddy bears and how Diana really, absolutely does nót mean teddy bears at all.
“But there is progress!” – she says cheerfully. “Since last year we finally have a recycling bin for paper and metal. But here you also go back in time twenty years in terms of education. Quintin cooped up in our house in March because of the corona crisis. It wasn’t until early April that an email came in from school with work. And then I found out that Quintin, now almost eleven, couldn’t even divide numbers. Damien was seven years old at the time and had to find ten squares and ten circles in a square house. I was really… really disappointed. I know all schools here have the same curriculum, but I don’t know if it’s just as bad in Ontario. That is why we have opted for homeschooling, we started this school year. Of course, it also has something to do with Covid-19 and all that hassle with the face masks. I don’t want that for the boys. They have to go to school with a school bus and they spend almost an hour in it, wearing a mask. “
When you think back to your childhood in Bruinisse, what is your best memory?
“Sliding down the stone dyke on a cardboard box with “Duufje” (nickname of our former classmate Leon van Duivendijk). My older brother Kees-Jan played with Miranda, Leon’s sister. My mother sometimes went to visit Leon’s mother and then I went along. “
Her eyes widen. She puts her finger in the air.
“Oh, another nice memory! My sister used to go to the Grevelingendam (the beach) with Pascal (her son) by car and then I followed them by bike (about 2,5 miles). “
“Oh, when I tell my boys about these things, they look at me with those big eyes. They can’t imagine it.”
What do you miss most about Bru?
She doesn’t hesitate for a bit and answers instantly.
Do you miss the mussels? (Bruinisse is a mussel fishing village)
“No, because I don’t like mussels.”
I – I’m a mussel lover pur sang (par excellence) – look at her downright angry. Diana smiles.
“I don’t eat mussels, because they have a bigger tongue.”
Me: “Um, Diana … I can’t publish this on my blog (that’s about the ocean, mussel and contains mussel recipes). You know this for sure?”
She laughs even harder.
“And it isn’t his tongue, by the way,” I say defensively. “Look, back in the day, when I was a kid, I always thought that was his, you-know-what, but, Diana, it’s his foot!”
Diana in the meantime almost rolls off the couch laughing.
“My parents tried it every week at one point. Cooked, baked. I thought it was inedible. “
I quickly move on to the next question.
How old are your two boys?
Quintin is eleven – he’s from May 15, 2009 and Damien is just eight. He was born on August 28, 2012.
Have your sons ever been to Bruinisse?
Quintin spent some time in the Netherlands around his first birthday. We then went to see my sister Jolanda, who still lives in Bruinisse. We then went shopping at the Albert Heijn (a Dutch grocery store). It was in 2010, when we last went back. Now I wouldn’t know how to pay four plain tickets. When the truck stops, we have no money. That’s how it works here. No work here is no money.
Have you not returned to nursing?
She shakes her head.
“It’s a very conscious decision that I did not go back into care. Otherwise I would have had to do the training all over again. And then I had to study for two years and I really didn’t feel like it anymore. I did help as an “assistant” in a care home for a long time. But they found it very useful to let me do caring tasks at the salary of an “assistant”. I had to work 12-hour shifts and irregular night shifts. It was barely manageable, so I stopped doing that. After that I ended up in a clothing store in the village, and to be honest, I liked that much more than care. But when I gave birth to Quintin, it soon became apparent that the childcare was my entire pay slip. And they have 10 weeks of summer vacation here – yes, how are you supposed to bridge that gap? Here in Canada you have to have such a great job if you want to be able to afford childcare. Really a highly skilled job, like teaching.”
Can your boys also read in the Dutch language?
‘Hell yes! Quintin can read almost fluently in Dutch. It’s the simple “Dr. Seus – The cat in the hat -” stuff. An “eu” or an “o” – they find those sounds in Dutch very difficult. They really don’t understand that. They both speak it well, but with a heavy accent. Damien, for instance, talks about his “Sssonnebwil” (zonnebril – sunglasses).
Then Diana says in between to one of her sons: “No! You will break it… No! “
I ask if she speaks to the children in her mother tongue.
“Yes, certainly. Quintin can even talk in dialect. Hahaha. But of course it’s not proper to speak Dutch when we’re out.”
Now I suddenly see two faces extra in my Messenger-window. One very mischievous face and one that gives me a throw-back-in-time: the youngest looks just like Diana.
“I have a lot of books!” Quintin says.
“Go ahead,” I say. “Do you like to read?”
He nods happily.
Damien pulls funny faces and gives his mother a spontaneous kiss.
Then Diana chases the boys away.
Would you like it if your boys would read “Mermaids don’t drown”?
‘Yes, really! I’ve already reserved a spot for Mermaids in my bookcase. I think… if I read to them, it might work out. I think so.’ (Fun Fact: Élamy Agency believes Mermaids don’t drown should be available in English and in French. If you want to know what the book is about, you can read the blurb via https://www.elami-agency.com/books/mermaids-dont-drown/)
What do you do in everyday life?
“A serious activity of mine is growing my own vegetables. I always want to eat fresh vegetables, but that is not available here. It is all imported stuff. You can only get broccoli, carrots and lettuce here. When it is the middle of winter, there is almost nothing available. Yes, mini-cauliflowers, just about enough for two grown-ups, for 7 to 8 Canadian dollars. There is hardly any healthy food, and if it’s available it’s not affordable. That’s why so many people in Canada have weight-issues.”
I ask about her greenhouse. I saw it being built on Facebook. I’ve been following her closely for years.
“Yes, it is a serious greenhouse. It’s 10 by 16 feet. I have cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, peppers and some kind of chili peppers in it. In the garden I also have beans, peas, beetroot, carrots, garlic, spring onions and normal onions. We get fresh meat from a farmer, a good friend of Wim. Last week I was in the supermarket to buy a melon, strawberries and break snacks for the boys. It cost me 168 dolllar for four bags. You spend 3.99 for a loaf of bread now.”
I laugh for a moment and remind her of her Facebook post with pictures of her boys when shelling green beans in pots and pans whilst sitting on the couch. She laughs along. Yes, that’s quite normal.
“I also started baking bread by myself. First because of the gluten intolerance of the youngest. But because of the high prices, I now bake everything by myself. Yes, that has also become a passion, baking. I bake everything by myself. I recently had a barbecue with Wim and his wife Lies. I made gluten free cupcakes with dairy free frosting. Everyone loved it and nobody realized it was a buttercream without real butter! I also like to mess around in the garden and in the evenings I can often be found on the couch with my Kindle e-reader. I have a subscription. I like to read paranormal stories, such as vampire stories. “
I ask if she already read the latest Stephenie Meyer (Midnight Sun).
‘No not yet!’ She exclaims enthusiastically.
Then we are chatting about the heat in the Netherlands (at the time of the interview we have a few record warm days, mid-September). She nods and indicates that the climate in Canada also has changed since she and Remco immigrated there in 2005.
“The daytime temperatures in Canada in the early winter at the time were between -25 and -30. The snow was often so high that it would have reached the bottom of a stop sign. In recent years it often doesn’t get colder than -20 during the day. It does get colder at night. Summers are also drier than they used to be.”
And then she suddenly starts laughing.
‘Do you know? People here in Canada do their shopping in their pajamas. For me a reason to absolutely no longer participate in fashion, because that doesn’t exist here. I always wear those nice soft jogging pants, I’m not getting anywhere … “
She’s totally cracking up now.
“Yes, that’s how it goes here in the bushbush.”
I can already feel the answer in my waters, but I ask it anyway:
Would you want to go back to the Netherlands?
“Look, my brother is now Canadian, I still have a Dutch passport. But going back? What do I still have there? I would be in between two stools, my life is here now.
I’m very happy in Canada. This is my home. After Christmas, people sometimes ask me here: “Did you go home over the holidays?”
“I was at home,” I always respond. Because this is my home, not the Netherlands.”
It takes the greatest possible effort to disconnect our Messenger-session. It’s so crazy, we haven’t seen or spoken to each other for so many years. We weren’t good friends at all. But it was soooooo nice.
To conclude, Diana shows me her dinner, with an apology for buying this in the supermarket: a bag of chicory.
“Oh, with cheese and ham from the oven!” I exclaim.
“Yep,” she says blissfully.