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Liewe Ouma Engelberta
I am sure that the day you had Nicholas Maes finish your portrait you did not realise where it would be in 300 years time and who and where your family would be! So here I am sending much love from South Africa where my family has settled since the 1900s. Seeing you captured in this painting makes me wish I had known you, as well as all the other uncles and aunts and grandfathers and grandmothers in the family.
It is strange to think your values may have become family traits and may have been passed down through the recent 300 years.
How incredible to think of your life back then and what it must have been like for you. Celebrating art through supporting artists such as Nicholas, having a large family, and loosing a child in the midst of it all. Your life had its fair share of disappointment, but joy too, I’m sure.
Before I tell you of myself, your GRANDdaughter, I must say how remarkable it is for me to discover more about you, thinking about your place in my life. The truth is that if you had not made the decisions you had made back in the 1600s and experienced life as it was, my family, all your descendents and myself would not have been here today and experienced life as we know it. We would not have had any role (in whatever capacity) in this world. So your painting and your life has made me in awe of each person’s place in history and how our decisions and actions influence future generations.
It is not luck that you experienced life as it was, in every detail. I get to live because of decisions made by others over time, including yours. So I am quite happy to have this once in a million chance at living! Thank you for your role in my life! History would be altered if not for you and all the others in the family. It is quite amazing how we can influence the world through history?!!! Quite amazing!
An example of family (of yours) making an influence is that one of your GRANDsons (and one of my father’s cousins), Max Vegelin Van Claerbergen who once visited my family in Cape Town (South Africa) years ago when I was a little girl. He had come to the Cape on business. Years later, I am working as a therapist in a special school for physically disabled and visually impaired children almost 2000 km away, and we are given a fantastic donation of books for the blind (tactile books) from Biblionef. My supervisor recommended that I visit Biblionef in the Cape when I was visiting there to see what other resources they had. While we spoke to the people there, we discovered by chance that Max (at that stage living in Europe) was in fact the founder and international president of this organisation that distributes books to children around the globe! How remarkable that MY family member had such an incredible role in the lives of MY children at school. What a responsibility to live a useful life! I want to cherish every day, opportunity and moment!
So Ouma, a bit more about who I am… I am the daughter of Ted and Christine. My parents have raised us in South Africa after both sets of grandparents moved from Europe to South Africa in their lifetimes. My father was raised an Englishman as a result of my Scottish grandmother Peggy who was an English teacher. My mother’s parents were Dutch and were in the Butchery industry. My mom’s dad Jaap was a keen businessman who had interests in America, the Netherlands and South Africa. My mother and father are key role players in my life and the person I have become. I wish you could know them. They are down to earth people, who enjoy walks in the bush and have nurtured a love for the outdoors in us children, and have also cared deeply for us over the years. They have encouraged us to work hard, become self sustaining, care for others, and get ones priorities straight. I respect them greatly.
We are a simple family, but have loved and lived life to the full! My mother loves children, and loves gardening (she will tell you the names of every plant in the garden). My father loves the African bush, his family and good music. The reason I say this is that this is who we have become…We also live in a country that has so much mind blowing diversity that every day can only be an adventure. This I think is a huge difference from the life you led. Black Africans, Caucasian Africans, Indian Africans, coloured Africans (these are some terms we use here to describe eachother) have grown up in the same towns, shared our cultural traits, enjoyed eachother’s food, have battled against eachother,… this is the world we were raised in. I speak a bit of different African languages- English, Africaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, and a little French. I love the diversity in culture. And the result is that I am a complex person not fully knowing what/ who I am. I am an English South African young woman, with Dutch parents, with a Dutch- French heritage who attended a German kindergarten, went to an Afrikaans university, has been working with Zulu speaking children and colleagues, and I love eating North Indian cuisine and Ethiopian food in an Ethiopian refugee camp in my South African city (WITH MY HANDS)! I have travelled to various African countries LOVING the vast landscapes, unique people, challenges and sites. (I have had the unusual experience of camping in “No-man’s land” between the Zimbabwean and Mozambican borders, went hitch hiking up a mountain pass into another African country and came down in a 4x4 minibus taxi; and recently experienced the beauty of the Zambezi River while on a boat cruise). It is impossible in this day and age to have a clear cut identity unless one shuts off completely from others. I love being an African! I love living in a diverse community! My continent is so rich in beliefs, people and beauty! It can also be a bit of a mess, but there is a lot of good here too.
In these days as well, life is incredibly different for a woman as compared to those in your time. When you were my age, you had children already, with your first born being 4 years old. In our time, woman are encouraged to get an education/ degree and compete largely with men in the working world. We generally marry and have families at a later stage in life. I see this and have followed this route in my life, but I really love the idea of family and large ones and the role of mothers in nurturing the generations of the future. It is great that us women are motivated to provide for ourselves when our families may not be able to always do so, but there is great benefit in caring, nurturing parents who raise their families well.
Even though women today need to work to provide for their families, I love the idea of family. This is largely an African idea I think- having big families. I do not have children of my own yet, but I have 250 at the school where I work! :D A HUGE family indeed! I work with people with problems whether psychological, physical or learning problems. You would be amazed by how care for these people has improved over time, and yet, we are SO far from the ideal! I have learned a lot from my children at school and in the workplace. Littlies with disabilities are often not concerned about anything but are quite content. They do not worry about their differing bodies and take life as it comes, becoming sports men/ women, enjoying cultural activities, and wanting to give back to the community. I just wish they would become the people they can be and not be isolated and separated by a fast paced often self focused individualistic society. This has become a passion for me. I also want to see young adults with disabilities become productive members of society. They should and they can.
I love life. I want to celebrate and marvel at beautiful things, share life with others, enjoy diversity, drink tea and eat dark chocolate with friends, go walk in the bush with incredible nature around me, or just sit by the sea and watch the awesome ocean stretch for miles. I want to laugh at my mistakes and the quirky/ often hilarious things in this world, climb mountains, drive up dangerous mountain passes, go horse riding and I want to paint more. I love different textile designs on fabric (Indian, modern, various African designs)…joy! I once needed to show a “thumbs up” to a Mozambican woman who did not speak a word of English when I was telling her that her skirt was lovely. And I must say I love food and culinary treats. The Dutch Bakery in Cape Town is such a delight!
As an African, with a precious European heritage, I want to greet you properly. We love to greet someone warmly with ALL 11 official languages of our country. It is not as extreme, but as I say goodbye, I want to say “Sala Kahle! (“stay well” in isiZulu), “Ngiyabonga” (“I thank you” in isiZulu), and “Tot siens” (“good-bye” in Afrikaans)!
Your great great great etc granddaughter,
Margaux d’Hangest d’Yvoy