The little girl in the picture below is me at age six. I could not wait to start primary school. From my pre-school, we could always see the roof of the school building, with the distinctive red roof tiles, and I felt so grown-up once I started school there.
Learning to read and write also made it very obvious I needed glasses. And those butterfly-shaped glasses were my first pair ever. I remember the top part being blue, and I was so delighted with them. The glasses came with earrings; well, in my case, they did. It was my reward for having to wear glasses. With the earrings of my choice neatly wrapped and the training earrings at hand, the procedure started. The lady heated a needle in the flam of a match, sterilized my ears with some alcohol, and pierced my earlobes. She held a cork at the back of my earlobe to stop the needle from touching my neck. My dad had to rub oil on both ears every night and turn the training earrings. After six weeks, I was good to go with my brand-new earrings and my brand new pair of glasses.
I am wearing my favorite outfit in the feature picture, made by my mom; she was an excellent seamstress. It is a dark green pleated skirt, a white blouse with a burgundy red velvet bow. It is my first official school picture, as you can see from the subtly placed dictionary in the background.
Looking back at this pretty and caring little girl, a thought came to my mind. If I could meet her now, what would I tell her?
School was tough.
I was never bullied in primary school for wearing glasses, even though I was the only student in my class with glasses. I did get picked on for not being very sporty, getting good grades, And, in hindsight, the most peculiar reason other children bullied me was because of my white skin. Even after the summer holiday, I came back to school with freckles, never an actual tan. Somebody once told me I was never really ripe.
I had no defense other than becoming an excellent people pleaser and going out of my way to make sure other people liked me. Even if it meant I had to do things I did not enjoy, I felt okay to me as long as they liked me.
And to be honest, I became good at it. I am sensitive and an empath, qualities that helped me see and feel what others needed. For a long time, it was my way of going through life.
When ‘being nice’ becomes a strategy.
Everybody learns strategies in life. Good or bad, we all manage to navigate through situations that nobody teaches us. Some of us withdraw; others become extremely outgoing and vocal. I, subconsciously, decided the best way to live life was to be the nice girl. Anticipate what others needed or wanted and accommodate that. Sometimes even before they even knew it themselves, I had already done it.
I have felt the ugly duckling my whole life, and in an attempt to try to fit in, I developed my ‘nice girl’ strategy. It worked, not that everybody liked me, of course, but in general, I came across as a sweet girl who never caused trouble and was always obedient.
Because this strategy is not really who I am, the authentic me, at some point, I knew things had to change. All that “trying to fit in” started to itch like a woolen cardigan. Not overnight, more subtle, a little more every day.
A new life that fits like a glove.
When I decided to do volunteer work in Costa Rice in 2010, I had no idea what the impact of that trip would be. Not only did I have a wonderful time staying with my host family in Turrialba, but I also found my ‘happy spot,’ right on their front porch in one of the rocking chairs. You can read more about that on the website.
That trip planted a seed that eventually resulted in me moving to Dominica in November 2016. Another adventure that I did not see coming at that moment. From my first visit to Dominica in 2011, I felt at home here. I am not a big fan of winter, so the climate suits me. Although I have to admit, when I am walking in town on a very warm day, all hot and bothered, I might disagree with that statement.
Nature is so beautiful here; every morning when I wake up, I tell myself this is another day in paradise. The food, oh my goodness, I love the food here, and it is easy to eat fresh and healthy every day. Not that I always do, but more than I used to do in the Netherlands.
And on a very personal note, my curvaceous body fits here perfectly. I get more male attention here than I have in the Netherlands, where a size zero is the preferred body type. Is it always appropriate? You could debate that; I take it as a compliment and smile.
Starting a new life in a new country has definitely been a blessing for me; it feels like I started over at age 55. All in all, my life here suits me, the real me that is. I am at home here—more than I have ever been in the Netherlands.
So, what would I tell myself?
First and foremost, I would tell that sweet little girl that it is okay to be you. Whatever the color of your skin, the type of hair you have, or your body type, it is okay. And do not let anybody ever tell you otherwise. The way you look does not define you as a person; it adds to your beauty. How boring the world would be if we were all the same.
Furthermore, life will throw you curveballs, but you will be able to deal with all of them. No matter how difficult or dark, your heart will guide you through all of them.
You are strong, much stronger than you give yourself credit for. All these life lessons will help you later on in life, an initiation, experiences that you can benefit from.
You will gradually become stronger, surer of who you are and what you stand for in life. Your big helpers’ heart will find its way to your purpose, your mission in this lifetime.
People will walk with you for a while, and then you will part ways, and that is how it is supposed to be. The right people will always find their way to you, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Be proud of who you will become and the courage you will show in the many challenging situations you will encounter. Remarkable and beautiful adventures await you, like moving to a different country on a different continent and starting your own Foundation, named after your favorite food: Breadfruit House Dominica Foundation. You will be working with children and use all your creative skills to the fullest.
You will combine all your wisdom, experiences, and adventures into a book. That book, about your life, will inspire others that it is never too later to listen to your heart and live the life of your dreams. Just so you know, the title is Unboxable because you, my dear, do not fit in a box. You are very much your own person. A leader in your own right and I am so proud of you!
With love, Marieke