GOALS IN LIFE

Wild horse and sleeping foal. From a walk just a few minutes from where I live in England. 2022

I’ve been feeling low recently and couldn’t  understand why. Some of it is possibly still too much sugar  in the day which leads to big mood swings, another one not an early enough caffeine curfew and less nurturing  sleep therefore. Another reason is simply  that I’ve gone through massive changes in the last year. Anyway, I thought it would be good to make a start at re-writing my goals. Rename what my identity is: such as “I am someone who …

FROM TWELVE YEARS OLD

ESSAYS I

BY HERMIEN ZWIERS

Hermien at Stoneshill Grahamstown, South Africa

Continued from my blog. Previously “UP TO AGE 8”. THE EARLY DAYS…. The 1950s–1970s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. Written by me from age 11 in Afrikaans and later translated by me.

1969 

All that mattered now was academic prestige. That would assure me of love and admiration and keep quiet the gossiping kids and their parents.  And I did achieve 83.2% in the first term, 82.6% in the 2nd term, 88% in the 3rd term- an A with distinction. 

In April the grade 8’s and grade 9’s went on a school tour to Cape Town. It was a good time and we saw many places.   I only did tennis as a sport during this year. I couldn’t do athletics anymore because I had hurt my ankle the previous year, but believe me, I was thankful to be relieved of the stresses and superficialities of athletics. During our three-week holiday my mum, Margien, Boetie (my brother Anton) and I went on tour to the Orange Free State as it was then called before the days of Nelson Mandela. We went down 5300 feet into a gold mine and had a look at the Hendrik Verwoerd dam.  This dam’s name has by now changed.

L to R: Mammie, Hermien, Margien, Mum’s friend at Goldmines

We visited Uncle Theuns and Aunt Martie.  All adult friends of our parents were Aunties and Uncles.  We did not have any other family in South Africa, such as grandparents or real uncles and cousins. They all lived in either Holland or Australia. As a child of Dutch parents, I felt like an outsider too, apart from my self-imposed exile due to sexual abuse. Home was really actually in Holland, not there in Africa.  My heart could never find roots there in Africa and my esteem suffered. 

Back at school my favourite subjects were Art and History. Then came the summer holidays. Anton and I initially spent it at the house of an English family as cultural exchange students. Up the east seacoast, near East London, Eastern Cape. We were to learn English better, and they were to learn Afrikaans better. Their surname was Wuim, and we spent 5 days at Kid’s Beach with them and then a few days feeling out of place in their posh home in East London on the east coast. Anton and I swam the dangerous waves and canoed, all unsupervised Huckleberry Finn feelings.

Dog Tasha, Hermien and brother Anton at Stoneshill, Grahamstown

Then we prepared for Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we opened the gifts. I received a diary that I used well in months to come.  We lit candles and sat listening to the radio. Television was only to come to our country six years later, in 1975. I had difficulty falling asleep as usual and wrote a long Christmas letter to my friend E.V. in the Cape, where she was holidaying. On New Year’s Eve, Hettie and her new family came to us and spent the night there. That night I made my New Year’s resolutions as usual:  I would be more patient and friendly in the coming year, but I had my doubts about it, being 13 turning 14.  This year I had seen the movies Romeo and Juliet and cried, and The Battle for Anzio as well as Far from the Madding Crowd

1971 

The year in which I turned fifteen. The year of my first and second crush- on a man and a boy. 

My sister Margien flew to Johannesburg, eighteen and off on an overseas trip.  We drove from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth to see her off and spent the day at the beach.  Jean Eckard, a former near-boyfriend of my 26-year-old sister was there too.  What was it he said again? “If you were grown-up, I would marry you or…. when you grow up I’m going to marry you”. I mean, my God, fifteen-year-olds take this stuff pretty seriously.  Don’t men know any other way to get attention except to make impossible compliments and promises?  Anyway, it was a fantastic day.  I felt SO-0 good. 

Hermien, older sister Margien and brother Anton seeing Margie off at Port Elizabeth airport, South Africa

Maybe I felt even more guilt though when E. V.’s father continued his sexual abuse. I was becoming very sexually aware.  My upbringing said to obey adults, thus my only way out was to become pretty good at avoiding the man. There were times, however, when I had no escape. He took us to swim in a pool in the evening and would swim to me when I was on the dark side and stick his finger up me not too far from his own daughter! I did not know how to tell her that I did not want to go swimming. I was going to have to end this friendship without shaming myself and without telling her the truth. I could not tell my best friend what her father was doing to me.  I don’t think she ever understood why I was so cruel. I had to face the pain of the near-hatred and disillusionment in her eyes. It was to affect all my future efforts at making friends with other women. I felt distressed at my inability to tell the truth. Telling the truth met with near-disaster in our family all those years and I was scared stiff of encountering it with my friend and her family too. It set a pattern of avoiding conflict at all costs.  The man took E.V. and me for a driving lesson on a dirt road. When I told my mum, she was extremely angry. How could I even begin to tell about my suffering?  Not long after the break-up in my long friendship with E.V., I visited the doctor with my mother. She reckoned my problem of destroying my face and acting awful to her could be fixed.  The doctor put it all down to nervousness and sent us on our way. With anti-depressants.  It left us in the middle of nowhere. I wished so badly that I could talk to my mum. By July I made a total break with my friend. By then she had made friends with someone else too, a girl called Elvira. I soon had a painful argument with this red-haired vibrant person and felt as if a major disaster was about to strike. Some drastic change HAD to take place.

***

First I had a crush on Jean, a man, and then I developed a crush on a boy a year younger than I, a certain Stefaans. It made my day when a schoolmate, Ilse, said that he had told her that he “kind of liked me and that I was cute”.  I felt flutterings every time I walked past this guy at school. 

My birthday was kind of nice. I laughed and was a bit sad at the same time because I felt that I had failed myself.  My goal of having my face spotless had not been reached and it was hard to have my parents’ friends, the Timpers, over. My parents liked to ‘show off their kids’ and I especially hated to be on display that evening with my face full of spots.  I got a nice alarm clock from my mum for my birthday and I had another bit of excitement: I received a record (LP) because I had won the Tienertempo, a record guessing game on the radio. Was I thrilled!  And thrilled to be congratulated at school the next day too.  On the 17th of July 1971, I received my first cosmetics. Another thrill.

And let’s lighten the load even further. These are the movies I saw that year: 

Heidi; Yours, mine and ours; Love Story; Live a little, love a little; Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang; The Gentle Bear; The mind of Mr Soames; David Copperfield; Sien Jou More; Beneath the planet of the apes; The restless ones; The out-of-towners; Ryan’s daughter; Song of Norway; My dog, the thief; Two a penny; Anne of a thousand days; A new life; and Airport.  I also went to a theatre production of Alice in Wonderland and a musical called The golden Dixies. 

I went to my friend E.V.’s house for the first time in months by the middle of October. We went to choir practice together that evening. But I did not go back there much.

In the last week of October, I made a few decisions: I would go to boarding school the next year; everything had been organised. My mum and dad were planning to attend the Munich Olympic Games. In 1974 I wanted to go overseas to Germany, Holland and France. In the three years after that, I wanted to study Languages, Sociology and Psychology at the university and in 1978 I would like to become a Flight Attendant (an air hostess as we called it then).  Neatly planned for sure-never works that way though, as most of us know.

On the 29th of October, I experienced a twinge of jealousy as E.V. was chosen as the school prefect above me. I gave her the expected kiss but it was a bitter one. Somehow, though, I was also relieved. I did not really want to be in that position with its expectations of keeping kids quiet and getting them to all walk neatly in a row.  That evening some of my self-esteem received a boost back as I won 4 prizes for academic achievement, the books We Speak No Treason, All the Best People, ‘n Man en Sy Hond and the Archimedes prize for excelling in Science.   On the 30th we prepared for a big party. It had been my dad’s birthday the day before.  All the members of the Zwiers, De Klerk and Timper families would be present.  All of us ‘foreign’ lot feeling comfortable with each other and sharing some cultural ties, therefore. (except for Andre who was too much Boer and myself; mainly because I did not like the empty shallowness and being on display). 

My brother Anton and I on the dam my dad made, at Stoneshill Grahamstown

In November I stayed home from school one day. The doctor paid us a visit- said it was nerves. He gave me tranquillisers. I certainly calmed down! What do they expect? And felt on a high and decided, naturally, that I could certainly tackle life again and would certainly take care of my face and not muck it up any longer. I had a serious case of dermatillomania, although I did not know the name for this self-harm at that stage. Life seemed rosy after all – briefly. 

So the end of the year came with its New Year’s eve resolutions: I would do exercises every evening; I would brush my teeth every evening; I would not pick my face if it was not necessary; I would not chew the skin around my nails; I would not hit our maid Angelina; I would try to not lose my temper, to always be friendly, even at exam time, because I then write better. I would not moan  and finally, I would keep my distance emotionally from E.V. and Elvira and not tell them much, not trust them  , especially with private matters from  home.  Now I had even less of an outlet for my emotions – and my face truly suffered the consequences as my rage was turned inwards trying to be so damn nice and not having anybody to really turn to. 

FROM EIGHT YEARS OLD

ESSAYS I

BY HERMIEN ZWIERS

Continued from my blog. Previously “UP TO AGE 7”.

THE EARLY DAYS…. 1950’s – 1970’s, THE BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS. Written by me from age 11 in Afrikaans and later translated by me.

Nearly 12


1967
I was 11 in this year, a year of innocent gangs and loss of innocence. Rin Tin Tin’s Rinty and the Heidi books look ridiculous in the eyes of the abuse I was to suffer towards the end of that year at the hands of my best friend’s father.

Nevertheless, my friends and I started the “gang” in July. We imagined being threatened by the “mask” gang quite often and nonchalantly shrugged it off. I did get into trouble with one of the gang members, and smiled behind everyone’s backs in glee too. Everything seemed to go fine after that. The “Voortrekker” gang, as we called ourselves, was called to a halt for a while. To our delight the “Mask” gang disintegrated, with us again smiling maliciously. They were destroyed, at least, that was what they had decided themselves.

At Christmas time, our gang put on a Christmas concert called “The baby of Bethlehem”. We made a few pennies, also trying to sell drinks, and sent it off to a charity organisation. We were flourishing, feeling so good. My friend taught me how to play a bit on their piano. “Chopsticks” was a hit.

The year ended and so did my primary school years. We were going to move into our new house on Stoneshill in the following few weeks. I still wore a size 4 shoe (probably size 5 in Australia)

Opa, Mammie, Pappie, Hermien

Opa’s visit to Stoneshill: My Dutch grandfather Harmannus Luinge came from the Netherlands for an extended visit after the death of my grandmother Marchien Koops-Luinge.

1968
What was 1968 like for me? Neither child nor adult. Exiting and yet mundane. Sunshine, boring barbecues and movies. The Saturday movies were my fairytales: Follow me Boys, Rough Night in Jerigo, Navadan Kelly, Sabrina, Countess to Hong Kong, You only Live Twice. Who’s minding the Mint?, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, Bennie Boet, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Deadly Bees, Circus World, Rosy, The Deadly Affair. Having numbers mattered: our telephone number was 1378, our post box number was 16, our car registration number was CF 2509. And my number in school? First in class. This meant that I mattered; I was noticed.

Three Generations, from left to right: Brother Eddie, Opa Luinge, Hermien with Tasha, My dad.

In January my sister Hettie had her birthday and we phoned. I did not start school at the usual time because of sores on my head, a premonition of worse to come. Then it was back to school, Sunday school, and the Dutch Reformed Church with its proper hats, stiff upper lips and uncomfortable silence. We were even afraid to cough. No warm feelings, no love or joy. Our dog Wagter was killed on the road when my sister Margien had her 16th birthday party and somebody left the gate open. I attempted to knit; I did needlework for school and played with my friend E.V. For my 12th birthday I received pyjamas. Punishment at school included writing out 100 times “I must do my homework properly and in time” and an essay called “What do you think about Punishment at school” had to be written. Our exam debate was about whether boys and girls should be together in one school. Our duck hatched babies and two died in the first week. We brought a new dog-called Peppie into our lives. My brother Anton had his birthday roundabout Guy Fawkes time. Hettie and her husband Andre came to visit and then it was the end of my first year at High School. I was relieved that it was holiday time and enjoyed painting, reading, playing table tennis, repairing clothes, attending to my silk worms, writing out some recipes for my mum, learning to plait my hair and grooming my nails.

My dog Tasha 1968

An uneventful year, one would say. In retrospect it was probably one of the worst years of my life, because I could not share the guilt I felt every time I left my friend’s house and her dad had had a go at me again. I knew my mum would react with “But didn’t YOU do something to cause it”. I felt weak because I did not know how to get out of the sexual abuse. It was to shape the rest of my life, along with my mother’s constant disgust with men and her reading the rape stories in the newspaper to me. I was so overly and unnaturally aware of my genitals that it was frightening even to ask the teacher to go to the loo. In my young mind all I could think of was that he would know that I had a vagina! How awful! The result was one of the most humiliating experiences of my entire life: I wet my pants and the entire area underneath my school desk because I could no longer “keep it in”! My relationship with my friend was to continue for another 2 years on a superficial basis, because I was starting to distance myself from all and everybody. I was going to show them all how good I was academically and rid myself of the ridicule and shame. Most human contact from that point on was filled with fear and distrust. No twelve-year-old should have to carry such a burden. My emotions had nowhere to go to but inward and a long lonely path of self-destruction started, never to leave me and only to be conquered. But how?

To be continued…

UP TO AGE SEVEN

ESSAYS 1 

BY HERMIEN ZWIERS

continued from my blog

BEDFORD-GRAHAMSTOWN YEARS

THE EARLY DAYS…. 1950’s – 1970’s

(originally written by me as a child and translated from Afrikaans and edited as an adult)

…………..

When I was little, I dreamt that I could fly and also that I was rolled up in a carpet filled with spiders, one dream of exhilaration, the other of sheer panic. I ate sand. I walked in my sleep…………

Anton and Hermien 1958

At the age of two and a half I had to have an operation on my neck glands. My parents took me to a hospital in a big city and left me there for a week with total strangers. They were very sad to do this, but knew of no other way to deal with this, especially having my one year old brother too. Even my older siblings protested. My mother came to see me once during that week, but never showed her face for fear of triggering off great sadness. How I wish she had actually come in to hug me!  

I played with my brother Anton in the sandpit our dad had made for us and at other times absolutely hated him when we fought and my mum mostly considered me the guilty party. I was too little to attend my sister’s sixteenth birthday party, a big affair with beautiful clothes, but I peeped in at the door of the big lounge. I climbed over the tall backyard gate and nearly got run over by a big truck and then received an enormous hiding for having terrified my mother. She bought me a little lamb at the farmer’s market, little knowing the South African town rules did not allow this, so we had to sadly say goodbye to this lamb by the time it became a sheep. The neighbors had put in a complaint by the council. One morning my brother and I asked her to put tea in our baby bottles from long ago and we walked away, sucking happily. I was four years old.  

I frightened my parents more when my brother and I sneaked past our big brother Eddie one night and went to sleep in a tent on the lawn and had a candle burning all night. At age five I could have had an accident with that candle. At the time I resented my mother’s lack of trust in me. I swam in the cement dam one evening with my sister Margien, with my Sunday shoes on and gave them more grey hair. They came up the driveway, lights shining on us and discovered us after their evening out. I had crooked teeth and had to have braces in later years. I learned to ride my bicycle all by myself in our driveway and had plenty of falls since we had no side wheels in those days.  

When I turned five I received a doll with long brown hair that I named Elmarie, after my brother’s girlfriend. I took it for a walk to the neighbors and I still remember their son hiccupping. I played shop in my dad’s huge garage, with the boards that he used as a builder and I really enjoyed that. We also built a post office and had stamps and pretend money. My tonsils were taken out when I was 5 and I enjoyed the attention from the hospital staff. We had a spare room attached to the kitchen, a sort of a playroom with a big blackboard in it. We were left to “carry on” with our lives, so to speak and much of our creativity and intelligence springs from those years of non-interference from our parents. I remember pain in that playroom too, a terrible migraine and sobbing, and learning to knit with the help of our maid in the little garden in front of that room. I remember my dad swinging me high up into the air when I was little and running to my brother Eddie with gusto and doing the same. 

There was a game of Gymkhana on the big rugby field and we went to watch. Our early holidays were spent at Brenton Lake near Knysna. Father Christmas brought me a Big bear one time and after that I found out that Santa was not for real anyway. 

At the age of 5 and a half I had been trying to follow my sister to school so many times out of a desire to attend school myself that my mum approached the sisters at the convent to see whether I could also start. I was not really supposed to but they let me anyway. I had much freedom during those six months, doing “my own thing” often and never expected to actually come and sit down to do my lessons. I could go outside and play whilst the others continued with their reading, etc. and then come back in to continue with mine when I wanted to. Then, at age six I started at the Afrikaans school on the hill and walked each morning up the dirt road with my little suitcase. I was already trying to win my parents’ love by being the best and came first in class with my schoolwork. I was also appointed class captain and my job was to help keep the class quiet when the teacher went out. I failed at this task and for that or some other reason, lost my “position” and felt disgraced. 

Sub A, First primary School year at Templeton , Bedford, South Africa

I loved going to the town library and the independence of walking up the street to go there and take out my own books and walking quite a bit further with a sister to have a milkshake at an ice cream parlor. All this took place in our one and only L-shaped Main Street. I bicycled through the town, through areas of which I had the vague feeling that they were forbidden territories, such as the black township, where the blacks and coloureds had to live separately from us whites and the scary, dreadful places such as the abattoir, toiling with danger in my little mind, daring it. I also went for a swim in the BIG pool, without informing anybody, just borrowing a blow-up tube from another little friend. The excitement of doing forbidden things was there from an early age, the start of a rebellious mind. Down a short flight of steps, in the “ironing” room, I used to swing around in a mad wonderful twirl and I hit my eye against the corner of the table. Nobody hugged me. It was my fault, and I felt lonely and sore and abandoned. I still enjoyed feeling pampered and getting full attention at other times though, such as when I had to have my appendix out and my sisters brought me heaps of coloring books. I was so thirsty after the operation but was not allowed any water, so I painfully snuck out of bed and got myself some water in the hospital bathroom. I was caught in the passage by a nurse. 

I had still spent my 7th birthday night in my mother’s bed because my dad was away because of his job. Andre, my sister’s fiancé, had left a doll from him next to the bed. Now the family was all gone. They had gone to the lagoon at Port Alfred for their holiday and Hettie and I had to wait to be collected. I remember walking in the garden. I tried out a small red hot pepper and burned my mouth terribly on the side of the house where the sewerage lorry put its pipes into the appropriate holes to empty the weeks’ contents. When we were holidaying I dug deep holes and became annoyed when others mucked it up during my absence, such as when we were called in for the evening meal. I wanted to be an air hostess (flight attendant) in those days. I swam and went where the current was the strongest near the bridge. There was also some wire that was supposed to protect us from going further into the river. I took out Sarie and Trompie books at the library in our holiday town, stories about mischievous boys and girls. I won a sand sculpting competition. Back home I wrote long letters to my sister Hettie, often about stories I listened to on the radio. We had no television in South Africa before I turned 19. The government was afraid that it might corrupt the people, and that they might become too rebellious if they knew too much.  

We had photo day at school and the elastic of my underpants had broken so I had to use my tie to keep my underpants up. One day I arrived at school with long pants on. I think that it was OK with my mother. It certainly was not OK with the rest of the school. I was ridiculed. I went to the music room to practise tedious music notes, and was reprimanded severely for daring to make a noise whilst the grades 12’s were busy with their final exams. I felt as if I couldn’t do much right. We played wolf-wolf at the big dam, as well as other games. Ecstatic feelings still surface when I remember my fist participation in a musical (cheerful “lyric” opera). I was a little dwarf and had to wear a paper nose and beautiful shiny clothes and I sang with such energy and joy. On the first day of spring our school celebrated it with floats riding through the town, trucks decorated with white crinkle paper and white flowers. We wore white dresses and had blossoms that we had picked from the fruit trees and we were allowed to bring our little siblings to school. As always there is a fall from grace. At home I let the budgerigars fly away by accident and played innocent. I felt horribly guilty and worried about the moment that my mother would discover it; the moment when people would discover the real me. 

And then I turned 8. It was 1964. 

*** 

To be continued…