Baby Bellies on Bikes: I’m Missing the Caribbean

Kari van der heide Curacao theParentVoice

Kari is a thirty-year-old mama, who grew up in the Caribbean, but now lives in the Netherlands with her family. Her family consists of her wife, with whom she’s been married for 3.5 years, their daughter, Isaya (2.5 years), and their grumpy cat, John Irving. This summer they hope to welcome a fifth member to the clan. Kari is pregnant with baby number two and will share her journey of being pregnant and giving birth, in Dutchieland, on theParentVoice,. You can also get to know Kari and her family better by reading her blog, Columns by Kariand following her on Instagram.

This is Part II of our Series: Baby Bellies on Bikes. Click here to read Part I.

Three years ago, in February, when I was about twenty weeks pregnant with Isaya, we went on a babymoon to the Caribbean. We always visit Curacao, since that’s where I grew up. But this time we went to Bonaire. We made this unusual choice because of Zika – which is very dangerous for pregnant women and at that time, a serious threat on Curacao. But looking back I feel there was also another reason we had to visit Bonaire that one time.

I grew up having plenty of family members, on the Island: women I called “tante”, not because we were related through blood, but through the hot, Caribbean sun. 

When you grow up on a tiny Island in the Caribbean, with Dutch parents, your entire family lives in the Netherlands. You see them once a year tops, probably once every two years. You love it when you get to see them, but it’s fine, because the amazing thing about the Caribbean is, it’s full of aunts and uncles. I grew up having plenty of family members, on the Island: women I called “tante”, not because we were related through blood, but through the hot, Caribbean sun.

Also read:  #MeToo. Now What?

A few years ago, it started. My aunts started to pass away. I guess it’s inevitable to lose people you love as you get older. The first aunt I lost was a very respected poet on the Island, who I had the honor of having as my Papiamentu teacher. Once a week I would visit her home and she would correct my pronunciation of the language. She never allowed my white skin to be an excuse for butchering this beautiful language and to this day, I am grateful for that. I would look at her flawlessly braided hair and the photographs of her on the wall, from her One Woman Show and she would tell me the queen shook her hand once and because of that, she didn’t wash that hand for an entire week afterwards.

I was very fond of her and when she got sick I visited her for a couple of months. She had no idea who I was anymore – for a second maybe, whenever I smiled – but I would bring her chocolate and read poetry to her and she would still correct my pronunciation and stress the importance of the cadence of this beautiful and colorful language.

When she died, it felt strange, like she left a hole in that tiny Caribbean rock. But Alzheimer’s had taken her long before her body left us and I knew I was lucky to have been able to say goodbye, which gave me a little peace.

Kari Grote Knip

The next aunt that passed away, was not able to say goodbye and even though it will be three years – this spring – when we had her funeral, it still hurts and I still miss her. She was our neighbor growing up, she always told the truth, she never forgot our birthdays, she was incredibly fierce and talented and one of my mom’s best friends. I was seven months pregnant with Isaya when she died during a sailing trip.

To this day, I can just hear her say what she would have said, if she was here to meet Isaya. She would tell me, in that way that she did so characteristically, “wat een schatje” (“what a sweetheart”) and she would probably tell me Aya looked like her grandfather, just like she always told me I looked like my father.

I was so angry and felt those new owners had brutally taken another little piece of my childhood.

Her death left another piercing hole in the Island. One that truly gutted me when we visited Curacao last May with Isaya and drove past her old house. The new owners had completely torn down her beautiful garden, cemented it shut and put a huge, brick wall around the complex, erasing every single bit of her. I was so angry and felt those new owners had brutally taken another little piece of my childhood.

Also read:  Reasons Why Intercultural Couples Argue Differently

When we visited Bonaire three years ago, when I was pregnant with Isaya, I came back in touch with another aunt. I had not seen her for years – not since she made the move from Curacao to Bonaire – but she greeted me and my wife with so much love and warmth I immediately felt at home on the Island. And isn’t that what family is: that instant ticket home, even though you are miles away? She introduced us to some amazing people, took care of us and brought us to a very special part of Bonaire. A part where her ashes are now scattered.

Death is always accompanied by regret. We always think there is enough time, or at least: more time. 

A stupid mosquito sent us to Bonaire that year, instead of Curacao. But I think the real reason was that we got to spend time with someone special, who is now no longer here.

It’s February again and I am pregnant again. There is so much joy and life in my life. But new life and lives lost are very entwined somehow. As you grow older, the people who knew you as a child, grow even older and die. It’s part of the circle of life. But when you grow up on a tiny Island in the Caribbean, these people aren’t just part of your life, they are part of that rock. They make that Island into what it is. They shape it, contour it, file it. And when they leave, they take a little bit of the Island with them. They leave piercing holes and cemented walls and tiny trees. But they never truly leave me.

And even though we don’t live in Curacao anymore and my children will probably grow up in the Netherlands, I want to surround them with as many aunts as possible. Because as an Islandgirl I know how important all those “ompis” and “tantes” are to so many children. In the end, it doesn’t matter where you grow up, we are all children of the sun and we need the warmth and wisdom of the people that care about us.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.