Oma: The Woman Behind My Travels

 Oma & I.

Oma & I.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Caroline Verver. I’ve never blogged before and, as I warm up, I thought I’d introduce myself & give you insight into the life events and travels that led to the establishment of VerverWerks.

I’m originally from a town near Dallas, Texas & was raised by my American mom and Dutch dad. At the age of eight, my parents sent me to spend my first summer with Oma (my Dad’s mom) in her quaint village outside of Amsterdam. That summer & many thereafter, that angel of a woman showered me with love. It sounds cliché, but it is seriously impossible to relay through words her intelligence, her warmth, her patience, her class, her strength… let alone everything she did for me. 

Oma actively entertained my curiosity for my Dutch roots - not just that summer, but year after year. She encouraged me to learn the Dutch language, never complaining as I interrupted her evening TV shows to ask What does that mean?… How do you pronounce that?… She truly gave me the gift of a second home and fostered family bonds I will cherish forever. She taught me the history of the village where our family has come from for hundreds of years. Where this building now stands stood the house where you grandfather grew up… The face of that grandfather clock was dented the day my family was kicked out of our home during WWII… Your great-grandfather was born in that farmhouse… I can still hear her voice now. She taught me about my grandfather’s tulip bulb export business & her own father’s bulb export business that her grandfather had started before the beginning of the 20th century.

She even convinced the principal of the local elementary school (where my father had gone to school) to accept me for two weeks of every summer so I could socialize with local children. I will forever be indebted to the principal & the other teachers who took me in without question each summer - they helped me unlock who I am today. It’s true I felt like a little zoo animal when I would show up for the first time at school each year - I always got a lot of funny looks from the other children & they were certainly curious about me. I heard the whisperings - het Amerikaans meisje (the American girl) was back. Some boys would say the only words they knew in English to me. Sometimes the words weren’t nice and it confused me. Now I realize, they were just enthusiastically repeating the only English words they knew - the words had no value to them at that time.  The girls took me under their wing - they taught me handshake games with corresponding songs (Charlie Chaplin ging naar de disco…), funny words, one even let me "adopt" & care for her bunny a few summers…

 My grandmother's neighbor Mary & I, as kids.

My grandmother's neighbor Mary & I, as kids.

In the end, Oma helped me establish lifelong friendships that gave me a profound understanding of my heritage. My Dutch summers were full of learning, friends, freedom and happiness in that idyllic village near the seaside. Oma’s home-cooked meals were another route to cultural understanding - gehaktballen (special Dutch meatballs), sperziebonen (string beans) & aardappelen (boiled potatoes) are foods I learned to love. Even now, I savor anything with a similar taste - those foods take me right back to the loving environment that was Oma’s home.

Her home became my haven and I would always long for it when I was back in Texas. Even today I can recall every detail of her charming bungalow. The baby pink stokrozen (“hollyhocks” is apparently the English haha) that bloomed every summer near her front door. The worn Turkish rugs that covered her light yellow floors. The circular nook where she would read peacefully in her red armchair. The blue & pink potted hydrangeas that soaked up the sun beneath her bay windows. Her precious blue & white porcelain figurines that dotted every room. Those delicious Belgian hazelnut-flavored seashell chocolates she kept hidden (unsuccessfully!) in her imposing armoire. The black bookchest where my grandfather’s never-ending collection of encyclopedias & history books was safeguarded. The cute brown teddy bear with secret zippers in its feet that she would set out in “my” room every summer. My dad's carefully-kept Lego set in its original (& deteriorating) 1960’s packaging. Her built-in closets where she kept her immaculate & sophisticated outfits that she always wore with a delicate set of pearls. Those itchy, woolen comforters she kept on her bed for extra warmth. Her spacious backyard where I could run barefoot on the soft, green grass… As you can probably tell, I could go ON and ON. 

 A special trip with Oma when I was a teenager AND her 1st hamburger... no joke!

A special trip with Oma when I was a teenager AND her 1st hamburger... no joke!

Needless to say, my grandmother’s passing in my early 20s left a huge void; the sale of her home was gut-wrenching. But by whole-heartedly kindling a curiosity in me for my own heritage, she imparted a curiosity for different languages, cultures & ways of life upon me. As a child, I didn’t recognize it but I now know all her steps were intentional - it was her intent to open my eyes to the world & set alight a certain fearlessness in my approach to the unknown. It was she who helped me to recognize the value in my high school Spanish classes and how much more fulfilling a new culture can be when you understand the nuances of the language spoken. The adventure-filled stories my dad would bring back with him after his business trips to South America (he imports flowers from Colombia and Ecuador) were another motivator to learn. After watching Motorcycle Diaries in my Spanish class and at the age of 16, I resolved to take at least six months to backpack South America before the age of 30. And that’s what I did this past year. (It was not easy, and I left my full time job to chase this & other dreams, but the personal rewards of taking the leap have far exceeded my expectations.)

 Monika, my travel buddy from Switzerland, & I in Bogotá, Colombia. We met in Spanish school in Cartagena! 

Monika, my travel buddy from Switzerland, & I in Bogotá, Colombia. We met in Spanish school in Cartagena! 

My original intent was to travel all the way from Colombia to the southern tip of Argentina but, instead, I took my time & truly soaked up the beauty of Colombia, Peru & Ecuador. These experiences are certainly ones I owe to my grandmother, without whom I never would have developed the travel "itch." 

It was in Ecuador that I realized the opportunity existed to transform my travels into something more & I began to develop the relationships that led to the founding of VerverWerks. I’ll get to more on that later, as I’ve decided to dedicate my next few posts to spotlighting the amazing places my travels took me to. Like I said, I spent quite a bit of time in each location & I’m certain my advice can be useful to anyone planning a similar trip.

 A friend & her children in Ecuador.

A friend & her children in Ecuador.

Thanks for reading & stay tuned! And if you ever have any desire for specific content, please comment or send me an email at ververwerks@gmail.com!

<3 Caroline