Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“I’ve translated two Miffy books into Surinamese. I wanted a good future for any children I might have“
Carry-Ann holds up two Miffy books with exotic-looking titles: Miffy nanga Melanie (2007) and A Fesa fu Miffy (2011). She was allowed to translate them into Sranantongo, the language spoken in Suriname. She even met Dick Bruna himself to discuss the finer details. It’s a fond memory for Carry-Ann. “His studio was neat and tidy, and he was a kind, enthusiastic man.” In Suriname, her first home and the country closest to her heart, she handed the books out to village children. A photo she took there is one of her most prized possessions. “I showed it to Dick Bruna and he was thrilled to see foreign children reading his books.”
In 1955 at the age of fourteen, Carry-Ann emigrated to the Netherlands with her two brothers and two sisters. “Of course I didn’t want to move. We had a lovely house in a beautiful country.” But she thrived here in rural Holland. She learned to sail and spoke with a Groningen accent for many years.
She did a second degree in Utrecht, where she also married Utrecht-born graphic designer Wim Verboven in 1970. Carry-Ann remembers the first day in their house on Wittevrouwensingel, diagonally opposite the Wolvenplein prison, all too well. “There was an escape! Someone threw a rope of knotted sheets out of a window.” Laughing: “It was like a film! Ten prisoners climbed down while the director tried to pull them back up. They never found four of those criminals.” She’s got more stories about the former prison. “Once, a woman stood on the embankment shouting: ‘Willem, Willem, I’ll drop by this weekend!’”
You might have heard of Carry-Ann as a social and political activist. In the 1980s, she chaired the Multicultural Emancipation Centre (MEC). She taught language lessons to immigrants, talking and cooking with the women. Carry-Ann also helped to set up and run the then-progressive Sesam creche in Wittevrouwen, where parents paid according to their means. She left quite quickly after a difference of opinion: “I wanted men to work there too, but the rest didn’t. I took a course in brick-laying and carpentry instead, so that I could work on long-term projects in Nicaragua.” Well why not?
In the 1990s, Carry-Ann got into local politics with GroenLinks – she’d come from the Provincial Council. “I once decided to donate a bonus I’d been paid by the municipal council to Roma travellers in the Czech Republic, to fund a music project for children. There was such a row; Annie Brouwer was the only one to support me. But I thought: it’s my money, I can do what I want with it!”
Things changed dramatically for Carry-Ann in 2000. She had a stroke, which left her paralysed on one side. It ended her political career and she turned to the art world. The result includes a pile of books on the kitchen table. Not only Miffy, but also poetry compilations. “I was in De Hoogstraat rehabilitation centre for a year after my stroke. That’s when I started writing poetry.”
Halfway down the pile is a book entitled Woman on Wheels, experiences in a wheelchair and the photo book Zinc sheet and planks about unusual houses in Paramaribo, compiled by her husband. Carry-Ann is also involved in dance and drama, and helps with policy on wheelchair access in Utrecht. Last but not least, Carry-Ann is still committed to various projects in developing countries.
In 2002, her former political colleagues tricked her into going to the town hall. She was told to dress up, but had no idea why. “I was made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau. An honour for my forty years of hard work for the city. It’s a very special feeling.”
Name: Carry-Ann Tjong-Ayong
Place of birth: Suriname
Date of birth: 10-02-1941
Motto: ‘A handicap can be a blessing in disguise.’
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.