The Netherlands From 1963
The Ponjee family
My name is John Ponjee and I grew up in my beloved village of Bergen Limburg near the river Maas.When I was young I believed that I would always live and work here, how wrong I was!
The Netherlands is a beautiful country, sometimes referred to as the lower countries with a monarchy led by the proud royal family of Orange Nassau!
Surprisingly, I got to know the Netherlands better when I no longer lived there, especially with my children every year on holiday exploring this beautiful and interesting country.
My father and mother have unfortunately passed away and left behind their 15 children of which I am the 14th! Together with in-laws, nephews and nieces we are now about 108 people! Not an easy task to raise, care for, and manage so many children, especially in the time shortly after the second world war when money was tight.
My father who during the second War had to go into hiding ended up with the Canadians and to make the ends meet, he made a little money on the side selling condoms. So he knew they existed!
My parents were hard workers and go-getters, and thanks to their prayers we are now blessed with a beautiful family. Based on their merit alone! We were always at the table with many people in the morning, afternoon and evening! We didn’t own a washing machine, dishwasher or any other household appliances that were available at the time! Hats off to my dear mother, she never complained and I never heard my mom and dad argue about this either. When there was an argument, my mother told me that before going to sleep they always made peace, discussed the problems and disagreements in order to start the next day with a clean slate. wise words, I live by every day.
During his retirement, my father frequently went fishing on the river Maas, and finally my mother also found time for her hobbies later in life. She obtained her level A swimming certificate on her 50th birthday!
My mother was part of the local choir all her life and together with Dad they cleaned the church on Mondays.
After High Mass on Sunday morning, we would all eat together, play cards and football.
These Sunday moments are my most favourite and dearest memories.
Despite my beautiful, and yet unfortunately too short time with my parents, I have become a powerful man because of my strong parents that raised me with love, appreciation, respect which taught me to cherish the simplicity of my upbringing
Together with my 8 sisters and 6 brothers, we have celebrated our 1,000 year anniversary on July 26th, 2021 at 12h03!
1,000 years together, calculated to the minute!
On this day we have present the physical book and added relevant photos written in Dutch by my sister Mia, the 7th of the bunch, called “Ponjee 1,000 years”, a collection of all our stories for our approximately 108 cousins and others interested.
Very exciting to read all the stories from my brothers and sisters who are sketching a timeline starting from as early as the second world war!
The stories in this book start around 1950 with Leo, the first of the 15 children and ending with the last of the 15, Martin, born in 1965.
So I will tell you only a ‘short description’ in this biography along with other episodes of my life.
Bergen Limburg my village near the Maas where I grew up.
Every day we would play outside. We played all kinds of ball games, both on the street and of course we would play football on the field. We would build huts in between the bushes, underground and high up in the trees.
We would build rafts to go on the river Maas. We would catchfish, clean it, and roast it over a fire and eat it right on the spot. It was all so easy then!
Once I went on holiday with my sister and another unforgettable vacation with my parents, together with about thirty family members in the 70’s to Lugano in Switzerland.
In the Ponjee family simplicity, steadfastness and solidarity were the central pillars. This was an important part of being a Ponjee and I see this translated later in life as a piece of decency and quality.
In the Roman Catholic Northern Limburg province, the sacred festivals and traditions were a real pleasure and coming together with all our brothers and sisters, it was great fun.
Together with my 6 brothers and 8 sisters it was a pleasant and fun time, and you can read extensively about this in the book of 1,000 years of Ponjee.
In My short time farming, when I was young, it was also unforgettable and this experience left a big impression on me!
Fortunately, we had enough land and left after the barn was demolished.
So I could continue taking care of the bull, my pony Floris (a gift from my father), the American buck Flikky, the ducks, rabbits and our two cats; Suske and Wiske.
Suske had a kitten who could not walk normally so it hopped like a rabbit!
Maybe it visited the rabbit hutch too often… or…?
I was a member of the football club RKVV Montagnards from the age of nine until I went to Italy. There, I scored 94 times and after a weekend of taking penalty kicks, I was considered somewhat of a penalty king! Kicking the ball with the inside of the foot hard in the top-right corner, either with the right (or left) foot!
The Montagnards football club was certainly an important social factor in my life.
At the club we experienced many funny moments. Once at an indoor football tournament John K. and the ladies of the football players chose my legs as the most beautiful of all. Gosh I was ashamed… but I won beer, so all’s well that ends well!
At the age of 26 I also started running and after 9 weeks of preparation I ran the Amsterdam marathon in 3h22 ‘and shortly afterwards the half marathon of Tegelen in 1h22’.
With a professional athletics training schedule from my personal trainer mister Carolus and many hours of intense training, I ran the 800 meters in 2’12 ” and the 10,000 meters in 35″ which were my best results ever.
My school and work experience
After the five-year MAVO course (it was so much fun that I did the third year again!), I attended the Secondary Horticultural School in Venlo.
I chose the B direction, the practical variant with many internships at many different vegetable and flower companies.
I also became a member of the voluntary fire brigade in Bergen, which included tough training. After the fires were put out, the “fire-fighting” continued in the canteen with a glass of beer (or more)!
I have worked at several vegetable and flower companies. But because I could earn more being a plasterer, I took that up too. Later I also worked for the security company Intergarde.
My work and the many wonderful journeys
After I met my now ex-wife on an interrail train journey, we got married in Italy on a warm September day in 1989 and we spent our honeymoon in Malta. We have 3 children: Micol, Jonathan and Alexandra, our pride and joy.
Every year three family members organize our annual family day in the summer, which we usually attend. This has always been the best way to get to know our first generation of cousins.
More about that in my biography but the pronunciation of our last name will haunt us for all our lives!
Here’s what often happens to us when per example Courier comes;
Me: Yes yes, it’s ok
Me: PONJEE, P-O-N …
Me: Yes ok
C: Ah great… it was not so difficult I supposed!
In Italy I ended up at the fruit and vegetable market where after 2 years I started my own company exporting Italian fruit and vegetables to several countries in Europe, but mainly to Germany.
I knew Germany like the back of my hand because I have been to most of the major markets to acquire customers.
It was nice to work with German customers, even though they won the final at the World Cup in 1974 against us Dutch! Pffffff!
Later I also imported organic bananas from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador and came into contact with the Fair Trade projects with organic bananas.
In the meantime I opened an Italian women’s clothing store in the Netherlands and a little later started selling ceramic knives in Lombardy.
The international trade made me travel a lot and so I was able to see many beautiful places in (Northern) Italy and other countries all across the world. I have been able to visit every region in Italy and enjoy the beautiful old-fashioned villages and enjoy the “Italian cuisine” presented in thousands of different ways supplemented by excellent wines.
In every region one can grow wine, which means that Italy is one of the few countries in the world that has a perfect grape climate.
The islands such as Sicily, Sardegna, Elba and Ischia are worth visiting and to enjoy and relax
I visited my suppliers all across Italy. For the apples I went to Trentino and Merano. The tomatoes came from Veneto, the radicchio from Chioggia and for fruits such as plums, peaches, pears, kiwis I visited Emilia Romagna. Escarole came from Abruzzo, parsley from Puglia, cherries from the Rutigliano area, Gallatin potatoes and organic oranges from Mrs. Monica in Sicily. Pacchino tomatoes, oranges, mandarins and a variety of other citrus fruits from Calabria. I sourced strawberries from Battipaglia and onions, spring onions, frisee and cauliflower from Eboli. In Latina I found kohlrabi, radishes, turnips and got my hands on Tuscan spinach and dill and wild arugula from Liguria and Kiwi’s from Piemonte. Sardinia in Pula provided the costuluto tomatoes and Lombardy provided vegetables in general.
The first grape harvests begin in Sicily, followed by Puglia. Italy has TOP GRADE production of fruit and vegetables. The earth, the sun, the water and the perfect climate form the basis for and guarantee of an excellent product. I feel privileged that I was able to take so many journeys in the last 14 years in this beautiful country.
I was invited to work for the Ministry of Agriculture in Tunisia. It was a pleasant and interesting trip and I visited several companies producing fruit, vegetables and fish. In the evening two women sat at the table, one woman with a headscarf and the other woman, also religious, but did not wear a headscarf and they both went to the same university. It can be that easy! Those days were pleasant and easygoing.
In Turkey I visited Istanbul, a city that never sleeps. I had a wonderful experience visiting the Bazar and the Blue Mosque. In the Mosque there was not a fly in sight, so I asked the imam how that was possible? The man told me that the white of an ostrich egg is mixed into the paint. As having flies at home, I tried this by repainting the ceiling. Maybe I misunderstood, I have never had so many flies!
After travelling from Istanbul to Antalya, I travelled to Mersin, a large port that supplies food to the Middle East.
In Spagna in Barcelona I visited the wholesale markets for fruit and vegetables and I enjoyed the beautiful and quiet city of Johan Cruyff.
In the meantime also my brother Martin has nice stories to tell me after visiting Japan several times a year and Cina for buy ‘bonsaii’.
Germany, with all its major markets, was the most important sales area for the export of fruit and vegetables from Italy.
I have visited most places there by car from Milan starting in Karlsruhe, Saarbrucken, Mainz, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Koblenz, Bonn, Koln, Essen,Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Münster, Bielefeld, Hannover, Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin (and not just for work, a beautiful city to visit), Leipzig, Dresden, Nurnberg, Stuttgart and via Schwenningen, Schaffhausen and Switzerland back to Milan.
I got help from my great friend Willem to supply most of the large markets in these places with fruit and vegetables. Indispensable as a transporter and confidant for logistics. He helped me during the night to make sure the trucks always arrived at their final destinations on time. Each truck had at least 2 to 4 unloading addresses. The quality of the fruit & vegetables and punctual deliveries were the most important conditions. Willem came from the beautiful city of Harlingen where I had an office for when I was in the Netherlands. Several times I visited the islands of Vlieland, Texel and Ameland.
Germany is a large and well-cared-for country with beautiful culture and customs. All the journeys by car, in the times before navigation systems but relying on the different road maps and using different currencies as I traveled before the entry of the Euro in 1992.
I don’t quite understand it yet, but before the entry of the Euro was 1 + 1 = 2, after that it was 1 + 1 = 3 …
For most families it was and still is difficult to make it to the end of the month! Deeply sad!
I would often combine visits to my customers in Denmark and Norway with trips to view the natural spectacles in those countries. And so I also ended up in the Norwegian city of Bergen, as my home village in the Netherlands is called.
The trips in Ireland and Scotland were super beautiful, driving with a rented car on the wrong side of the road. Gosh, that was not easy! Nature is all around you and if you have the chance to go, I would definitely recommend it. When visiting Edinburgh there was a musical festival on and I attended a concert of the American singer Santigold.
I frequently visited England for pleasure, but also for a conference of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) in London. In Manchester I offered Italian products and Organic bananas.
I have been to France, Switzerland and Austria several times by car to visit customers. Also here I have been able to visit many beautiful places. Camping in Corsica was of course great.
I knew Belgium like the back of my hand. Here I helped my friend deliver frozen fish to all wok restaurants in Belgium!
My sales of mixed Italian products decreased and I decided to live in Belgium for a while.
From Turnhout I tried to acquire Belgian, German and Dutch customers for the fruit and vegetable trade, which unfortunately did not work!
In this beautiful town with many pubs and live music I started taking guitar lessons in 2013, at the age of 50. This later turns out to be the beginning of my adventure in the music world!
In the short period between Turnhout and Suriname I lived for another year with my dear friends Johan and Silvia with kids on their camping site in St.Hubert (Brabant). They are loyal super fans of the music band Marillion by whom theylived close by.
I lived with with Mia and Ton on their beautifully renovated farm and then went on to Suriname.
I can only consider myself lucky because my work has led me to many beautiful places and I have been able to meet many people.
Posso solo considerarmi fortunato, perché il mio lavoro mi ha portato in tanti posti bellissimi e così ho potuto incontrare tante bellissime persone.