“Be tolerant”

My youth

My name is Pascall Venot, I was born on the 6th of March 1956 under a snowstorm in a small apartment in Lyon in France where we lived with my two older sisters and my parents. When I was ten, we moved to a big house in the suburbs. It was during that period that my oldest sister died. Her death has doubled my strength.

As a small girl, I already knew that I wasn’t going to live in France for the rest of my life. This may have been influenced by some books I received at Christmas when I was eight years old with stories about children from lots of different countries in the world. Also, my mother has always been very open towards strangers and my father often told us stories about countries he visited during his sailing trips.

Both my parents are French. My father from a very poor worker’s family became an engineer. He invented machines that made no noise to dig tunnels. My mother, a strong woman who grew up on the countryside, was a dance teacher. She set up her own dance school when I was three years old. My parents taught me to have as much respect for the rich as for the poor. This has always been very helpful to me. Thanks to them I’ve always managed to feel equally comfortable with people from differing socio-economic backgrounds.

Travelling, travelling, travelling

After passing my A levels with applied art as one of my main subjects, I went to live in the Netherlands with the Dutch man I fell in love with. I was 18 years old and studied Architecture in order to learn the Dutch language. I learned to discover a new culture without having any reference points and discovered being able to accept the differences between this new country and the place I came from.

In 1980, after the birth of my two sons I followed my husband to Tanzania. Again, I discovered a new culture I had to adapt myself to. At that time, the country was in a state of war and we had to survive with almost nothing to eat. A very important period and lesson in my life. In 1982 I gave birth to my daughter and we moved to yet another country. This time it was Madagascar, a beautiful country with a very complex culture.

In 1984 we went back to the Netherlands for seven years. I wanted to raise my kids as normal people and didn’t want them to be spoiled. This wouldn’t have been possible if they stayed in Madagascar. With my Africa experience in the pocket, I had to learn to be tolerant again towards the Europeans who seemed to have a big tendency to complain all the time while (in my eyes) having not much to complain about. I had a culture shock in the opposite way and I really needed to learn to live in Europe again.

Culture and art

This was also the time where I started my own dance school because I wanted my children to learn about rhythm, music and dancing. I didn’t like the mentality of football clubs and couldn’t find good dance schools for boys in the Hague.

At the end of this period I also rediscovered my need to express myself through art and thus started to paint on silk and practice sculpture. I’ve been painting on a regular basis ever since. It is my way of showing to the world what I see, experience and feel. By looking at my paintings you can look at my life and observe the countries I’ve been living in, through my eyes.

Africa, Holland, Nicaragua and Berlin

By the time my children were a bit older, they expressed the wish to move back abroad. So there we went again. Tanzania was the destination. My husband found a job as a local SNV director and being a director’s wife, mother and painter was a full-time job for me as well. Although I spent lots of energy and time in fulfilling my duties as a director’s wife, I quickly discovered this to be a job without any recognition. This experience still saddens me quite regularly.

In 1996 we moved back to Holland. After so many years abroad, I was happy to be in the Netherlands again and didn’t feel the need to go back to Africa. My children started to study and I wanted to be near them in case they needed me. This was also the period during which I enjoyed the cultural things that are available in Europe. I started my own cultural video-store.

In 2005 we left to Nicaragua. Although it was hard to accept leaving my family and friends behind me and having to build up a life in a new place again, I managed to pull myself through it and to build up a pleasant life in central America. I even managed to learn to speak Spanish. In 2008 we moved to Berlin where I’m living now. After Nicaragua it is difficult to find my place here. But once you’re travelling, you can’t stop.

About development

All this travelling has been hard sometimes, but it also brought me lots of things. Every time I moved to a new place, I gained life experience and thus became a richer and stronger person. And although it’s been hard at times, I love Africa and Central America. The people, their simplicity and their way of living. I also still believe that working for development is a beautiful job. We do our best and remain honest and we act instead of speaking. Travelling is a lesson in adaptation which makes you a more beautiful person in the end.

I’ve always loved to train the people in the countries I’ve been, to make them stronger people too. The results are on such a small scale that you really need to believe in the butterfly effect. But I still believe that doing something is better than doing nothing. It is such a big satisfaction when the work you do really influences people’s life in a good way like when two pupils I had, became professional dancers or when the people who worked for us in Nicaragua managed to have a baby.

The future

If I had to live my life again, I would live exactly the same life. I am happy I left France as a young woman. I am the one who chose my life. I don’t regret anything. I now look forward to the future, to painting, conveying my experiences, ideas and feelings to the ones who want to hear them and to being there for the ones I feel responsible of, my friends and the people I’ve worked for.

If there is one thing my life has taught me it is not to restrict yourself, but to keep interested in others, not to believe that you are the only one who holds the truth. It is important to respect the liberty of thinking and action of everyone, and to stay true to yourself. But the most important thing I’ve learned, is to love life in all it’s shapes.

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