Mieke (left) and Agnes run a farm together.
Mieke (left) and Agnes run a farm together.

Mieke and Agnes de Bruijn are 80 years old and have been friends for 75 years. Every morning they drink coffee together in Mieke's big white house in the village of Wenum Wiesel, at the edge of the forest. Their friendship is special because Mieke's father was a Nazi and Agnes' father was Jewish.
When Mieke came to Wenum Wiesel after World War II - her father had been executed in Italy - the place where Agnes always went on vacation, they became friends. Now they live one kilometer from each other.

Agnes, an outspoken and powerful woman, has felt all her life that she had to protect Mieke, a quiet and gentle person. This went so far that she asked if Mieke would please marry her brother Frans when Agnes had to go abroad for a time. Years later, someone still asked Agnes, "I heard your brother married that Kraut kid!
Mieke gave hold to Agnes, who always felt like an outsider as the ninth child in a family of 11 children. Mieke and Agnes say of their friendship, "We keep each other in balance. You know you have a friendship, that gives you a foundation.'

Mieke's husband recently passed away, so now she runs her farm and campsite with her three children. Agnes lives with her husband on a large piece of land and takes care of her sheep, chickens and other animals daily. When Mieke and Agnes see each other, they talk about the animals, the land and the weather. World War II is not often discussed. "It's that you ask about it," Agnes says, "but we don't often talk about the war. I sometimes say: everyone has a war past.'

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How does it feel to be 72?

Why did you retire or why are you still working?

Why did you retire?

Why are you still working?

Mieke and Agnes both have a large piece of land, lots of animals and - not unimportantly - lots of energy. Agnes has sheep and lambs, chickens and seven dogs in and around the house. Mieke has horses, a goat and chickens on the land. 

They have been working on their farm since they were in their twenties. Agnes was an au pair in Switzerland when she was eighteen and in her thirties she was a management assistant at Philips. Why are they still working, at eighty? Because the farm has to be kept running. The camping with Mieke. The horse facilities. If they stopped working, they say, laughing, they would drop out. 

So they get up early every day to feed the animals, clean the stables, mow the grass, reinforce the fencing, keep up the garden, cut down trees and split wood and all the other chores that come with the outdoors. Maybe you shouldn't even call it work, but a way of life. Mieke: "A farm never stops.”

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Life expectancy 2023

years

About the photographer

Annabel Oosteweeghel

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Annabel Oosteweeghel, a Dutch photographer born in 1969, blends visual arts with storytelling, focusing on socially relevant themes. Her debut photo book "Oblivious" garnered global recognition in 2015.

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