Einar Njiokiktjien does a backflip off his houseboat into the water of river De Vecht, in Maarssen, the Netherlands on the 11th of June, 2023.
Einar Njiokiktjien does a backflip off his houseboat into the water of river De Vecht, in Maarssen, the Netherlands on the 11th of June, 2023.

“Living on a houseboat has defined my life since 1974”, says Einar Njiokiktjien, about the life he has lived with his wife Anneke.

“We settled in Maarssen during our college years due to the scarcity of affordable student accommodations in nearby Utrecht, where we both studied."
Their journey started modestly, with a tiny boat barely suitable for two. But it was the beginning of a life shared together, on the water, with their four children. "We went on to live in a third boat, which we built ourselves, it was much bigger and a labor of love, a collaborative effort with friends to accommodate our growing family."

The houseboat, perched in the same spot, offered serenity, space, and ever-changing scenery. "The convenience of having nature right by your side and also the river for leisurely excursions adds to the charm of this lifestyle. Everything you need is within reach, making it an ideal place to call a family home."
Einar and Anneke's decision to have a large family was influenced by their own upbringing. "We believed our children would benefit from the companionship of their siblings," Einar explains. Both Einar and Anneke grew up in larger families. "Today, I take pride in being a father of four children and I love the fact that I have six wonderful grandchildren, all of whom live nearby."
Einar and Anneke both had careers in education. "Teaching was a passion," Einar says. "I devoted nearly 30 years to the field before retiring in 2016, while Anneke continued to teach Dutch to foreign individuals."

Then, the darkest chapter: "Shortly after my retirement, tragedy struck. Anneke was diagnosed with cancer. Within six weeks after the diagnosis, she passed away. Her battle with metastatic cancer was both heartbreaking and unfair."
During the first year following her passing, the situation was difficult. "With the support of my children and the guidance of a psychologist, I managed to navigate this period," Einar says he hardly ever cries, but in that year he did. Usually by himself, at home on the houseboat.
Running a bed and breakfast from home became a lifeline in that time. "Caring for guests brought me solace and fulfillment. I also opened my doors to three Ukrainian refugees; a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter. Witnessing their resilience left a lasting impact on me. It was heartwarming to have them around. They went back to Kiev now, which worries me."

In the wake of Anneke's passing, Einar resolved to carry on. "I aspire to reach the age of ninety, just like my own father," he says with determination. "My hope is to maintain my mental and physical health. I really want to enjoy quality time with my children and grandchildren. The life we have lived on the houseboat has been a remarkable journey filled with family, joy, and, inevitably, grief," he says, succinctly capturing a lifetime in just a few words. "Through it all, I have learned the value of resilience and the importance of cherishing every moment with loved ones, as life can change in the blink of an eye."

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How does it feel to be 72?

"I've come to embrace my age, finding solace in each day spent with family around me and with running my quaint bed and breakfast on the houseboat I call home in Maarssen. These days, it's the simple pleasures that hold the most value for me. Six years ago, my world was shattered by the sudden loss of my wife, a reminder to savor the present. I'm fortunate to see my children and grandchildren often. On the weekends, I try to get the family together for dinner, serving either homemade Indonesian dishes or Chinese take-away. Food we love as we are of Chinese-Indonesian heritage."

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What do you look forward to?

"At our age you know from experience that life can come to an end instantly. That’s why I don't look too far ahead and look forward to things that will happen in the near future. I like spending time with my family. I love the annual week of winter sports together. That is a highlight that I look forward to. In the long term, I hope to see my grandchildren grow up and I hope that everyone I love will stay healthy and enjoy life just like me."

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What is your biggest concern?

"My biggest concern is for the future of my children and grandchildren. My generation has ignorantly but also knowingly abused and damaged the earth in an irresponsible way, thereby saddled generations after us with enormous problems. Global warming is already causing drought and famine, which means there is a chance that population movements will occur worldwide, for which our children will have to find a solution."

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Life expectancy 2023

82.58
years
Netherlands

About the photographer

Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Ilvy Njiokiktjien is a storyteller who documents the social issues that shape our world. She chronicled South Africa’s first post-apartheid generation in her series 'Born Free'. She is a regular contributor to NYTimes.

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