‘When Omroep Max thought that too few elderly people were discussed, nobody called them activist’

She presented it youth news and Early birds, and is now the face of the new Omroep Zwart. Ten dilemmas for presenter Milouska Meulens (48).

Ashwant Nandram

Day or night?

‘I don’t like the day. I find it chaotic, busy, a bit dirty. In daylight you see the dog poo, ripped open garbage bags, homeless people that nobody cares about. During the day you see everything and everything sees you, I find that scary. People can look at you and form an opinion. And they may share it with someone else, while I have no influence on that.

‘The night is reliable; there are no people, so no surprises. And everyone is asleep. When you sleep there is no pretense: you drool, fart and scab your eye. Then we’re all the same.

For Omroep Zwart I present the radio program every Saturday night The night is black. It’s talk radio that guests can dial in. You notice that people like to chat in the dark.

‘Last weekend a lady called who had just gone blind. She told me she was lonely. After I played a picture, we had a new caller. A man who had been blind for a long time reassured the woman. At night you have the space for that.’

Curacao or the Netherlands? (1)

‘I was born on Curaçao, but in my youth we moved several times between the Netherlands and the island. My mother wanted to live in the Netherlands, where the children would have the most opportunities. My father didn’t like it here: it was cold and the people were chilly, you were sent home around dinner time.

“He struggled to support the family. On Curaçao you can easily earn money, such as selling homemade ice cream from the kitchen window or doing odd jobs in the neighborhood. In the Netherlands you can’t stand at a neighbor’s garden gate and say: ‘I see you have weeds, can I remove them for you?’ We traveled back and forth about four times.’

Father or mother?

‘As a child I had a soft spot for my father. My mother always talked and asked many questions, my father was silent. I can still see him sitting in front of the window, huddled so that the radiator could warm him up. He stared in silence for hours.

‘I liked that about my father: I could sit with him and have my own thoughts, without being alone. It was only later that I realized that he was not well. He was crushed by all those things that he didn’t like in the Netherlands.’

Curacao or the Netherlands? (2)

‘When I was 12 years old, my grandmother died on Curaçao. We lived in Lelystad and my father traveled back. He went to bury her and never came back. My mother is in a wheelchair because of a leg amputation, suddenly she was a single woman with four children. That wasn’t easy. She is loving and caring, and has done her best. She hugged us a lot and said she was proud of us.

“But at the same time it was a very chaotic childhood. Despite receiving benefits, we were unable to make ends meet. And if there was money, it went up that same day; my mother didn’t skimp. She went to bed confident that the next day would be all right.

‘But it often didn’t. We experienced real poverty during that time. Fortunately, we sometimes received a box of food and supplies from the local church. There was no money for other expenses. I remember living for months without carpeting, walking on freshly poured concrete, and I marveled at the ants that bounced up through air bubbles.

‘Sometimes I think: wouldn’t I rather have been poor on Curaçao? With people who look like me, where you can go out barefoot.’

Lie or truth?

‘Because my mother was regularly unable to take care of us, we lived in various places in the Netherlands – shelters, children’s homes and foster families – at fifteen addresses in total. I went to at least eleven schools.

“I was used to coming to a school, leaving and never seeing the other kids again. That is why it never led to real friendships, until I ended up at a secondary school in Almere. Two girls decided we were friends. And when I moved again, they kept writing me letters. I thought: this is not an honest friendship. I didn’t want to explain about my father or the chaos, I wouldn’t know where to start. So I didn’t say anything or I was lying. My father isn’t here, I said, because he sails at sea.’

Together or alone?

“We were very close as a family. Being the eldest, I felt a great responsibility to help my mother. I left home when I was 16; I no longer wanted to worry, but to make my own decisions. I rented a room in Utrecht. That worked out well. During the day I worked as a warehouse employee for the V&D and as a hamburger baker in the Ajax stadium. In the evenings I followed adult education.’

Youth news or Early Birds?

‘It youth news, that’s such a wonderful program. It offers children a window on the world. After my journalism training, I went to work there. I stayed there for fifteen years.

‘I was first a reporter and later a presenter. Over the years I noticed that I developed a missionary urge that I could not express in the program. Around 2014, oil companies argued over the right to drill in the Arctic and Greenpeace raised the alarm. This led to heated discussions in the editorial team, because not everyone thought that we should pay attention to that at the time. I thought so.

‘Not long after that I was asked to Early birds present, a program about nature and sustainability. I took my chance; I was able to address a new target group. The fact that the program had an almost completely white editors also played a role. It’s nice when the viewer also sees people of color looking for insects in the mud.’

Friendship or relationship?

‘Friendship! I have friends with whom I would like to have a romantic relationship, but I am not a lesbian. I’ve been friends for over thirty years, but no love affair lasted that long.

Since 2020 I am no longer together with Joris (Marseille, presenter of the youth news, red.). I have always had long relationships in my life, an average of about seven years. I sometimes wonder why my relationships don’t last.’

Milouska MeulensStatue Frank Ruiter

Shame or shameless?

‘I am anything but shameless. All my life I have been ashamed: of myself, of my parents, of our past. That has haunted me all my life.

‘Last year I noticed: it has to come out. Otherwise I will continue to live in fear that others will find out. In October I was a guest teacher in a broadcast of Dream School, a program in which school-leavers receive lessons to get their lives back on track. There I first told about my childhood and depression. The youngsters would then learn that secrets weigh down and that sharing them can help, and that shame evaporates as soon as you say something out loud.

‘Telling was a relief. Yet I have not shared the vast majority of our past, about 80 percent. I have to consider my brothers and sisters, and their children. It’s not just up to me to talk about that time publicly.’

The never ending story or Elin?

I read the book when I was 10 The never ending story, by the German writer Michael Ende. It’s about a boy who is bullied. When he finds an old book, he finds that the world of the story is connected to his own world. As a result, he can literally disappear into the book. It is well written and a fantastic idea.

‘Still I choose Elin, the children’s book I wrote myself last year. I’ve wanted to write since I was 10 and I’m proud that I finally did. The characters are different from what you often see: a large, muscular woman with body hair and tattoos and a small black girl with curly hair. The story is not about being black, but about loneliness, friendship and shame.’

Activist or binding?

‘It is fascinating how quickly Omroep Zwart was called activist. The relationships in Hilversum are out of balance: many editorial teams are almost completely white. Omroep Zwart wants to try to correct this imbalance by explicitly letting people with different backgrounds have their say, in terms of colour, gender or sexual preference. When Omroep Max thought that too few elderly people were discussed, no one called them activists.

‘Nevertheless, we want to make programs where everyone is welcome. That’s why the first broadcast of The night is black so important: I wanted to show that we don’t just make programs for black people. We have succeeded if the critics who accuse us of polarization will soon think: we were wrong.’

The night is black can be heard on NPO Radio 1 in the night from Saturday to Sunday between 03:00 and 06:00.

Milouska Meulens

1973 Born on Curaçao

1993-1997 School of Journalism Utrecht

2000-2015 Editor and presenter NOS Youth news

2015-2019 Presenter Early birds

2021 Writing debut Elin

2022 Presenter The night is black