I know what you must be thinking! You must be wondering, why am I talking about my background and not my experiences in Switzerland as promised? Well you will discover soon enough (in few posts) the importance of including my Portuguese background as it is crucial to understand fully how even Portuguese nationals were treated in Switzerland.
So, to return to my story, my mum was in search of a new life. As it turned out, Portugal was and still is, one of the best tourist destinations. Despite its extraordinarily rich history, Portugal is considered one of the poorest countries in Europe. An avalanche of Portuguese nationals were leaving Portugal to find a better life elsewhere, just like my mum. I found out many years later coincidentally, many Portuguese citizen went to Switzerland, especially to Geneva during the 80s around the same time my mum went there.
Before going to Switzerland, my mum went to France as her cousin and many other relatives lived there. Somehow, my mother wouldn’t stay in France very long. I am not sure the reason why she declined living in France, but I am certain it has to do with the limited opportunities as a black person in the 80s in France. Defeated, she resigned in returning to Portugal, but she received a lifeline which will transform our lives and surely guarantee to offer many opportunities. My auntie, my mum’s sister whom my mum worked for by looking after her nephews as well as cooking and cleaning, advised my mum to go to Switzerland as she had a relative or friend there. Without any delay, my mum left France, but in a few years’ time, after settling in Switzerland, France will be a country not only where we would visit often, but also a country which will play an important role for us. Therefore, France will be a country we will have a deep connection in many ways.
The very first time my mum set foot in Switzerland, it was literally love at first sight. The beauty the country had to offer was a banquet which gave my mum a taste of what to expect. My mum could clearly sense the difference between Portugal and Switzerland almost immediately. The buildings, the clean streets, the transports and of course the delightful mountains. Meanwhile, as my mum was savouring what Switzerland had to offer, my dad who was an architect, was so busy working and didn’t have time to look after me and my sister. So, me and my sister were split with various relatives which did not please my mum as she always wanted us together. Of course, it was a decision taken out of her hands. At first, I went to live with my paternal grandmother, but due to her age, she couldn’t look after me full time. Instead, I went to my uncle’s house who was a dermatologist and looked after my skin ravaged by eczema. My sister went to an auntie and our babysitter as she was noticeably young, I think she was 1 or 2. Nevertheless, life changed for us so much. Especially for me, it changed in the worst and most brutal way.
My 4 cousins were way older than me, so frequently, their friends would visit, and many family relatives would visit my uncle’s house. I was always carefree, mischievous and forever full of beans. I expected to be the centre of attention since I was the youngest. Instead I was often bullied, and especially the boys (my cousin’s friends and relatives) would beat me up. I didn’t stand a chance. I was 3 and to top it off a girl. Despite the change of situation happening, something changed in me too. I became withdrawn, often when the whole family would gather in the living room, I was sat on the stairs, alone preferring my own company. I didn’t reveal to no one what was happening to me, I wouldn’t dare make things worse as I was threatened. Somehow, I didn’t cry nor show I was hurt and I kept what was happening a secret. Unwittingly, this horrific experience would shape up the person I would become in Switzerland. I kept on making sense of what was happening; one moment I was so happy with my parents and sister, life was so great, to now becoming withdrawn and unhappy. From the centre of attention, to being practically left aside like an old shoe. The thing is my uncle and auntie didn’t know what was happening right under their nose. I was bullied frequently, I kept thinking who would believe me? Quite simply, I was an easy and weak prey at the mercy of a hungry pack of wolves. This painful agony lasted a year, a long everlasting year.
Finally, I was rescued. My mum arranged for me and my sister to go and live with my maternal grandma in Guinea-Bissau. I was so relieved to leave this year long nightmare behind. Unfortunately, my relief was short lived as my life in Guinea-Bissau would make this year long bullying like playfighting.