Our first ever area we lived in Geneva, was called La Servette. It is not far from the train station therefore not far from central Geneva. We were nestled near the heart of Geneva. Our home at the time, was a shared accommodation as we lived at the top, pretty much the attic of the house. There was a bedroom, a bathroom and a living room. We had to share the kitchen with other lodgers. The best of all, we had access to a massive garden.
Whenever our parents had the time, especially during the weekends, we would host barbecues. My mum would invite either relatives and friends from Guinea-Bissau. My dad, who knew so much about the Guinean culture during his time there, couldn’t be more delighted. My dad could speak the language fluently. We all enjoyed the gatherings so much, and it was nice to spend time with people who shared the same cultures and values.
At the time, during the mid 80s, an avalanche of Portuguese people fled Portugal in search of a better life. However, people from Guinea-Bissau were not in Geneva as much as the Portuguese were. People from Guinea-Bissau went to Portugal or France. As explained previously, Switzerland is still a country difficult to settle and to live there.
I wonder how my mum did in the beginning? I would lose hope. Our faith as we are Catholics, played a huge part in our settlement in Geneva. In fact, Catholics in Portugal represent 96% of the population. We were raised Catholics since birth. Thankfully for that as it has helped us a great deal. Well, my mum attended a parish called La Sainte Trinité. Straight away, when we started attending church, we were part of the community of the parish.
The church helped us so much. In fact, the priest alone would remain in our lives until his passing. We met many families and nice people there. At the time, I wouldn’t consider ourselves as refugees, simply my mum didn’t have the right papers when she arrived and was simply working towards getting that sorted. So our beginning in Switzerland was not completely legal if that makes sense. Nevertheless, our parents were working hard and ensured our settling in was smooth. La Sainte Trinité, for us and other families in need, represented a refuge, a haven and a gathering beyond the church services. Even though my dad was not Catholic, the church helped him as well.
As the start of school was looming ever closer, unfortunately we didn’t have a school place yet nor the right papers to register. It was impossible for us to attend a public school (which was free). Worried, my mum asked the priest for advice. The priest in turn introduced my mum to nuns who fortunately for us ran a private Catholic school. The problem was private schools are very expensive, especially in Geneva. So how could my mum possibly afford to fund for it? As we were faced with the impossible, our faith played an important role in our admission to l’Externat Sainte Marie.
The nuns offered my mum work in the school, she would work with children in the nursery and we were registered to start in September almost the same year we arrived in Geneva. All the paper work was finalised for our admission in the school, the fee was waved in return for my mum’s employment. Prior of my mum accepting her new job offer, she worked tirelessly as a cleaner, often taking us along. I recalled many things I broke as I was still up to my mischiefs. Soon, she wouldn’t have to clean or babysit again and have a better way to make ends meet.
My mum prepared us for school, reminding us to behave, follow instructions and above all, to learn the culture and French. I must admit, French is not an easy language to learn. Before we started school, we couldn’t speak French fluently so school would help us, or so we thought. I was excited to start school and meet new friends and I was nervous at the same time as I couldn’t speak French properly at the time. I was only 5.
Unknown to me, I was on the road to Calvary as soon as my school life started in Switzerland. My school life in Geneva would have a devastating consequence psychologically.