Bittersweet

When I returned to school, I was a nervous wreck. I wondered if I would finally be accepted by my classmates,whether the teacher would be nice?

Let’s be real, so far, ever since I started school at l’Externat Sainte Marie, it has been hell. The language was a problem, resulting in having to redo a year, suffering racism at the hand of my teacher, being mocked, teased and bullied by classmates and older children, fighting back and being labelled a troublemaker. The list can go on.

Somehow, that year felt so different. We lived in a different area and I hoped for some positive changes. My parents were still working loads, but we still managed to have our gatherings which I enjoyed. Surprisingly, I started to feel at home in Geneva. It was time to return to my routine and my return to school was imminent.

My new teacher seemed to be nice, a big smile painted across her face as she greeted us. I was sceptic at first, simply because the same happened with my former teacher before she revealed her true colours. Ever since my awful experience with my 1st teacher in Geneva, I would never be fully open with people, always reserved and get to know a person before being fully open. That trait earned me yet another label to being troublesome. I couldn’t help it. As time went by, my new teacher seemed to be so laid back, so funny and lovely. She was older than my former teacher definitely not as beautiful. She was so kind, she allowed us to get away with things, she would spoil us with snacks on a regular basis. I was introduced to many snacks thanks to her. I loved Les Merveilles a Swiss delicacy among others she introduced us. There was one snack which had an awful name, and sadly I enjoyed despite the awful name. It’s a chocolate – coated marshmallow, at the time known as têtes-de-nègres, literally meaning niggers head. If you check this up online, the name still exists to name this snack. At the time, I couldn’t understand French properly, but as time went by, I understood the meaning and was deeply outraged. The name was changed for these snacks years later. I started to understand that my treatment I suffered at the beginning of my life in Geneva, was the perception the majority of Swiss people had towards coloured people. The snack’s name was no exception. Sadly, I would face yet more racism in Geneva and Switzerland. One thing for sure, even though I used to enjoy those snacks so much, I ceased to eat them completely. The name put me off and reminded me constantly of how people used to see me.

Nevertheless, my new teacher’s kindness was too good to be true. But to my delight it was true. I was finally getting a breakthrough with my classmates, as I was finally playing with some girls too and not only with boys. The popular girls of course didn’t want me around still. It didn’t matter to me as I had some friends at last. Despite all the positive changes, one thing remained; my struggles academically. My new teacher had more patience with me, she would give me time to complete my tasks, she would support me whenever it was possible to do so. I came to realise how hard French was as a language. It still is.

Performing at my school play

It was with that teacher that my love for reading developed further. Once a week, we would read famous fairytales from France especially. Fairytales like Cinderella ( Cendrillon), The Little Red Riding Hood (Le petit chaperon rouge), Puss in a boots (Le chat botté) and more. I also enjoyed other fairytales from brothers Grimm, Christian Andersen. I learned about the fables of La Fontaine and I was so intrigued that I wanted more. I read almost all of La Fontaine’s fables as they are short and all of them offers life lessons. I loved reading ever since I was younger anyway, but fairytales became what I enjoyed reading the most. I was also introduced by the French literature slowly. Reading, especially when I had a bad day, became my escape. Same with television. It was a great distraction and I submerged myself in any story. Whilst enjoying watching my French channels and reading, I was learning about the French culture too. I became fascinated with France as well as connected with France too.

I was slightly confused too due to our area being right next to the French border, somehow I felt much more at home in the French part, therefore in France, than actually in Switzerland if that makes sense. We used to go shopping in France as it was cheaper and watching mainly French programs as well as listening to French music therefore getting to know about the French enabled me to feel so connected to France. I also became so familiar with French celebrities, French politics including knowing French products. I remember that whenever we went shopping to France (right next to the border), we kept encountering people of colour. It was the same when we watched people of colour in French programs, something unheard of in our Swiss channels or Swiss programs. I also enjoyed watching French films old and new. Later, I would study French films, the French New Wave at Uni in London.

It became apparent, when I enjoy something, I would always take it up a notch. I could overdo it sometimes, well all the time. My love for reading, films and TV became more than hobbies but more like a passion. I became antisocial because of it. Thanks to my father’s introduction to comic books (bande dessinées) I would read on average 5-6 a day as the French/Belgian ones are mainly pictures.

Life was good at that point for me. School life was finally getting better, even though I struggled still academically, I had a great teacher. I was finally being accepted by others, and not only by boys. However, cracks started to slowly appear in my parents’ relationship. My parents were still working so much, too much it seems. My father would go out so much still, and my mother would look after me and my sister like she has always done. Very soon, I would suffer an unbearable pain, worse than any racism or bullying I faced up to that point. A pain so unbearable that would make my behaviour unbearable for teachers and anyone to deal with. Including my mum!

Our regular park trips with our dad. On his lap, a girl that was playing with us.

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