Discovering my femininity and exploring other cities & countries

The transition at Marcelly was going great. I was slowly being accepted the way I was; coloured, full of beans and a strong personality.

I started to apply myself at school and received some much needed support. I also develop a massive crush on a boy who was super cute. The funny thing is we were polar opposite; he was shy, reserved, gentle and obviously white. I, on the other hand, was a tomboy, I was rough, tough, although reserved at first slowly I would be so outgoing and loud. We couldn’t have been more different. The boy I had this crush on was the first with whom I started developing deep feelings. My fellow Portuguese friend, I quickly realized we would only be friends and I was ok with that. However, years later, we would go out. Still, he was a close friend.

I must admit, I was such a burden for that poor crush of mine. At first, I made him notice I was into him by always wanting to be near him. Then, when I became more confident, I would hug him and kiss him on the cheek. I would overdo things however by hugging him so tight and he would even tell me off for that. The funny thing is, he accepted my affection just telling me in his way not to hug him too tight. I was so happy. Before him, I didn’t care about my appearance. This changed when I had this massive crush on him, I would always make an extra effort with my appearance. From then on, I wanted to look nice and beautiful. Sadly for him, I was a pest as I couldn’t get enough of him. His acceptance of my affection always struck a chord with me because he saw me as me, and not the colour of my skin.

Outside of school, my mum used to make us travel which I enjoyed so much. Just like the famous Portuguese explorers of the 15 century, I too enjoyed exploring different places. We first started exploring other parts of Switzerland, especially the famous Swiss mountains. I felt so at peace there, becoming part of the scene. My eyes were devouring the delicious views. I was never satisfied and wanted more. We used to roll down the hills and mountains. Despite Switzerland being a small country, the vast greenery and many mountains seems to tell another story. Even during school trips, while my classmates take these views for granted, I was always admiring the views. I seemed to be in my own world. What I also remarked was how despite being different, people would look at us with amazement such as touching the texture of our hair, examining us like we were a science experiment. We enjoyed going to Fribourg the most, especially the Gruyère region. Also, when we visit villages, villagers are so polite greeting us despite now knowing us.

Seeing that we enjoy travelling, my mum arranged trips to France. At first, I would know about France because of the TV channels which enabled us to know their culture since we share the same language. Also, we learned about the history of France at school and I became fascinated and wanted to know more. I recall this dictionary that I enjoy reading more than looking for the meaning of words, Le petit Larousse. This dictionary is divided in 2 parts. The 1st part is the meaning of nouns. The 2nd part is all about proper nouns and my favourite part where I discovered not only about France and its rich history, but famous people and countries. I would read this dictionary on a daily basis. Of course, the dictionary focused on France more and I enjoyed learning about France and I wanted to visit le Louvre and Versailles. Going to France was a dream come true to finally go there in person and not having to see France in films or cartoons. Obviously, we would go to neighbouring France on a daily basis to do our shopping, but it wasn’t the same. Also, we had many dreaded holiday clubs in France, but for me Paris plays a massive part in the French culture.

I met my many relatives in France, I like the fact that despite us being related, we were outsiders because we were from Switzerland and we don’t share the same culture but just the language. I quickly noticed that in France, you’d see more black people than you would see in Geneva. It felt great to see people like us. I fell in complete love with France and we used to go there on weekends or during holidays. From Geneva, we have access to the TGV (a fast train), which enabled us to be in Paris, from Geneva in under a couple of hours. In the summer, there are often strikes therefore it would take longer than 2 hours to get to Paris.

I wonder sometimes how my mother did in making ends meet, looking after us single handedly and treat us with various trips. She would however deliver the biggest surprise ever when she planned a trip to the UK. My first ever time visiting the UK was in 1991.

Exploring Marcelly

Since the aggressive confrontation by my ex best friend, needless to say that I was back to square one. No friends. I knew I had to start looking in my classroom once again. I didn’t rule out looking in the playground too. Because I was new, I felt so out of place and everyone were way cooler than me. I just realized I didn’t stand a chance of making friends. So many cliques, so many established friendships formed way before I arrived here.

There was no point even considering playing with girls, they made you feel that you are not even allowed to enter their circle with a striking look, which forced you to look away. It was so funny that despite my strong character, I felt so outnumbered and vulnerable like a prey. I was occasionally playing with my on-off best friend, despite not forgiving her for her father’s behaviour. I just didn’t want to be alone anymore. I was determined not to be on my own since my previous school. So, I decided to return to the sources, playing with boys. Boys are just so easier to reach. Girls are just too complicated and mean. Ironic since I am a girl, but I fitted with boys more because I liked playing rough and I was so terrible. A true tomboy. First, I needed to gain their trust and then I could be allowed in. My first friend, was a Portuguese classmate. He was super popular, not just in our class, but with the whole school. He had an older brother equally popular. We would hang out sometimes, but then again so many wanted to hang with him. One thing I realised, hanging out with him, I no longer had the stigma of the reject nor the new pupil. I was slowly fitting in.

The obvious reason we got along I believe was the fact he is Portuguese like me. In fact, in Geneva, if you were Portuguese, you would have to attend classes for a whole afternoon. It was compulsory. Needless to say I didn’t like the classes. It was so long and boring. The one good thing, I got to hang out with my Portuguese friend more and form a friendship.

Since attending Marcelly, I was so much happier, playing with the boys regularly, I liked being part of their crew. Also, I something weird was happening. To my horror, I was looking at the boys differently. I have never experienced these types of feelings before. The more I was getting closer to my Portuguese mate, the more I developed a crush on him. I tried to brush those weird feelings off. I never told him of course, it was weird for me, a tomboy developing feelings for her close friend. I had those butterflies each time I was getting close to him. I remarked how handsome he was. I didn’t know who to talk to about these feelings invading every inch of my body. My main worry was being outcasted by the boys. Therefore, I kept those weird feelings to myself. I was settling in so well at Marcelly, I didn’t want these weird feelings to be an issue and having to be seen as a weirdo. The more I was getting familiar with my peers, I was much more outgoing but still terrible. I was developing a crazy personality and always craved for attention. Perhaps, this craziness and my craving for attention was always inside me, but never allowed to pop out because I was always getting told off in my previous school including the harsh racism I faced. At Marcelly, I was the only person of colour in my class, but I have never been classed different nor anyone ever made reference to the colour of my skin. Perhaps, finally being accepted the way I was, this crazy personality came out. Sadly, I still performed poorly academically. However, I received support from my wonderful teacher and peers. Slowly, I was getting better scores. My Portuguese friend often encouraged me leading others to do the same. My crave for attention was growing each time and I was never shy of getting the attention of everyone. I was no longer known for my notoriety, but for my personality. My larger than life personality was sometimes out of control and I would get in trouble for it. Nevertheless, I would get invited to parties which I can count how many I have been invited to in one hand since I moved to Switzerland, I was invited to hang out outside school. Life was great.

I was still missing my dad and still seeing a psychologist, which helped after few years. Despite my dad not being around, I was a sort of replacement because I was just like him; his personality mirrored mine, he was always the centre of attention the same way I crave for attention, finally, he just never like doing what he was told, which is why I always get myself in trouble at school and at home. The one thing which will forever link us is when we like something we’d like it all the way and sometimes over like something. The same way goes when we don’t like something, we’d hate it. This trait defined us because we literally overdo things based on what we like and what we don’t with passion. To sum it up, we would sometimes get carried away or give it our whole when it comes to what we like or don’t.

I was enjoying my plain sailing life at Marcelly: I was getting better grades, I had friends, mostly boys in my class and I was accepted the way I was. Things were about to unravel so quickly as I could no longer keep my feelings to myself. The moment I set eyes on him, I was in cloud 9. This cute boy possessed the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen. Sadly for him, he was the target of all my affection. As I began developing a huge crush on him, I wanted to change my appearance. I never cared what I looked like, but I slowly started to care more about my appearance. I finally wanted to be more girly and no longer wanted to look rough or like a tomboy. Was I in love?

Starting schooling at Marcelly

After my time at Ste Marie, I was ready for my new chapter. In the meantime, to ease the pain of my dad’s departure, we started Focolare movement, founded by Chiara Lubich. The Focolare movement, is a Catholic movement and it is an international organization. The headquarters are in Italy. Few years later, I would often travel to Italy. I was reminded that our faith in God, not only helped us settle in Geneva, but also soothed the pain of my dad’s departure. The Focolare movement was one of many activities my mum signed us up for. We also started scouts (which I will write about in my next post), as well as sol-fa (music education), my mum also signed us up for instruments lessons (I learned how to play piano) and more.

Keeping us busy was great for me especially, to forget the constant racism I was facing in Geneva and my dad’s departure. I was still attending sessions with the psychologist which helped dealing with my pain and anger.

I was ready to start school again. Having now lived in Geneva for 4 years, I was slowly adapting to my life in Geneva, even though I still didn’t feel myself at home. Our new school of Marcelly, was just 5 minutes away for where we lived. Before even starting school there, my aim was to fit in at all cost. At first I was shy, my sister too. No matter my strong character, I wasn’t confident especially in a new environment. I was only 9 years old. My early memories at Marcelly was me and my sister holding hands, reminiscent from our horrific memory in Bissau when we were brought down in the hole. We were not scared, but intimidated to a brand new world. So many kids, yet you could count the coloured kids in one hand, us included.

After meeting our new classes, we always met each other at play time so not to be alone. One day, a girl, dark skinned, came towards us.

She was so friendly and made us feel so welcome. She was definitely in a class above me. From then on, each time we met she often joined us at play time. Obviously, me and my sister knew we had to familiarize with our classmates. At times, I was so jealous of my sister. She’d fit right in. Given she is so light skinned, made it easier for her to fit in. Also, because of her friendly personality. My sister, at the time and even now, can befriend anyone. Of course, I was the complete opposite. I don’t let people in so easily, once I am familiar with you, I would open up completely. However, if the person then is not nice to me or does something bad to me, I am someone who doesn’t forgive nor forget. I was and still am a very resentful person.

I started to get to know my classmates. Many in that class will be lifelong friends. At first, however, I quickly realized there was a clique with girls. So those girls, about 4, would only hang around together and no one was allowed to be part of their group. Or, they would cruelly pick whoever they choose to play with them on the day. As a new classmate, I stood no chance and I was never picked. Also, at the time, I was the only person of colour in my class. I thought that history was repeating itself again. Then I looked at the boys, obviously I couldn’t play with them yet because they didn’t know me. Then, I befriended a girl who was the class reject just like me. As a mixed race and new, that was my reason to be the class’ outcast. However, for her, it was deeper. She has been in the school for years, since kindergarten, yet she didn’t have any friends, or hardly. Well, me and her began to hang out. I witnessed first-hand how she was treated by the others. She was mocked and ridiculed on a daily basis, in class or at playtime.

I was also advised not to play with her. I felt like I had no other options. Beside she was nice to me. I felt bad for her treatment, yet again I was powerless to do a thing. We began to grow very close, she used to share her snacks with me, our bond formed deeper as we were the weakest in the classroom. This stigma seemed to follow me everywhere, I wish I was good at something academically.

At that point, my mum was made aware of our friendship. As I started to go on playdates at her grandma’s house, her grandma revealed to my mum that my new friend hardly has had any friends. She also revealed that she didn’t have any siblings either. We also found out why she was a victim of constant cruel jibes, her father was a janitor. Also, in my opinion, she wasn’t very pretty either but for me she had a heart of gold. It seemed I was her first and only friend. My mum didn’t like her much because she was so spoiled by her parents and grandparents. Being an only child is understandable. Despite being super close to my new and closest friend, since my American friend at Ste Marie, our friendship was about to change for good.

It started as a day I will never forget. As I was walking to school, I saw my closest friend approaching with her dad. I was so excited to see her, so I walked quickly to her direction. Once I saw their facial expression, my excitement vanished as soon as it came. I looked at my friend for a sign, or some explications. She was looking down the whole time. What was the matter? Hesitantly, I looked at her dad. Her dad’s facial expression was of anger and hostility. He was quite fat and definitely ugly. Nevertheless, I was still perplexing as to why my friend refused to give me eye contact and her dad threw daggers at me with his angry look. Then, her dad finally spoked to me. He angrily demanded I stopped eating her snacks or stealing her snacks which he stated I do all the time. Hesitantly, my friend spoke, saying I do so only sometimes. She didn’t even look at me when I turned to her, desperate for some clarifications or understanding of the situation. Shocked and hurt by the accusation, I was shred apart by confusion. Why would I be accused of something I do not recall at all? She is the one who shares her snacks with me. I would be playful trying to steal her snacks but always gave her back. After they left, I just remember standing there in a pool of questions.

I eventually made my way to school. I don’t even remember if I played with her that day or not, but I was shocked at being falsely accused for something I have no idea about.

Years later, I would finally be able to connect the dots; her dad was simply racist and he used this pathetic excuse so I stay well clear of his daughter. Ironically, as I was settling in well at Marcelly, without anyone reminding me I was different because of the colour of my skin, reality slapped me in the face so hard I came to realise once again I was and will always be reminded of the colour of my skin. Sadly, I also started to be ashamed to be a person of colour and fed up of encountering racism everywhere I went in Geneva. All I knew and what was crystal clear to me was that my friendship, with someone who I thought would be my bff, was strained for good.