My first visit to London and My Cultural Identity

When we were told we’d go to the UK, I was surprised because for one, we didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily, my mum had a friend who lived there (she since returned to Portugal). My mum simply loved the royal family and followed their history and stories so close. I knew some history, due to my extensive reading about the history of France, I was aware of the continuous rivalry between the 2 nations. I was fascinated with the UK’s monarchy, especially since prince William was born in the same year as me. I admired princess Diana’s kindness and beauty.

My mum booked the tickets for us to travel to the UK. Back then, the cheapest way to travel to the UK, was by coach. Then, we’d have to cross the English Channel in a boat. It was long but fun also. There was so much entertainment we could do in the boat; there was a cinema, a soft play. We met nice people also. My mum always took many pictures whenever and wherever we went.

Once we arrived in the UK, it was so cold as we were in winter. What struck me was that the sky was covered with a thick grey fog. The weather is what I remember 30 years on, always miserable, it was either raining or simply the sky constantly being covered with a grey blanket. However, the British people were (and still are) so cheerful and nice. I remember how polite they were, especially to us as foreigners. So we went to my mum’s friend’s house. The first night there, as we were watching TV, I was so gob smacked. I saw a news reader black. In fact, each time we watched the channel ITV, he was always there. I even retained his name. I would have the pleasure of meeting Sir Trevor McDonald’s during my graduation 17 years later in London. 

Back then, in Switzerland, you’d never see a black journalist or black people on TV full stop. 

After settling in in this new city, we wanted to discover London. As we hit town, I saw many black people, either bus drivers, or policeman or simply black people of any walks of life. No one looked at them weird (well apart from me). I must admit, the same was for us, only when we spoke, people looked at us because we couldn’t speak the language. I was still not impressed with the depressing weather and the food. However, I felt so at home in the UK, just like I felt in France. We only stayed in London for one week. The day before our impending departure, we were treated to a restaurant in Chinatown. I looked around London with such amazement. So much light, so much going on, it’s not peaceful like Geneva. I also remembered how big London was compared to Geneva.

 Then, I saw my name in big lights for the iconic film “Thelma & Louise”. In London, people called me Thelma and not Telma. Seeing the film’s title, I wanted to watch the film so badly. My mum said it was not for my age and I will watch it when I will be older. My curiosity and eagerness to watch the film was unbearable. I was simply too young, only 9 at the time. My curiosity, always lurking, got the best of me. I would watch the film 3 years later. It remained my top 3 favourite films of all time. I also wished and hoped that one day, I would be famous.

When I returned to Switzerland, I missed the UK already. However, we would return to the UK 2 years later when a crime shocked a whole nation and the whole world. I felt so boisterous and arrogant towards my classmates. I obviously made up some stories about my time in London. I also realised, Portuguese nationals who lived in Geneva, would only travel to Portugal not discovering other countries. Obviously we were different. Not only did I stand out for my personality, my colour and not following what my other Portuguese friends did, I enjoy discovering other parts of the world. Of course, I always love returning to Portugal, but after going to France and the UK, I wanted to see more, just like the great famous Portuguese explorers did in the 15th century. They were the first to set off before the Spanish, the French and even the British. I also learned that no matter where I am, or going to, my Portuguese origins will always be with me, even whilst living in Geneva.

While reminiscing of 1991, it was such an eventful year for us. As Portuguese, we were Catholics too, but we haven’t yet been baptized. The priest at the time made it very hard for us to be baptized because he considered us too old. Also, we didn’t have godparents yet. My mum chose a childhood friend of hers for my sister. For me, it was supposed to be my favourite aunty, my mum’s 2nd oldest sister, but she declined because she was either too busy, or she already had a goddaughter. Then, my mum was on the search for a godmother for me. It took her a while, but then, she found the perfect real life fairy godmother for me. In a way, I felt bad because I was not an easy person. Whoever dared being part of my life would see I wasn’t easy to deal with. But, nothing seemed impossible with my future godmother who not only was Portuguese and shared the same name as my sister ‘Maria’. Despite me missing my father profusely, my religion and life offered me a 2nd family for better and worse.

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?