A tribute to my grandmother

Even though life in Switzerland was still not an easy ride, one person who absolutely adored Switzerland was my grandmother. She thoroughly enjoyed her visits there. I was wondering if she enjoyed the country more than actually visiting us.

The first time she came to visit was in the early stages of my parents’ divorce. My grandmother never quite liked my dad for obvious reasons. My grandmother, just like her mum, has a fierce personality and a strong character. She passed this to my mum and me. We are very strong women and also we are warriors as we fight every challenges coming our way. My grandmother had a tough life living in Guinea-Bissau all her life. She lived through the colonial stages when Portugal was still ruling Guinea-Bissau, she has seen the world change so much until the 21st century.

Obviously she grew up getting smacked and she passed this onto us. I never liked getting smacked, nor shouted at nor being forced to do things I didn’t want to do even though I was taught life skills.

My grandma taught me invaluable life lessons such as cooking, cleaning and even sewing! Needless to say, each times we went to Guinea-Bissau, it was not a holiday but it was a military camp. When she started to come to Geneva, I thought she was in my zone and couldn’t give me the same treatment she gave me in Guinea-Bissau. I was wrong. It was clear I was the black sheep of the family; every family gathering in Portugal, in Guinea-Bissau and in Switzerland, everyone was talking openly about how disobedient I was or how rude I was as well as how bad I was doing in school. This caused me a lot of shame to me and my mum. I knew I was trouble and I couldn’t even fight back. Everyone was against me. My dad would comfort me. I must say I still missed him.

So my grandma first visited us in the late 80s or early 90s. At first, she came for treatments and she obviously enjoyed how beautiful Geneva was. It must be a stark contrast between Guinea-Bissau in West Africa to Geneva in central Europe. The climate of course is different, the economic, the culture and lifestyle. One thing I remembered, my grandmother enjoyed the famous Swiss cheese and the chocolate. White chocolate was her favorite.

My grandmother enjoyed watching the programs on TV, she must have enjoyed herself so much because we forgot at times how long she was staying. One day, a custom officer came to our house to inform that my grandmother’s visa has expired. She had to return home immediately. She was receiving treatments in Switzerland, needless to say the medical care offered in Switzerland is excellent. Did that humiliation deter my grandmother to come back? Of course not, as a warrior she was determined to come back again and she did many times over. After nearly a decade of constant return to visit us, we have never seen a custom officer again.

Things were going to good as my grandmother had her feet under the table. The smacking started almost immediately when she made herself at home. The chores started, the cleaning and cooking. The sewing was the worst. I hated it! She taught me crochet and although I learned it, every mistakes I did, she would smack me. She would smack me for everything. Instead of doing like my sister, follow the rules and do as I was told, one day I did the unthinkable. I forgot what happened that day, but I but my grandmother smacked me so hard that I felt my blood boil to the point my veins were going to explode! I fought back as I was tired of the constant smacking. Wrong move as my grandmother empowered me and was on top of me. I was so powerless like a prey under this ferocious predator. All I could do was grab her hair for her to let go of me. Humiliated and destined for my mum’s looming wrath after what happened, I stormed in my room. I only came out to eat before retrieving back to my room. My mum eventually came come. The key opening the door was a ticking bomb for sure. As it was dinner, the hostility between my grandmother and me was looming all over us like a dark cloud. Eventually my mum started the talk as the silence was so deafening. My grandmother said I attacked her and I was going to kill her. I had my head down the whole time. As I finished my dinner, I excuse myself and went to my room probably reading a book. I expected the room to open anytime for my mum to storm in and shout at me or smack me. But none of that happened. My mum explained to my grandmother that as we are in Switzerland, she shouldn’t treat me this way. She also pointed out that I tried to settle in Geneva despite everything that is going on. My grandmother never smacked me again. I must say I was surprised of my mum’s reaction. I was relieved that despite what I did, I was let off slightly. It was a turning point definitely. I finished the worst year possible in Adrien Jeandin, and during my grandmother’s visit that same year, she would not smack me again. I knew I was still trouble, horrible as well as terrible. Something tells me I got it from my mum and my grandmother herself.

I was looking forward to boarding school in a way, as the new academic year loomed closer and closer. Studying and living in a private Catholic school seemed like an adventure. Well, it wasn’t quite an adventure as someone troublesome like me, trouble follows.

This post is a tribute to my beloved grandmother who passed away recently, despite our differences I still loved her.

Dear grandma, I will always be your Telminha. Despite the harsh treatments I received I know you loved me because of how you called me Telminha; your mini Telma in other words your mini you. You looked after us all ( especially your grandchildren). You particularly looked after me and my sister when our dad left. Thank you for all your life skills you have taught me as I perform them on a daily basis today, well not so much the sewing. Thank you for being there through my challenging periods and my worst periods too. When you were there, we were 4 again. You have gone through so much and witnessed so much changes in this world as you have lived through the 20th and 21st century. You have left such a strong legacy that even my daughter and you formed a strong bond. She is fierce and is a warrior like us. My niece that you saw a picture of, is equally strong like us, our mini warrior. Rest in power avo.

The end of Adrien-Jeandin

As it was soon the end (finally) of my time in that prison, I was looking forward to the end.

I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait for the end. I was equally sad and I was so upset that things didn’t work out and I felt responsible. In order to forget my troubles at school, I would watch films in the cinema with my mum and my sister, I would read books but I enjoyed listening to music, especially Tupac Shakur who was seen as a rebel like me. I enjoyed the way he expressed his anger and frustration in his lyrics. I felt like I understood him without understanding English. I was also intrigued about the East coast and West coast rivalry. I think his popularity was due to his larger than life personality and all his controversies. Despite that Tupac is no longer with us, he has left a huge legacy through his poetry, his music and his films which are still admired even studied today.

Who was Tupac Shakur? Tupac was an American rapper. His music was so amazing and he sold many albums. His music told stories about racism, injustice and his problems too. I loved his music and I was his fan. Tupac was also an actor and the actress Jada Pinkett Smith was his best friend. Unfortunately, Tupac died very young, he was only 25 years old. He has sold about 75 million albums so far. He is considered one of the best rappers of all times.

Just like Tupac who had many problems with justice and other rappers, I had my ongoing problems too with my teacher and classmates. I was still involved in fights and argument with both girls and boys. I clearly was not helping myself in that class.

The teacher set us a topic to present for the whole class. I was struggling to get it done by myself. For the first and only time, he thoroughly supported me to get it done. He requested for me to do research and summarise my research which I did. I managed to do it and present it. That skill allowed me to research properly still now. I wish I had his support from the beginning and probably my grades could have been better.

We reached the end of the year. We had one task left to do, we were all required to produce a sketch and then present it to everyone. Since my amazing research, and inspired by Tupac, I overdid my sketch and had a A4 paper both side. A friend asked me to pair up with him, me and him were the only mixed raced children in the class and he had his issues with the teacher just like me. I accepted but when it was for my sketch, no one wanted to pair up with me. The teacher then chose a few classmates to pair up with me. When it was time for everyone to present their sketch, it was quite fun. My one was so awkward because my classmates were forced against their will. Nevertheless, it was done.

I have no idea how but I managed to pass my year to move on to year 6, my classmate didn’t (the other mixed raced one). I was just glad to leave and never come back. Of course I didn’t leave without causing troubles. I had a few last fights and arguments on the last day.

I was so ready for my new adventures. It was goodbye Adrien-Jeandin and hello to my new school. I was told I would be going to a boarding school. Therefore, my last year of primary school would be in a Catholic school ran by nuns, just as it was when I first started school at the very beginning when we came to live in Geneva.

A quick getaway

As the end of my awful time at Adrien-Jeandin was looming, I tried my best to make the most of it. I knew no one would miss me, especially the teacher. Frankly, I wouldn’t miss everyone myself. All I had was hurtful memories so far.

Our teacher’s mood started to change slightly, although he would still get angry occasionally. I am sure the fact my mum signed the papers for me to change schools perhaps made him happier? Who knows really. In a way, I felt guilty that things didn’t work out. My teacher and I didn’t mix simple just like oil and water. No one was fighting my corner for sure, even there was one boy who was as naughty as me, and apparently the teacher even slapped because he was just nonstop naughty, but yet somehow, he managed to stay on. I reckon because he was white, they simply let him stay. Well, I was obviously worse and being mixed raced didn’t help obviously.

Our teacher was planning our trip. One thing I realised, for the past few years, we would go on trips (ski trips included) always discovering Switzerland. Despite my awful experiences, Switzerland as always offered a great sightseeing, for tourists and for its residents. Switzerland, no matter the rough time I have experienced, offered escapes with the beautiful mountains. I certainly always savoured the view. Our teacher informed us we will go to Ovronnaz. Before our quick getaway, we all had work to do; we had to raise funds for the trip, so sell booklets (designed by ourselves) for the trips. We had to ensure all of our booklets were sold. What a great way to start our trip! Our art teacher would join us too apparently. What a relief as she was the only nice person in that school. Most importantly, the only teacher there who liked me.


As we were making our final preparation to go to Ovronnaz, our teacher requested us to all bring a board game and some books too. We would be travelling by train and it was a 2 hours’ journey. Before we even get the train, our teacher said he will ensure he will check we all brought what has been requested (he made a list of things we must take with us). I felt like we were going to a military camp. Also, we had to be at school; 8 am sharp!

I was so excited to go on the trip; I am sure we all were. As we arrived at school at 8 sharp, the teacher controlled we had everything, especially the board games and books. We first took a coach to go to the train station Cornavin. Once we were in the train, someone suggested we played a game of cards. Of course, we were all excited for the trip and couldn’t contain our excitement. I always get carried away per usual, I think that day I was even more excited because I foolishly thought since we are not inside the school, the teacher could not treat us harshly. I was wrong! He came over and shouted at us especially me. We spent the rest of the journey in silence. The silence was deafening especially in our carriage! I probably took my book to read or admired the view in the train. Once we arrived, I took the beautiful scenery in. I closed my eyes to just smell and taste this delicious view. Once my hungry eyes opened, I devoured the whole scenery in one go. I am sure everyone thought I was nuts; I just didn’t care.  

The fact is, Ovronnaz, just like many areas of Switzerland, is simply beautiful. Switzerland is exactly what it says on the tin; gorgeous. Standing there and admiring the view brings me back so many memories, especially when I first came to live in Switzerland how the beautiful scenery was so mesmerizing.


As we made our way to the hotel, which included a swimming pool and a tennis court, I must admit, we were spoiled, our teacher quickly set up some rules. We had to bring our books and board games to him at once and go to our rooms for further instructions. Failure to obey or follow his instructions would result in a severe punishment. Before we went out, we were reminded once again of his extreme expectations and our room were inspected fully. The one thing about Swiss people, they are very organised, clean and punctual.

Overall, I must admit, we had a great time there. Towards the end however, we experienced few blips.

It all started one afternoon, we were all given a packed lunch of a sandwich, a fruit, some crisps and some juice. We all ate our packed lunch except for 2 unfortunate classmates who were about to face the full wrath of our teacher. He demanded to know who didn’t finish their packed lunch and worse, who had the audacity to throw it in the bin? No one came forward. Somehow, he uncovered the culprits and he forced them to finish their sandwich (that was in the bin a moment ago). They also faced the punishment of not using the swimming pool and some other fun activities. I was glad for once; I wasn’t the one punished. However, when we were looking forward to use the swimming pool, I forgot my swimsuit at the hotel. I remember the teacher grabbed my bag to check if I was telling the truth and checked it himself. I wasn’t allowed to stay in my room nor take a book. I was forced to watch my classmates enjoying the pool, water toys and water slides along with my other 2 classmates who were punished.

I wonder if our art teacher even knew how strict our teacher actually was. She was probably oblivious. One day, she would witness first-hand how strict our teacher actually was.

We were finally using the tennis court; I have been looking forward to that day. Our teacher informed us he would quickly come back as we were told to set up the nets. Once we finished that, we were waiting still for ages. Since the art teacher was looking at us moping around, she told us to use the tennis rackets and play in pairs. I knew it was a bad idea, but the art teacher encouraged us to just play whilst we were waiting instead of moping around. Slowly, we took the rackets and were about to start playing when suddenly our teacher was marching towards us. We shouted that no one gave us the authorization to use the rackets and especially his rackets and demanded for us to put them down. As he was berating us for not listening to him, we turned to our art teacher for some support or for her to back us up. Nothing. She probably was so shocked and paralyzed on the spot in the way our sergeant was speaking to us that she decided to not even breath a word. I was so disappointed as it was not our fault, but it is what it is. The tennis session was certainly ruined and we didn’t have fun in the end. For the rest of the stay, we did some hiking, some bike riding and as always I would get told off to the point I started ignoring my teacher a bit.

For the final evening, we were treated to a disco and as per usual, I would dance on my own. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast and it was time to return to Geneva. I would miss Ovronnaz, but at the same time, I just couldn’t wait to return home to my mum and away from this evil monster I have of a teacher.

It seems we didn’t learn our lesson first time around. We played another card game and once again, we all got carried away. The teacher, once again told me off more harshly this time. I take it he was feeling exhausted after the week-long trip we had or was fed up of me. I must say, I always push the wrong buttons with him. Out of nowhere, I started to cry as confusion and humiliation ate me alive. A few classmates comforted me. I was just tired of my teacher, tired of being always blamed for things, tired of his severity, tired of the injustice I always had to face with him and overall tired of this teacher. I must say, I bottled it all up for the whole year and I was finally letting it all out. A weight has been lifted in the process. The rest of the journey back, I was on my own while everyone else was either chatting, reading or even playing. I just didn’t bother and wanted to be left alone which wasn’t so hard as I only made one friend who gelled with people so well, better than I ever could. She was staying on at the school and I wasn’t.

I recognised Geneva, as we were getting closer. I was exhausted. The only relief I had was that this misery was soon over. For once, I think my teacher did the right thing in wanting me out of the school. Even the last 2 months seemed like an eternity and I knew there were more bumps on the road ahead.