My fairygodmother

When I was 8 or 9, my mum was looking for godparents for me. The task would be huge whoever the candidate would be. That person must be equipped with so much patience. I was trouble with a capital T, terrible, stubborn but also very sensitive after my father’s brutal departure.

On the search to find the right candidate, my mum considered her sister and my favourite auntie. She is the 2nd eldest and the only one wealthy in the family. I liked her because she was always spoiling me and my sister whenever we went to Portugal on holiday. Also, she was always so elegant and she is very beautiful. Her wealth and lifestyle sadly made it impossible for her to be my god mother. For one, she is always in between Portugal and Guinea-Bissau. Despite how close I felt with her, and loved my cousin so much, she was just too busy with her businesses and her 4 children. My mum sensed I needed someone always available for me. My auntie politely declined, despite she was already the godmother of her best friend’s daughter. She said at the time, although I am not your godmother, in my heart I am. I didn’t really understand it. All I knew was that with my baptism looming ever closer, we needed to find a godmother for me and fast.

In a way, it was a mixed feeling I had, I was sad and yet relieved she wasn’t my godmother. I came down to realise I need a godmother often available for me. I simply needed stability after my dad’s departure which I still didn’t recover from 2 years on.

I even prayed for my mum to find someone suitable for the role.

Then, my mum found her.

My mum back then worked in a clinic and usually spends time with Portuguese workers as she often felt left out and experienced constant racism from patients and colleagues. SO she befriended this lovely woman called Maria, like my sister. The more my mum and her spoke, the subject of our search for godparents came in their conversation. She accepted without any hesitation without even knowing me. My prayers were answered. I was ecstatic. So we set a date to meet up and we met around her area. I was so happy to see her with her husband and their 3 children. Her son, the eldest was called Ricardo, just like my dad. I felt as if this was all meant to be. Even though Maria and Ricardo are typical Portuguese names, I still felt that I was meant to meet them and make that family part of my life. In return, they made me part of their family. I finally got the stability I craved for the past 2 years.

Before the preparation of the baptism, I used to go often to my soon to be godmother’s house. She used to spoil me so rotten with presents and/or treats. Every Christmas, birthdays, Easter, she would always get me presents or even asked me to pick what I wanted. Her house became my 2nd house as I started to go there so often. She always made me feel so welcome and part of the family. I felt fully accepted and she never once made me feel different based on my colour and origins.

She has always been there for me, as I shall reveal soon how she showed me so much love and support through the tough and difficult period I was yet to face. Gradually, she got to know me, and I couldn’t really hide how terrible I actually was. Despite it all, she accepted it and loved me fully for the person I was despite being terrible. Of course I caused mischiefs with her, but unlike everyone else, she never shouted at me nor raised her hands at me. She just spoke to me and just showed me so much love, patience and care, especially when I needed it the most. I have no idea how she didn’t tell my mum she wouldn’t be my godmother any longer. Any people would have simply walked away.

Even after the baptism, our connection was stronger than ever. Life in Switzerland wasn’t easy still. But it was made more bearable thanks to her and her family. We would go to Portugal and meet the rest of her family in the northern region of Portugal (Lamego).

I feel like even talking about her, it isn’t real and godmothers like her are only in movies.

Since I have left Geneva to move to London, she left shortly after to relocate back to Portugal. We are still in touch to this day. When I go to her region, with my sister and our kids, we obviously stand out because in that rural part, there aren’t really any black nor mixed raced people living there. But my godmother, while walking around the village tells her neighbours and friends I am her goddaughter. She is more than my godmother and more than a fairy godmother, she is a family member.

As a tribute to my godfather who has loved me so much and supported me like a father (still does to this day), I have given my daughter second name Fernanda as he’s called Fernando. My son second name Ricardo, is a tribute to my father and my godmother’s son too.

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.