This statement made by the Pilot was the best part of my 7hr flight from Abuja, Nigeria to Paris.
The city of Paris is known for many things; History, Education, Fashion, mouth-watering and rich aroma cuisines but above all beautiful love stories. All these and more filled my head as I packed my bags to leave the shores of my home country to study in a country unknown to me. After watching tons of romantic movies, I was on a mission to make one myself in the love city of Paris. So I came running with excitement to Paris to study and make a happy love story with my fictitious French Gentleman.
I wasn’t the only one arriving in August; apparently the autumn season had just begun to test its fan blowers. I was greeted by the chill of its wind as I stepped down from the airplane. Unlike the Marilyn Monroe kind of wind, this one rather raised my doubts as I feared that I might fall sick in the next moment without a warm jacket. This was going to be a rollercoaster ride I said to myself. The editors of the fantasy movies I watched must have cut the part about strapping a jacket onto your luggage.
In the next couple of months, I would come to learn that it is only normal to fret over one’s adaptability to a new environment. We are all human and creeping doubts may sometimes cloud our judgements and abilities to appreciate the beauty of life around us. I gradually eased into the moments and decided to learn how to be French. I opened up my mind and gave up all my meticulousness for spontaneity. I decided not to hold on tightly to what I thought I knew about the city but to immerse myself in it and watch it fill me in. This was the second best decision I had made; the first was saying yes to France despite having zero- knowledge of French.
Integrating into the French society may not have gone according to the script. The script failed each time I tried to do things the way I had pre-planned them. September came along, so did the feeling of defeat. On a cold Saturday morning, I reflected on my favourite mantra “La Vie est Belle” and the folly of my blindness to the beautiful world around me left me surrendering hopelessly. This was my Eureka moment as I decided to have an open mind and let life reign over me. Holding back had done nothing but make me realise that a strong-will is never enough. Sometimes, you have to let Mother Nature take her course.
Here I am, a girl on a mission. In the past months, I have learnt six basic lessons of life;
Lesson 1: Paris is the City of Love!! Guess what, it all starts with loving each moment of your life. During my early days in Paris, I had expectations of being whisked away in love by my French Gentleman in a Beret. This is so cliché. Contrary to this, love happened when I walked into a French Boulangerie. The boulangerie is a home of sultry, inviting flour-based calories. Being a healthy living activist, I felt like a baby bird cracking out of its shell. Love they say is exciting, refreshing and sometimes makes you do crazy things. Yes, the french pastries and other traditional dishes I discovered over time left me smiling naughtily and wanting more each time. This was definitely love.
Lesson 2:” Essayer Parler Francais”!! I took on French classes as soon as I arrived. I was intrigued by the different pronunciations of the alphabets that looked the same as those in English. It felt exciting to pronounce the French “R” with a thin slice of air through my wind pipe. I learnt the best way to take on challenges in life; celebrate the little bits of progress you make.
Lesson 3: Love your desserts! A typical French meal ends with a dessert; a sweet mouth-watering piece of art. Initially, I thought staying for a dessert was a waste of time if it had to be done every day as I am an on-the-go kind of girl. But with each meal served, there is a story. I would later come to appreciate the commitment and skill taken to make these pieces of art and how much history lies in one scoop of a Crème brûlée. My life’s choices however unique they are, may never paint the perfect picture nor would they be easy to understand by an on-looker. However sweet or sour, I learnt not make hasty judgements of things I know not of. I love art, I love my desserts.
Lesson 4: Have Patience for History! This is one lesson I am indeed grateful for. France revived my hunger to know more. How do you live in a country that has preserved its architecture, cuisines, lifestyle over the years without having a full dose of information as you walk along her streets paved in medieval concrete?. The country reeks of history; this I termed “real-time education” .Learning was made easy; I only had to live and learn.
Lesson 5: Free kisses anyone? The double-cheek kiss (Un Bisou) is a French way of greeting. In some parts of France, the “Bisou” is done three times. This may be tiring if you have to greet a room filled with people. Love they say is found in the strangest places; sometimes on a rough, unexpected cheek. No matter how hard it may seem, love it anyway, smile and Bisou Bisou..
Lesson 6: Master the art of doing nothing. Life gets too busy sometimes, our heads get hazy as well. In those moments, it’s okay to sit by the River or take a walk in the gardens. Feel the calm around, breathe and do nothing. “La vie est courte”!! Life is short but a little rest can slow the time.
“La vie est belle”! Sometimes, I wonder if I would ever stop loving you Paris! If ever I do, remind of the lessons you thought me when I first met you. Oh! Scoop me up from my petty worries and drown me in your bright lights. I would love to meet you again Oh Autumn winds. But this time, I would have my moment as I run through your soft edges, celebrating just how far I have come.
“Welcome to Charles De Gaulle International Airport. Its 5:30am, Paris time”
Odam Ebokpo, ex Campus France e-ambassador