It’s been 1 year and 20 days since I came to France and it’s been quite a journey for me ever since. I did not and could not count the number of buses and metros that I’ve taken, how far I’ve traveled and how many people I’ve met along the way. And they are not that important either. All that counts is how valuable these experiences have been to me during the journey of getting to know who I am.
Before my memory fails me, I would like to sit down, take a cup of tea and tell you four little stories of wonderfully ordinary people I’ve met over the last 13 months. It’s true that I’ve also encountered a number of not-so-wonderful people, but they are overshadowed by those four lovely people. Each time I think about them, it makes me feel warm inside and inspires me to be kind to other people.
The first person was a receptionist at a bank in Lille, where I studied during the first eight months in France. One morning of my first month there, I walked into the bank where she worked thinking that I arrived at the right bank. Then it turned out that it was not. All I could remember was how confused and lost I was because I couldn’t remember the name of the right bank. My limited French couldn’t help much in making myself clear either. After some moments of confusion and misunderstanding, the receptionist helped me search for the address of a bank I managed to come up with. Somehow she knew that I was gonna be lost again, she decided to walk me to the bank that I just told her. Although the walking distance was only 300 meters, that was 300 meters of gratefulness and joy I really appreciated from a total stranger in a foreign country.
The second person I met was a volunteer at a farm as part of a program in which participants like me could work with farmers across the country in exchange for a free of charge stay at their houses. He was a middle aged man who used to be a piano teacher before switching to work in medical industry. A hardworking man, he would work wholeheartedly everyday, weeding, digging, fertilizing, watering, sowing and would come home well after the church clock marked the end of a working day. At home, he was kind enough to listening attentively to anyone else and willing to play the piano to entertain the whole family. But it was not until the day I had to cook for the whole family of 10 people that I truly adored him. As I well underestimated the time it took to prepare such a big meal in an unfamiliar setting, I ran out of time and was on the verge of serving lunch 2 hours late, which was quite unacceptable for the family. Out of nowhere, the lovely “uncle” showed up and asked me to tell him what he could do to help me. At the end of the day, I managed to serve lunch 1 hour late, which was not possible without his support. In my last day at the farm, he was the person who walked me and my friend to the bus station and made my trip a wonderful memory to cherish.
The third person was a middle aged lady who was also a volunteer at the farm. A well educated woman with a strong character, she gave up what she had to pursue what made her happy. It was not easy for her but she knew what she had to do and was determined to pull it through. At first, I found her really cold and distant. And she never smiled back to me even when I tried to be as nice and friendly as possible. She would focus on her work at the farm and wouldn’t bother talking to me when I was working with her. As I needed some guide with the tools and the garden work, she seemed to be annoyed when I didn’t get it. She would also point out frankly what I did wrong and almost never offered a solution to help me. She told me that I needed to figure out the solution by myself first. After the first week, I admired her but hated her at the same time. Then in the second and also the last week, we began to talk more as we spent more time working together at the garden. She was willing to open up, sharing her personal stories, her perspectives on different matters. Frank and intelligent as she was, she was also caring and considerate. She told me that there was nothing wrong with being different and that when you talked to people from your heart, people would feel it. Before saying goodbye, she hugged me tightly and wished me something that I wished I could understand completely.
The fourth and the most recent person that I’ve met was an old “grandpa” who sold me his old guitar. After failing to buy an affordable guitar several times, I was running out of hope when I saw his announcement. His guitar fit almost perfectly with my needs, except for the price. I managed to lower it down a little bit and was ready to travel a long long way to his house for the guitar. To my surprise, he asked for my address so that he could deliver it to my house. I was a little skeptical at first but then I thought what could went wrong since I lived with other people in my house 😀 Eventually, we arranged the time and date in which he would deliver the guitar to my school. When I met him, he told me that he was not merely selling the guitar for money. He was offering it at an affordable price for students who loved playing guitar. That left a long lasting impression on me and whenever I played that guitar, it reminded me of how lovely its former owner was.
Those four little stories are an important part of my journey in France and they for sure will have a special place in my memory. These strangers may cross my path only once, but they have such a long lasting impact on me, maybe more than they could realize.