|By Aimée Skidmore
the three minute walk to my four- year old daughter, Celeste’s, neighborhood
school four times a day. Each time I find myself wondering what I am
doing in Geneva, Switzerland. I feel guilty that I have the time to make
four trips to her school a day. Between the times I have to be at the front
door of the school when the automated bell chimes four times, I wait for
the nap alarm to go off on our bedside clock. This indicates that I need,
once again, to change from slippers to shoes, and dash out the door. At
times I long for my old teaching job back home so I can have something
to grumble about when my husband gets home. Sometimes I actually use the
nap feature and sleep away the morning. Other times I try to read, but
become restless, stack the book on my leaning tower of bedside books, and
jump up to sweep the floor or do the dishes. Now and again I sit and stare
out the window, eating Swiss chocolate and sipping coffee.
of contentedness slips over me.
a week I attend a French class at a nearby mall. Two Poles, a Turk,
a Bosnian, a Cuban, a Vietnamese, and a Portuguese are my partners in conversation.
A few times,
bored with the simple grammar lessons and vocabulary, I have enlisted
my fellow students in a discussion of adolescents, drugs and the state
of schools; what it’s like to be without a job; politics; the weather.
Our instructor, a Tunisian woman, patiently accepts my attempts to use
my French for more than ordering a couple pork chops, a kilo of potatoes,
or a beef roast.
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of Spanish often gets in the way when I venture into using French vocabulary
of which I am unfamiliar.
realize it, though, until everyone looks at me strangely except the
Cuban and the Portuguese woman.
I have not
yet shaken the old habits that I was so eager to shake when I came to Switzerland.
One of the
reasons we moved from our suburban community outside of Washington
D.C. was to escape the horrendous commute, from which I was rescued only
by the occasional snow day. I keep telling myself that it takes time and
I am not used to this kind of life. This argument lasts about two milliseconds
and I have to move on to argument two: I need to take this opportunity
to run the perfect household.
dinner on the table at 6; healthy snacks that the kids won’t touch
packed in little baggies; immaculately laundered clothes sans stains; an
intellectually challenging, but fun craft to do with the kids; and no-waste
food shopping all top my list of how to run a perfect household. Hmmm.
I suppose -
but I didn’t really do all that back home and we got along fine.
happens is that when the 3:50 nap alarm rings, I start to vacuum. At
3:59, I shove two candy bars in my pockets and run up the street to meet
my eldest daughter, Isabel’s, bus. I chat with the crossing guard
in Spanish, then French until Izzie emerges from her bus, rings under eyes,
begging for a treat.
“Oui” to every question that Marisol, the crossing guard, shoots
at her, and then grins, revealing an assortment of chiclet-like baby teeth,
gummy spaces, and gigantic adult fangs. We dash across the playground
to await the emergence of Celeste along with the swarming nest of small
children scrapping their way to eager parents, grandparents and older siblings.
under the covered entrance way, as parents are not allowed inside the school,
along with the mini United Nations of the common man all huddling together
in language groups to chat away the cold. I strain my ears for a trace
of English, but do not find it. I hear conversations in Italian, Portuguese,
Arabic, and what seems like a Balkan language. I look at these groups and
see my future, but am impatient to get there. They have gone through what
I am going through, and have managed to assimilate into a city that is
about 30% foreign born. I also see my past. I am reminded of the parent
meetings at Isabel’s old school in Maryland where parents from many different
countries all gathered, straining to catch a bit of Vietnamese or Hindi.
I didn’t reach out to those people struggling to assimilate. Here, I have
been afforded the rare opportunity to switch places and gain a true understanding
of what it was like for them.
in and out of Geneva regularly. Despite the difficulties, the ebb and
flow of nationalities is what makes it interesting to be here.
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my children are experiencing what I have always wanted for them: an
appreciation for the way others live and think, an opportunity to study
in another language, a chance to toughen up their soft American hides.
As the bell chimes the groups disperse. Italian, Portuguese, and
Russian words are displaced by French as each family makes their way home
for the evening meal.
out the door and runs to me shouting, “maman” and “escargot”
and “voilá, c’est bon,” and other random French words that
escape her mouth like the steam from my coffee machine. After decompression,
she begins to pout, says she hates her school, and pleads to return to
a place she has already started to forget.
that village called?”
I want to go back there.”
you hate your school?”
they all speak French to me.”
plays with me.”
new. It takes time. Remember you used to hate Maryland school too.”
It goes on
like this until I feel so heartbroken and defeated that I give up the fight
and distract her with a wave of the other candy bar I brought. “Chhhhhhhhhocolat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
is good again and we sing a variety of French and English songs as we make
our way home for our evening meal.
Index ~ Switzerland