When Tamara* left Africa to go to university in France, her whole life changed. She tells her story…
Two massive suitcases lay open on the floor. The living room was covered with clothes, shoes, toiletries and food items. “Have you taken your tablets for airsickness?” Mum yelled from upstairs. I am pretty sure she had packed medicine for every kind of disease possible in what we now call the medicine bag. Dad sat on the floor and now had the almost impossible task of getting everything into the two suitcases. “Don’t forget the family pictures.” At around 1am everything was finally packed and I was ready to go.
The next day, early in the morning, we loaded the two suitcases in the car and the whole family drove me to the airport. Dad unloaded the bags, Mum made sure I had my phone, passport and wallet and my sister and brother were betting on who was going to cry. I, on the other hand, was determined not to let them see me cry because it was just going to make this situation harder. They all walked me to the security gate. Tears rolled down from Mum’s eyes and even Dad shed a small tear. My brother and sister both lost their bet. I waved goodbye and disappeared behind the airport doors.
“You just have to get yourself checked in.” I kept telling myself. I handed my passport and flight ticket to the lady at the check in gate. She took my luggage and handed me my boarding passes. I got through security and then it finally hit me. They were gone. This was it. Tears streamed down my face and I sobbed uncontrollably. We boarded and I cried myself to sleep. Upon landing I had finally got a grip of myself. I was now in my new world.
I felt a mixture of excitement and fear. I had a train to catch to reach my final destination. With my two huge suitcases, a backpack and a very lost look, I started to make my way through the crowds to try and find the train station. I asked around for help and some kind people guided me towards the train station and the right platform. A three-hour train ride and a lot of asking for help later, I found myself in my new home. With what little energy I had left, I made my bed and once again it hit me that I was alone. I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, realizing that the cupboards were empty and that my stomach was screaming, I made my way to the closest store. With a dictionary in hand, I walked around the store and picked a few items. Feeling overwhelmed and tired, I went to the checkout counter. Putting my items on the counter, I watched the lady scan item after item. I patiently waited for someone to come and put the groceries in a bag (because in my country someone always puts groceries in the bag for you) but no one ever came. I quickly realized no one was going to come and I needed to do this myself. I hurried to try and pack the groceries away as quickly as possible avoiding all the angry stares that were coming my way. I handed the cashier a random amount of money, not understanding the amount she was asking for. She handed me the change and I ran out of the store. And there were the tears again.
I spent the next two weeks in offices, trying to figure out all the administration work needed for my university and for immigration. During one of the nights I called Dad and with tears in my eyes I told him I couldn’t do it and that I wanted to go back home. If only life were that simple.
The next day I went to university, not knowing that my life was about to change forever. I walked up the steps that led to my classroom and there was this lady handing out flyers to invite international students to learn French and have pizza. There was something different about this lady. She had so much joy and I couldn’t make sense of it. She was not like any of the other people that I had met.
That evening I went to their event. The lady invited us into her home where she lived with her husband and two daughters. There were around 30 other students just like me there. The place felt so warm and for the first time in a while I felt welcome. We started by playing some games and we laughed till our ribs hurt. We then divided ourselves into smaller groups and they gave each one of us a text. We started reading and the text talked about Jesus! My heart skipped a beat. I was hungry and wanted to know more. I kept coming week after week and asked a lot of questions. The couple invited me to go to their house more often and I started reading the Bible one on one with the lady.
As time went by, I was in a battle. I wanted to believe but then that would mean that everything that I had been told was not true and what would my family think? They had sacrificed so much so I could be here and I knew they had expectations. This internal battle raged on for over a year, but finally I could not deny it anymore. I wanted Jesus in my life. I wanted to follow him. One particular night I surrendered and I prayed and asked him to come into my life. I spent the next few months devouring the Bible and then got baptised. It took me a year to tell my parents. They were really angry and didn’t understand. To them it was the worst possible thing that could happen to me. But I knew this was what God was asking me to do, and one day maybe they will be more accepting. For the time being I am going to stay here but I know one day God might ask me to go back. I know the price I will have to pay if I do, but I also know that it is all worth it.
* Names and facts have been changed to protect the protagonist’s identity.