{ Frumpy in France }

My son is traveling overseas for the first time, and I prayed that it would be a glorious, life-changing trip for him.

Surrounded by church friends and armed with a confident, likable personality, I doubt he will be homesick and I hope he will have a grand experience. 

This morning’s happy bon voyage caused me to remember my first overseas experience, only 36 years ago….

June 1983

When I left my Midwest suburb, I thought I looked totally acceptable — even cool — in my preppy boat shoes, wide-striped rainbow polo and Kelly green chinos. My hair was freshly home-permed into a bushy, easy-care halo around my pudgy face. 

topsidersOur French teacher, Madame Fansler-Wald, headed up the trip to France, starting in Paris with a one week family stay. A series of pre-trip planning sessions told us what to pack and what to leave home: “Don’t pack too much! Leave lots of room for souvenirs.”

At that season of my life, I thought so little of makeup that I decided I would lighten my luggage by leaving makeup at home — all 3 ounces of it. 

When it was time to leave, my whole family could stand at the gate and wave goodbye, because this was the innocent, trusting 1980’s.  

Au revoir! See you in 3 weeks!

My hollow carry-on and I landed in Paris and each student was shuffled off for one week with their Parisian host family. 

Pascale DuClosel was my teen counterpart in the host family — she was short, dark and aloof. She sported a fashionable, cropped hairdo and wore mini skirts and high-heeled pumps. She lived in a stylish flat with her mother and father, who were also aloof but pleasant, and spoke less English than Pascale. 

That first night — and every night —  I sat alone in the sparse European guest bedroom and drew out my Bible.  Trying to ward off homesickness, I read big chunks of the comforting Psalms; they have been my best friend ever since.

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For breakfast we bought fresh, long loaves of French bread and ate them slathered with real butter and exquisitely lumpy marmalade. 

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Pascale showed me her neighborhood and some days we sat at the sidewalk cafe with her friends. It didn’t take long to soak in the fashionable, French atmosphere, and I recall the moment I saw my frumpy reflection in a shop window and looked down at my sensible shoes. 

Suddenly, I felt like a farm hand that had parachuted into an elegant, sophisticated party.

And, I must have missed the unit where Madame talked about French greeting customs.  Pascale’s friend Stephen said goodbye to me one afternoon with a typical double side-cheek air kiss; I cringe when I remember how I innocently turned my face at the wrong time, getting an unintended smack on the lips from Stephen and a scornful look from Pascale.

I was relieved when the host week was over, and we gathered as a group again. The rest of the trip was like a magical dream, visiting giant castles along the Loire River, touring Monet’s charming pink cottage and day-tripping into Switzerland to eat ice cream at sunset.

Before leaving France, I bought those souvenirs that were supposed to fill up my empty luggage. They included:  makeup, a light blue denim mini skirt, and one pair of pink and white leather pumps.

 

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{ Dancing with Refugees }

I learned the cha-cha in the strangest place.

It was the end of the 1980’s and I was working in Hong Kong.

Each muggy morning, I walked out of my high rise apartment building with two American co-workers.

We traveled by double-decker bus to Argyle Street Refugee Camp. The cement expanse was surrounded by barbed wire and looked like a concentration camp, inside and out.

I’d give my number at the guarded door and say “thank you” in Chinese.

Argyle Street Refugee Camp was managed by the Hong Kong Government, and Mr. Singh was in charge.

The Vietnamese refugees lived in barracks.  Their spaces were like what groceries are stacked on at the supermarket: wooden boards on a metal frame two or three stories high.

Most of them were hopeful; waiting to be resettled by a European or North American country.

We taught them English there, and occasionally field-tripped together around Hong Kong.  We ice skated, visited landmarks, scaled Victoria Peak and shopped.

I had brought along my new cassette tape “Stand By Me” and I taught them to sing the song as part of the English lessons. We sang it line by line and I explained what each part meant.  They never forgot it; years later Anh sent me letters ending with “Stand By Me.”

I learned part of their Vietnamese National anthem and a few of their folk songs –I can still sing parts of them.

They loved to dance.  Somebody organized dances in the one-room schoolhouse that doubled as a chapel. They were thrilled to teach a stumbling American beginner — like me– how to dance.

Sitting here in the Midwest thirty some years later, I can’t believe that the adventurous relief worker who danced the cha-cha with Vietnamese friends was really me.

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We held a drawing contest for the children in the refugee camp.  Most of them drew boats. This picture is one of the entries.
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During my year-long adventure in Hong Kong, my dad (pictured) and my mom came over to visit me. Here I am with my dad in my 80’s garb.  I think we were in the Hong Kong subway.

© Lisa M. Luciano 😊

Word prompt of the day:  dancing

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/dancing/