A Marriage Proposal From the South West of France
I am currently reading Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. Two months ago, I attended the Montreaux Jazz Festival with two of my friends who love his work. He was attending the Festival as well; and my friends insisted that they saw him, and both stopped, debating whether they should say hi to him; probably take a selfie with him. I was adamant about it; after all he was there to have a good time, not to be stalked by his fans, if that really was him. My suggestion fell on deaf ears with my friends shunning me for not having read ‘one of the best books of this century.’ I never thought much about it – hmm… – best books of this century. My mind dismissed it in a jiffy. Little did I know…
So, last week, I went to visit my friend (one of the two Gladwell fans) in his office. On my way out, I decided to pop into the neighbouring office and chat with another workmate who I had met a couple of days ago at the work cafeteria. That is when I noticed a box full of books meant for charity. He said I could borrow one, as long as I would return it when done. And therein lay Outliers.
Again, my friend went on and on about how I have to read it. Fearing for my sanity, I agreed. Now I am about to finish the book, and I love it!
The crux of the book is that we are who we are because of where we are from. We are likely to do well at math, or be good athletes, not because of the genes we have, but because of where our ancestors are from, what they did for a living, the year, sometimes day you were born. We can change nationalities, but we still carry our forefathers’ legacies. This book literally inspired me to embark on a search of who I am. I totally understand all the fuss my friends caused when they saw the author now because it relates to an experience I had.
Last year I turned 24 and decided to get in touch with myself, chase the inner me, and try find out who I really am. So I grabbed a backpack, stashed my bare essentials, which, of course, includes a book (Frankenstein by Mary Shelly) and my PC, and started a one week journey across the south-west of France.
On Christmas Eve, I board a bus from Barcelona to Perpignan, a small town right at the Spanish-French border. Everyone has travelled away. I take a bus to the centre, not sure whether it is the right bus, as my French leans towards zèro. I wouldn’t save a life with my French. I try to ask the driver if I am on the right bus, but he speaks French and Catalan; not even Spanish.
A tourist on the bus explains to me the way to get to where I am headed to. He is going to the same place after all. Says we can meet up after my tour and have late lunch at the Christmas market. So I walk through the town, see the Cathedral, the Castle, the Fort. Not much to do, especially at this time of the year.
I call him, we meet up. He is Brazilian, works in Paris as a news anchor, could not travel to Brazil for Christmas, so he came to visit his friend. He is very knowledgeable, so we talk about world politics, Trump (of course), Brexit, Syria, French elections, Kenyan elections, Merkel, China, etc… Later, I accompany him Christmas shopping. He is looking for yellow and blue undies for his friend, explains that 2017 is the year of yellow and 2016 was the year of blue, so according to his culture, gifting his friend the knickers is the best you can do for them. We say our goodbyes “See you in Paris, or Kenya, or Brazil. The world is a village they say.”
Next day, I take a bus to Bordeaux… Loooong journey, so I decide to sleep. Someone wakes me up and informs me that we are in Toulouse, in case that is where I should alight. I thank him, tell him I go all the way to Bordeaux, and go back to sleep. At Bordeaux he wakes me up again. Tells me he is visiting his sister who lives here, asks me if I know the direction to my residence.
I freak out; he tells me he saw me at the caste the previous day, and later at the market the previous evening. He comes to Bordeaux often, so if I need company or help I can call him. I thank him, we agree to meet later that day at the Cathedral, tour Bordeaux. He knows which bus ticket I should buy to cut on costs, where to enjoy French delicacies at a bargain, and what to see in the city. For three days we spend all day together, talk (though half the conversation is lost in translation)
On the last day we sit by the river, watch the beautiful sunset and drink Bordeaux wine. It’s getting late. I tell him I have to go; early bus the next day. He says I could stay, hang out more, have more fun. I cannot. I have to see another city, (and God! Am I broke).
He pauses for a minute and says ”I have never met someone like you. We don’t even speak the same language but we clicked from the word go, and had a lot of fun. Will you marry me?” I laugh, hoping he will join in the laughter. Nope! This guy is dead serious. I think to myself, “Is it how they do it here?” I reminisce about Kenya and the way it takes time to change that elusive “in a relationship” status on Facebook.
He continues telling me he is married, but will divorce his wife soon. They married because she wanted French nationality, she has residency now, so they can divorce any time he wants. The idea crosses my mind and my brain goes into calculation mode…
Marrying him means that I get European nationality at some point, which I need for my dream job. Goodbye discrimination at airports! Goodbye visa denials!
But my inner me, (the one Malcom talks about) kicks in with brutal force…
My parents taught me better! So I politely decline.
I reiterate that the past three days have been an absolute pleasure for me, but maybe we should know each other better first. He promises to visit me wherever I will be, if that is what it takes. I promise to do the same, but for now, I have to go. After a kiss on the cheek, I get up and walk away. I travelled in pursuit of myself, after all. If I am an outlier, I will remain one.