I was lucky to have a very nice batch of HEC scholars at Alliance Français Islamabad for the language course. Naughty Naeem Ashraf, mysterious Ahmad Junaid, giggling Omer Hayat Malik, different Raheel, good looking Usman, evergreen Zeeshan, very french Sajid, very pakistani Raza, literary Shahzina, Taimoor, Batool, Rafi and me made a perfectly heterogenous crowd. Our pakistani teacher Madam Farah tried to bridge us from urdu-pakistan to french-pakistan while our french teacher Madam Elisabeth took us from french-pakistan to french-france. Later when she returned to her own France, we were left with another very nice but a bit angry lady, but we stayed happy nevertheless. Group activities and discussions were always dominated by Naeem, Sajid and Zeeshan while mark sheets were dominated by Junaid, Sajid and Usman. I used to be either absent or in the last row in these and all other categories as well as many of the classes. When the course concluded, we had our exams in HEC H-9 building and a reception by French ambassador to Pakistan in Serena Hotel Islamabad. The evening before our proposed departur, we were given (or some of us were not-given) visas. I boarded with many other comarades from the class from Islamabad but was eventually destined to land in CAVILAM Vichy with none other than Shahzina only, people from other groups of AF Islamabad as well as from AF Karachi constituted the whole group.
It was a bright sunny afternoon when we landed at l'aeroporte Charles de Gualle, Paris, my first ever travel to another country, first ever in an aeroplane too. There were many other first evers as well. I made my way out of the airport where SFERE people were waiting for us. We boarded a bus to Paris city. I use we because there were many other people with me, but the truth is that I really felt alone at that time, perhaps because I was not friends with anyone as yet. Aysesha Ashraf helped me activate international roaming of Jazz, by virtue of which I told Maryum that I had safely reached. I slept at night without remembring who was our guide to a nearby Kebab, where we listened to metro noise under our feet. By 8 in the evening I was tired. I heard people leaving for visit of Paris but hardly knew anyone. So went to sleep without having a chance.
Next morning, we had breakfast and then left for our destinations. Ayesha Ashraf gave a boring talk. Wahid Bakhsh Jatoi told us about our accommodation in Vichy and Clermont Ferrand for girls and boys respectively. Salma Hasan had a typical reaction to that one. I talk to Jai Pirkash, when we were in a lunch midway to our destination, perhaps at Moulin. Shariq had a cunning look at me when I was posing for a photograph before a nerby nothing. He didn't seem asking, but seemed telling me that he knows it. "First time abroad?" He lit a cigarette. I nodded, saying yes and continued the same disinhibitedly. Happily shifted in our rooms, I discovered that I had a familier face in the crowd, Naveed, from a morning batch of AF Islamabad. We talked to eachother and bought some grocery for ourselves. Rest of all passed very well. Jabbar Tahir Madah and all karachïtes were very friendly.
For me, everyday was discovering a new thing. I learned how to call from a booth, both inside France and outside (obviously to Pakistan). Later I found various landlines in the neighbouring floors where calls could be easily attended. Making photographs and sending them home through emails from CAVILAM internet facility was a favourite thing. Always looking for a phone booth where a call from Pakistan can be recieved was quite notorious than famous thing about me. Adjustment issues raised their ugly heads with some otherwise very nice people. I have always believed in learning through mistakes so everything taught me a lot of things.
Cultural shock was an undeniable happening. Someone coming from the rural areas of Pakistan where I remember talks went on for more than a week when a woman passed on the road driving a car by her own, was naturally vulnerable to such things. Language centre was less toxic though, travel by train, railway station unions, reunions and dis-unions were aweful. Sunny days were even difficult. Soirées at CAVILAM were really inspiring and the independance day was celebrated with vigor.
Coming this long, if I count, I have a good number of friends around, even Shariq is far less toxic than those words of first time abroad thing :). There is nothing bad about those days, all cherished moments all around. Now that PhD has got underway, it seems good to remember those funny days of Clermont-Fd. They passed like a dream, I regret we didn't made good use of them and there were not much adventures except Puy de Dome visit. But still those days and nights (rainy, lonely and sad) are a wealth to guard. Good days are always to remember as good friends are always to keep. Share your views please.