WHEN I was growing up in Montego Bay I can recall my father telling me that there were people from 'country' who had never left their communities, people who had never gone any further than the nearest town, yet alone Kingston. Though I figure this must have been when he was growing up, I can recall marvelling at just the thought of it. And as preposterous as the idea may be, especially with the advent of Knutsford Express and the north-south link of Highway 2000, I believe that we have all heard about such people.
At the start of the year I got the opportunity to visit Paris, France, to celebrate my milestone 30th birthday. I wouldn't say that this was a lifelong dream of mine; it was one of those dreams that I somehow picked up along the way. Before even going there was a heightened expectation on my part mostly because I romanticised what the experience would be like. What would it be like to see the Eiffel Tower in real life? And to be honest, half the time I was there I was overcome with a poignant mix of intrigue, excitement and fulfilment. After having visited Paris I can honestly say that it lives up to the hype. The allure of the city was magical. They live beautifully in Paris; everything there is exquisite. The food was beautifully plated and, believe you me, I had my fill of flaky croissants, classic crepes, and multicoloured macaroons. (And I have the added pounds to prove it!) And yes, I almost forgot, I did eat snails — which the French have cleverly renamed escargot. Surprisingly the snail's texture was light and chewy and it took on the flavour of the aromatic herbed olive oil it was cooked in. I somehow didn't manage to find any crispy, jerked frog legs but I will keep an eye out for this next time.
Having reflected on my trip to Paris, I began to think about the people who will never leave their communities or venture no further than the borders of their own country. I pondered, 'How could I make my experience of Paris relevant to their lives?'
Step 1: Define your own personal 'Paris'
For me, Paris isn't just a place, it's a concept — I want us to collectively have that mental shift. Being able to re-frame the meaning of Paris means that you can make Paris out to be whatever you want, really. Paris is that place where your fervently held dreams reside; it's that hope that you carry in your heart. Paris is that one thing that, if it actually came through, would make your life complete. It's that significant thing that, if it were to manifest, you would be content for the rest of your life. Let's make this more practical.
For the vendor selling in Coronation Market their Paris may be being a homeowner and being able to turn their own key to open their own home. For the sales clerk, his Paris may be the ability to go back to school at a mature age to finally get the degree that he has always dreamt about so that he can secure the promotion. For the robot taxi operator, his Paris may be finally being able to have all the correct papers in hand to drive legally on the road. For the frightened teenage mother, her Paris may be being able to navigate pregnancy, motherhood, and going back to school. For the construction worker lifting bucket after bucket of concrete mix day in day out, his Paris may be finally taking the leap and starting his own small business.
Without a doubt, we all have a Paris inside us.
And how do you know that this is your Paris? It will be visceral; it must be something that you believe at your very core. If you never visit Paris, the actual place, in your lifetime, you won't die. But I could argue if you never achieve your own personal Paris within this lifetime, a piece of you may die — even before you are buried in a grave — because the weight of the unfulfilled dream may bring about a burdensome sorrow in you. Your personal Paris is something that you know for sure is yours to experience in this lifetime. So my question is, what is it that you yearn for at the very fibre of your being?
Step 2: Don't be deterred by hiccups
It would be remiss of me to gas you up by painting a rose-coloured picture of what my Parisian experience was like. The truth is that this was actually my third attempt at trying to visit Europe. In 2019 I applied for a Schengen visa twice and I didn't make it past the visa reception counter as I didn't have the correct paperwork in hand. I cannot even begin to quantify how distraught I was. Applying for a third time, I was apprehensive. Was my application finally going to go through? I was literally double- and triple-checking all the paperwork before going to the visa application centre. To add to be mix, it's not like I had local Parisian connections who could help orient me to the place. I had managed to search out some Jamaicans living in Paris via Facebook, however our meet-up never materialised. Furthermore, my trip to Paris happened a few months after my actual birthday, as the visa arrived late and I had to postpone and reorganise everything.
I say all of this to say that you should not be easily deterred when it comes to getting to your Paris. It took me four years, three visa applications, not speaking a word of French, no local French connections, and a whole pandemic later, but I finally got to Paris. Like me, your journey to your personal Paris will be fraught with ups and downs but, you have to be invested in your own dream and not be held back by fear. Because in the end I did get the visa, and a classmate of mine who was fluent in French decided to accompany me on the trip.
Step 3: And when you get there, show others the way
I didn't write this piece because I wanted to get published. I wrote this piece because I wanted the person who is reading this article to think about what is meaningful to them, and to take inspired action towards achieving this. Given that it is the start of a new year, I wanted to provide somewhat of a blueprint, a prompt even, to get people into thinking about their own personal Paris. Because even though we may not all make it to the actual place within this lifetime, we should all strive to make our personal Paris a reality. It could be argued that Jamaica is it's own Paris, so keep your dream alive!
Dr Nicole Nation is a medical doctor, Chevening scholar, travel correspondent and life coach.
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