At 10.26 am, 29thDecember 2018, I was finally at the exit of Berlin Schoenfeld Airport. It was drizzling lightly, the type you don’t need an umbrella for and slightly windy bringing with it a breeze of freshness. There were taxis and buses dropping passengers at the bus terminus a few metres away while picking others taking them to whichever part of Germany they were going to. But before I got into one of those buses, I had to purchase a ticket first and luckily there was a ticket machine nearby which apparently refused to take my credit card. So, I decided to walk around hoping to stumble upon another machine which could accept my card then I came across ¨Tourist Information & Ticket sales¨ written over a red counter accentuated by an array of dazzling lights. Because there were others getting served, I had to queue and when it was my turn the lady at the counter politely told me that they only dealt in cash. I felt a tinge of hopelesness starting to creep within me but then she gave me directions which involved a series of turning left and right then more right.
It was only when I was in the train heading to the heart of the historically rich Berlin that it started dawning on me that I was in Germany. Slowly, then all at once. And when the thought of travelling to Paris that same evening came knocking, I believe everything in my being might have come to a standstill as I digested the thought. For a moment I thought it was a dream and it was only the buildings, the trees and billboards whizzing past us that brought me back to reality.
You see, a few years a go a friend of mine from the Red Cross invited me to join the Red Cross club at the university in a visit to a care home for disabled children. We helped with the cleaning then later made food which we ate together with the kids and also helped feed those who couldn’t on their own . We played some games and the kids were so happy and we were happy. I remember when we were leaving the lady running the home told us ¨I haven’t seen the kids so happy in such a long time. When you want to visit us again our doors are always open. ¨ I felt touched and I knew from there on that I wanted to do more to help people in need, to put smile in people’s faces. But one thing I didn’t imagine was that one day Red Cross will provide me with an opportunity to go to places I never went to even in my dreams.
I got off the train at Alexanderplatz, one of the biggest public square and transport hub of the city. This is where I was going to take a bus to Hannover and later in the evening take another one to Paris. There was a Christmas market going on there which had attracted lots of people and the aroma emanating from the different food stalls made it feel like the most scented place on earth then.
So, I arrived in Paris on the morning of 30thDecember. The city was just waking up with the pavements getting swept and windows of different shops getting wiped. Because of my experience in Germany I had made it my top priority to look for an ATM the first thing and withdraw cash. When I found one, blinking on the screen with a red exclamation mark read ¨BEFORE YOU PROCEED WITH YOUR TRANSACTION, CHECK YOUR SURROUNDING TO ENSURE YOU ARE SAFE! ¨ and I thought ¨What a welcome Paris¨
Paris is a beautiful city with notable architecture that goes way back in time. The world’s largest collection of art is found in the Louvre Museum which is in the middle of the city. Our tour guide told us that it would take an individual going to the art museum everyday more than nine months to see all the art there. The city has a unique sense of charm and energy that I’m yet to experience anywhere. And the people are so welcoming and friendly. There was this day I was on one of the streets trying to get my bearing from a map I had been given from one of metro stations. Then this guy just came to me ¨Excuse me, it seems like you are looking for a place. I’m from Paris, maybe I could help¨
When we were coming from the Eiffel Tower after ushering in 2019, Ana (my colleague) asked me ¨Would you have imagined last year that a time like this you’d be in Paris? ¨. The question caused a brief tremor in my feet as I tried to remember what I was doing at that particular time last year. I didn’t respond, so she continued ¨ A year is such a long time and a lot of things can happen in between¨ I thought about the statement on our way home. I thought about it when I was leaving France. You know, 2019 has already began taking shape. To the volunteer out there striving to do more, who knows, tomorrow you might be the next youth delegate. Or it might be that project you are working on right now that wont pick up, who knows the story you’ll be telling a year from now.
A year is such a long time and a lot of things can happen in between.