Before I got married I had had two long-term boyfriends - Mark, in England and Karim in Switzerland. Mark had lost his dad when he was just a teenager and my dad took to him and took him under his wing somewhat. When I went to Switzerland for a "five-month contract" in 1980 (40 years later I'm still here) Mark and I split, obviously, because I knew I wasn't going back to England and he didn't see a future for himself in Switzerland. If that "minor" issue could have been resolved I'm sure we would have ended up married actually. Oddly enough, fate again played a hand because in 2005, out of the blue, I received an email from Mark. When my dad retired he gave Mark all his tools and Mark said he had been using dad's tools one day and thinking how good my dad had been to him, so he decided to track me down and to find out how he was. I had to explain to him that sadly dad had died a few months previously but it was really weird that Mark had chosen that particular time to get in touch again, 25 years later. He wrote a lovely email about how much he appreciated my dad so I sent it on to my mom - who was very, very touched! Now Mark being a plumber and not exactly the Poet Laureate the emails fizzled out not long after that and I don't have any further news from him, but I'm sure if we did get in touch again we'd still be friends and have plenty to say to each other. I'm sure also that that very decent young man turned into a lovely husband for one lucky woman!
A few months after I moved to Switzerland in 1980 I met Karim, an Algerian medical student, and we quickly became an item. We were together five years, with him graduating after about three years and going on to become a surgeon. Karim had actually been born in France and therefore had French citizenship, but since his dad had fought in the Algerian resistance against the French during the war of independence in 1963 he was, understandably, very anti-French, so gave up Karim's French citizenship in order for him to be solely Algerian! I understand that of course, but when you are living in Europe it is a helluva lot easier to have a European passport than a North African one I can tell you! Anyway, the years rolled by and I got the feeling that I wasn't as much of a priority for Karim as he was for me, and then his dad dropped the bombshell on him. He was going to send him back to Algeria to do two years' national service (something which Karim could very easily have gotten out of)! As Karim later explained, it was a total, total waste of time, but more importantly the years he had been accruing towards acquiring Swiss citizenship now got screwed over, and the job he had lined up also passed under his nose because of his prospective two-year absence. I had been getting more and more frustrated in our relationship and actually resigned in 1983 in order to spend six months in Australia so I could decide what I wanted to do about him. I mean, how can you "complain" when someone is so nice but it just isn't working for you! Technically we "split" when I came back as he had met someone else, but when I explained that that was fair enough with me because I had too, he changed his mind instantly and wanted to get back together again - waiting outside my house every morning with flowers and giving me a lift to work before I got my car back on the road - something he hadn't done in the five years we had been together! Eventually he wore me down and we did indeed get back together but my heart still wasn't in it - I mean, after five years we still weren't even living together, so I told him that if we weren't living together by the time he had to go off to Algeria to do his waste-of-time national service then not to expect me to wait for him! And sure enough, we weren't living together when he had to leave but he did ask me to marry him the night before he left - I said no, but with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was very, very fond of him but honestly didn't feel that I had a future with him. He was (and still is) a very, very decent man and our different religions made no difference to us at all, but I actually thought I would get bored if I married him! A year later when he heard I was going to marry my (now) ex, he called me on my wedding day and begged me to reconsider! Man, if only I had listened, I could have saved myself 26 years of misery with the ex but you live and learn I guess.
Anyway, when I was offered a job back in Switzerland in 1989 a girlfriend called me one day and asked me what Karim's last name was. You see, her son had developed peritonitis on Easter Sunday and they had called an emergency surgeon in to operate. When her husband read the surgeon's name he commented that "that was Anna's Karim" - and sure enough it was! So egged on by my friend I put in a call to his office and left my number with his receptionist. He called back and we have become friends again after so many years. I'm fatter and he's balder but other than that nothing much has changed!
Then on Wednesday when I got home there was a "missed call" light flashing on my phone. Normally I just delete these calls because I get two to three telemarketing calls a day, but for some reason I looked at this number and decided to call back - and ended up talking for an hour with my old friend from back in 1989, Patricia! You see, when we moved back to Switzerland I found us an apartment in a lovely village called Mont-sur-Rolle. There were only two apartments on our landing and Patricia and Manuel had a little girl just one month younger than our son, André. So we used to leave our apartment doors open and André and Nena (two terrible two-year-olds) would run back and forth and play happily for hours and hours. Patricia is Colombian (now also Swiss) and her husband was Spanish so it was extremely good for my Spanish! After a year I realized that while I loved our apartment and our little set-up, the ridiculous rent we were paying would pay a mortgage in France so my husband and I bought a house and moved across the lake into Haute Savoie in France. It was sad leaving Patricia but as she didn't drive and as a Colombian needed a visa for France, inevitably we lost contact over the years. Her marriage, as it turned out, ended up being pretty much like mine and we both ended up getting divorced, although her ex has since remarried and divorced two more times!!! Yikes, she was well shot of him, I can tell you. Anyway, the upshot of that phone call is that I'm going over to her place next Sunday for lunch, where I can meet up again with "little" Nena (Ainhoa), who is now 30 and the mother of a three-year old, and Patricia and I can make up for 30 years of lost chin-wagging!
And finally, (gosh this post turned out much longer than I intended), the real reason for this post is another very, very lovely "blast from the past" moment that happened yesterday. My best friend at work is Tunisian (can you see a pattern here) and I was telling him one time about my first "true love" which happened when I was a young student at Montpellier University in southern France. I was on the beach one day, under a sun umbrella with a towel over my shoulders when a young man walked past and asked if I was "warm enough"! I explained to him that if I sat in the sun it wouldn't be too long before you would smell the bacon and he just laughed and said that as a Muslim that would be a real turn-off but would I mind if he sat down with me! Yes, it was that corny. Anyway, his name was Nacer, he was Tunisian, and we hit it off like nobody's business. He and his brother were at Montpellier Uni studying to be pharmacists but as this was the summer break they were pretty much free of courses. Like I say, we instantly clicked and while I enrolled in many French courses at the Uni I spent most of my time down at the beach with Nacer! I learned a helluva lot of French I can tell you, but probably not the kind of French I use now at work! At the end of the summer I had to go back to England but he kept in touch, writing to me and so on, and one time even coming to visit me when I got my job in Geneva. Have you ever reminisced/wondered what that first wonderful romantic summer felt like - well I lived it! And it really was wonderful! Anyway, as time moved on Nacer went back to Tunisia as a pharmacist, I met and married my ex and we moved to the States. Eventually I had to ask my mom not to forward Nacer's letters any more as I was now married but he still wrote for quite some time!!!
Fast forward 40 years and I was having coffee with my Tunisian buddy, Imed, before he set off for a month's vacation in Tunisia. I was explaining to him about Nacer and he said, you know, if you know his last name and that he is a pharmacist and originally from Sfax, he will have moved back to Sfax because that's what we Tunisians do - we go home. So why don't you search for him on FB! Well I tried a couple of times but I always spelt his name as "Nasser" and he wasn't showing up anywhere. For some reason, last night I thought I would take a shot at finding his brother, Hachemi, and almost instantly up he popped, with Nacer as one of his friends! I couldn't believe it. He has barely changed. Well I guess that's not strictly true. We are both 40 years older and 40 years fatter but we both seem to have our own hair and teeth ...... So being a nosy bugger I scrolled through his FB page and he seems to be just as nice as I remember him. He posted something on one post about the atrocities in Syria and someone wrote back saying "what about the b***tard Israelis and what they are doing in Palestine!" Nacer's response was that when innocent civilians - in particular children - are hurt in these atrocities it doesn't really matter whether they are muslim or jewish does it! They are still unforgivable atrocities. Now as an Arab and a Muslim I doubt Nacer has any particular love for Israel but I thought that was a lovely comment. On another post they had a picture of a young girl removing her veil, and his comment was "religion isn't about covering your face with a piece of cloth - that's not what Islam teaches!" When you have someone who thinks and talks so reasonably it is just so refreshing in this world of hate and lies, and that is exactly how I remember him!
So, taking my courage in both hands I sent him a friend request on FB. I asked if he had studied pharmacy at Montpellier around 1979 because if so I had a couple of pictures of him and his brother. But, if I had got the wrong person, I apologized for the intrusion. I knew it was him of course - he really hadn't changed, so you can imagine my amazement when I got a "friend acceptance" five minutes later with a "Hallo Anna, how are you doing? Of course I remember you, that was an amazing summer we spent together wasn't it"! Oh my goodness, I haven't felt my heart flutter like that for years! I know of course that time and life has moved on but just getting a response from him really made my day. We sent a couple of messages back and forth and then he had to get off FB but said he would contact me again. Wow, I feel like I've just stepped out of my time machine and flown back to 1979 (but I'd better not look in the mirror had I). Of course we are older now and our lives have moved on, but if he is like my other "blasts from the past", it would be lovely to keep in touch occasionally!
|Not a very good photo but ... my first love, Nacer!|