I began my primary school studies at Colegio Francia. This school is part of the intricate Lycée system, which guarantees that wherever French families go around the world, their children would receive the same quality of education as if they were back home in France. Many of the teachers themselves were either French ex-pats, teachers hired directly from France or young French people doing their military service as a community service abroad. I remember my first day there with outmost terror.
|Brian and I looking sharp with our Colegio Francia uniform.|
There was a large courtyard in the middle of the French section of the school, filled with all these children from every grade in elementary, each standing around waiting for the next step. All of a sudden, teachers came out into the area with a megaphone calling out each student's name. Each time a name was called, a head would go down, followed by eyes looking at shoes, looking at one foot lead the other, with the child remembering every detail of the freedom they enjoyed slipping away. This was one of the moments where your life flashes before your eyes while everything you knew is taken away from you in a split second.
The wonderful thing is that we were children, and as such, we moved on quickly. Sitting in the classroom next to me was a kid who did magic with his colouring pencils. He drew these stick figures that looked amazing. He looked on to my drawings and seemed to approve. We immediately became friends. His name was Gabriel Montagne. From that magical artistic moment, blossomed a strong friendship that initiated our first sleepovers and hang-outs. On the other side of the drawing table was a girl, Caroline, who seemed to feel at home in the room already bossing everyone around, and Douglas, a very quiet kid who was actually dragged in to the classroom crying by her mother. These would become my new friends throughout my days in the Lycée.
Discovering recess was something all in its own. When the bell rang, everyone in the classroom looked at each other completely puzzled and then we heard other children in adjacent rooms burst out in a massive cry of joy. They were the veterans of elementary who knew the ropes. We bolted out of our seats and straight through the door joining in the ode to joy. Outside that door that separated us from the world was where the gladiators met. The courtyard we had been in earlier was actually a cement field and now, it was to become the gauntlet. Students were forbidden from bringing in balls to school as these could prove to be a source of distraction, so the wiser kids used small plastic bottles as a ball and the higher authorities did not seem to mind.
|Brian and I in our backyard, Caracas, Venezuela.|
Here we also began the great "clásicos". Kids from the French and Venezuelan sections would face off in 15-minute daily tournaments. After several matches, we began to develop a camaraderie not only among teammates, but also with our adversaries through the sportsmanship that comes along with meeting the foe on the battlefield. There was no higher honour then partaking in these matches and the respect you earned. Furthermore, through my Spanish classes and interactions outside of school with anyone who was not family or Embassy staff, I began to feel comfortable in the local language and developed a new Venezuelan personality. From here on out, there was no more William the Canadian kid. I became Pancho Bickford. Everyone was to know this.
(For pictures of the school, including the soccer field, visit: http://colegiofrancia.edu.ve/)