It took a good spoonful of faith, a quick call to the bank, to purchase bus tickets online from London to Paris. Faith, because nowhere on the website did it explain how a bus was supposed to cross the English Channel, and a call to the bank, because credit cards don’t like it when you order overseas.
However, when the time came, Courtney and I backed up and wheeled our bags to the bus station and boarded a nice coach bus. The driver was a hilarious little Frenchman (my first real taste of France) who scolded drivers with curses of “Idiot!” and “Don’t you know how to drive?” and then handed out boxes of mints to all the passengers on board. He sang along to the radio in English and French between his rants and kept us well-entertained.
In order to cross the English Channel we drove into a train car (the entire bus fit inside with a foot of clearance on either side) and the train took us across the channel through the chunnel. There were no windows to show us the underwater trip, which in hindsight was probably a good thing. I found two Lithuanians aboard our bus and talked to them for the chunnel trip. They were from a small town outside of Šiauliai (show-LAY) where I spent a whole year as a missionary.
When we got to Paris, it was overcast and muggy. We wheeled our luggage for fifteen minutes through narrow streets with tall, ornate buildings on either side leaning in over us until we got to where we would be staying.
The building was huge, more of a complex of buildings really. Originally, they had been separate, but they had gradually been connected into one giant diamond of interlocking corridors and stairs. “The Foundation” as we call it, was built around a small church building with stained glass windows and a dusty organ. At one time it was an orphanage, but the complex now serves as lodgings on one half and an elementary school on the other. I explored it during our first few days, and I still learn new things all the time.
My favorite place is a place I call “the veranda”. I made it a point to tell Courtney that we wouldn’t have a true French experience without a veranda. I am pleased to let you know, we do indeed have a veranda, just off of the common room with its French VHS collection and comfy couches.
There is also a topiary courtyard that I see every time I take the five minute walk to the kitchens. (It’s a big place.)
I was down in the kitchens shortly after arriving while two girls were preparing food. I was looking for a free spot in the freezer to stash my frozen broccoli when one of them started speaking to me in French.
I don’t speak French.
So I told her, “I’m sorry. I only speak English,” and she switched to English.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m with Le Petit Freres de Pauvre (The Little Brothers of the Poor) for an internship. My wife works with them.”
The girl gave me a blank stare and repeated herself.
“Why are you here?”
So I tried French. “Benevole…” [ben-uh-vole] (which is French for volunteer.)
“Ahhh,” the girl said. “We were worried because there are no boys here.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. “Do you know where I can put this broccoli?”
“No, you do not understand. There are no boys here. Ever. This is a girl school the rest of the time.”
I indicated that I understood, and as she helped me find an empty freezer for the veggies, I realized just how freaked out she probably was seeing a random guy going through the kitchen, especially when, during the school year, the foundation is an all-girl school.
But even during the summer, when volunteers join the residents of the Foundation, there are very few boys. I think there are three of us: me and two other BYU (Brigham Young University) students. The first is Costner, who is a pre-med theatre major who learned French through school. The other is Chase, a blond guy who learned French for fun, mostly through reading comics.
I guess I’m in good company when it comes to learning some French for fun.