wake-up calls in a temporary home


Unlike the city in which I grew up, distinguishing smells beyond cigarette smoke and wet grass are not within my reach here. As the coldness of the bench presses against my skin, imaginary wafts of carnitas and lime bring back the warmth of home. My days in Lyon, France begin and end with the homesickness my study abroad advisor warned me about. I calm my longing for Indianapolis, Indiana by people-watching in Place Carnot— a park with constant movement created by the nearby Perrache metro station, train gare, and bus stop resembling the airport I flew from a week ago. With a uniform hastened pace, the Marching Luggage Band passes by and I speculate what my stay will make of me.

Ahead of me, a sprinkler’s croaky voice struggles to join the symphony to which it belongs. Notes of Mexican collectivism and American individualism flaunt into my ears as if I were their delayed cue. A dissonance of pitches yearning for home and travel, followed by my parents’ chorus, “We’re proud of you, but are you sure you don’t want to stay here instead?” ricochet through me. In the shoots of water, I hear myself struggling to communicate emotions in Spanish and French— is this because I lack cultural connection or a result of weakened language muscles? Seeing how language and culture intertwine in Lyon, I promise myself to someday visit Mexico, my parents’ country which I’ve only known from afar. In my midwestern city, I never felt I represented either culture (or rather the mix of both). An ocean away, I feel I do it better than ever. As I watch a gang of pigeons swarm the park, I recall my first night at a Latino bar where conversations become rivières, La Feria Lyon. While dancing limbs-to-limbs with strangers on beer and sweat coated floors, the swift shifts between Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English, and French intensifies my craving to live in a place where multilingualism is embraced.

The sprinklers finish their morning shift, and another rhythm tops off my thoughts. Against the puzzle-like ground, block heels pound, well-worn shoes drag, scooter wheels glide, and the rattles and squeaks of bikes pass by. Despite my worries and uncertainty awakened by the pavement— “Will my French be better or worse this time?”, “Am I heading the right direction?”, “Will the metro break down?”— I step closer to confidence each time I leave my homestay. Lyon’s wide sidewalks and timeliness of public transportation allow me to familiarize myself with the city and digest French culture as I move from place to place.

My experiences on the metro have confounded me the most so far. Whether I’m smushed into a corner, stand crammed towards the front and balance myself with other sardines or lock my knees as we come to a stop, I feel a silence. A need to avoid eye contact. My first few days, I pinned this as the French confidence, the confidence in oneself to mind your own. Having used the metro at night and during midi, I question if this is confidence, fatigue, or something else.

Another cultural assumption I’ve formed within my first few days is that the French expect respect. When this assumption is framed, it becomes the fatigue-saturated woman offering her seat to an elder woman while scolding the younger people; the man who stands upright and shelters someone with an umbrella before himself; the teens who move out of the way for hurried pedestrians. With more experience navigating Lyon, I’m now calm enough to breathe in the refreshing gateaux from the cafes on every corner and catch these moments.

The metal of shops clank and shift as key holders and deliveries pick up from yesterday, encouraging me to find and follow routine. Childhood’s laughter coming from the playground behind where I sit draws me in. The vocal cords which reveal ages before appearances do intensifies my aching for my family to meet another world with me. I take in the life around me, and pack it for them; just as I packed within me life back home. My two-month stay will breeze by and linger throughout my life like the wind brushing through my hairs. This week, I woke up with Lyon and understood myself better than the week before.