When I walked through customs into the dingy, crowded airport in Taipei, I anxiously scanned the hordes of people waiting to welcome the passengers. With relief, I spotted a Chinese woman holding a sign with the school logo and my name on it—she was the teacher I had been told would come to fetch me. I tried to ask her a few questions, but she patted my hand and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” It took me awhile to figure out that she had no idea what I was saying.
I had arrived in monsoon season. There was no direct bus to get from the airport to Taichung at the time. So we had to take a bus from the airport to Taipei center, which took about forty-five minutes. And then we had to transfer to a different bus that would take us to our final destination. This bus was located on the other side of a busy expressway.
That was when I found myself wading through knee-deep puddles in a thundering rain, dragging my year’s supply of belongings, up a steep set of stairs and over the bridge to get to the other side. Soaking wet, we arrived at the station just in time to climb into the heavily air-conditioned bus for our nearly three-hour ride to Taichung.
I can’t remember this teacher’s name, as solicitous as she was, but she handed me a can of syrupy sweet tea with chunks of seaweed jelly in it. As the exploratory sip assaulted my dehydrated, jet-lagged senses, my first thought was that she was trying to be cruel. This I felt, especially after our foray into the monsoon dragging my luggage up and down stairs, but her sincere demeanor told me otherwise. I handed the can back with a polite smile and shook my head no. Then I leaned my head against the glass windowpane of the bus, watching the open scenery and taillights zip by in the dark. I had never felt so exhausted, so alone, and in a world more immense than I could have imagined.
Eventually we arrived in Taichung, and the school bus driver was at the station to bring us to the owner’s house, whose name was Bih Hua. I remember it being very late as I was ushered into her living room, but my sense of timing was disoriented so it may just have been late evening. She directed me to the shower, which revived me somewhat, but I immediately collapsed on the bed in the guest room with the door shut before she could bring me a fan. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I was drenched in sweat, and couldn’t get back to sleep.
Everything was so strange. The smells varied from one street corner to the next, from one footstep to the next—garbage, garlic, exhaust from the motorbikes, powdery incense smoking from a household temple. The air was warm and heavy, and there was a weight to the humidity that made me lethargic.
All around me, I could hear nasal twangs as people spoke in loud voices, in an incomprehensible tongue. I couldn’t understand a single thing that was said around me, or read any of the colored plastic signs hanging over the shop doorways. There was no way to remain anonymous; at the time there were few Westerners in this part of the city, and people pointed at me wherever I went, calling out “foreigner” in Chinese. Even the children being brought by their parents to the school for the first time would see my strange green eyes and turn away in fear, sobbing into the necks of their mothers.
At seventeen, Jennie Goutet has a dream that she will one day marry a French man and sets off to Avignon in search of him. Though her dream eludes her, she lives boldly—teaching in Asia, studying in Paris, working and traveling for an advertising firm in New York.
When God calls her, she answers reluctantly, and must first come to grips with depression, crippling loss, and addiction before being restored. Serendipity takes her by the hand as she marries her French husband, works with him in a humanitarian effort in East Africa, before settling down in France and building a family.
Told with honesty and strength, A Lady in France is a brave, heart- stopping story of love, grief, faith, depression, sunshine piercing the gray clouds—and hope that stays in your heart long after it’s finished.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG-13
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