A Dream Come True

by Alisha Jacobs 

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by a youth reporter who is a graduate of the Urban Youth International Journalism Program class at People for Community Recovery, a not-for-profit organization based in the Altgeld Gardens public housing development. In April 2011, youths from People for Community Recovery traveled to France as part of a photography exchange program with youths from La Courneuve, a community near Paris.

Paris. France. It was something like a dream come true. On Wednesday, April 13, 2011, it was also boring because we arrived too early and had to wait in the small, hot and muggy office of People for Community Recovery filled with over 15 bags and 10 people. After greeting everyone and hugging our family members, our limos arrived. I was filled with mixed emotions. Getting in the limo to the airport I was happy but yet a little sad. I was leaving family and friends. I was thinking of everything that could go wrong as I sat quietly the whole ride. I and the other children and our chaperone and Takia Long took pictures of the whole ride.

Students from Altgeld Gardens pose with their French counterparts.

I had a chill going through my spine getting out of the car at O’Hare Airport. It was a long, tedious process checking in and going through the security measures, but I was patient. I bought a lot of candy since the security said we couldn’t go through with any food or water because of all the terrorist attempts, but all this really made me feel very safe. We arrived very early so if anything went wrong we would have time to spare. Me, Manquaze (my brother), Lakeshia (a 17-year-old participant in the An Eye for An Eye program) and Hollis (brother of Lakeshia, another participant of An Eye for An Eye) played Uno anxiously waiting to board the plane.

Finally about 45 minutes later, we grabbed all of our bags. I couldn’t help but have butterflies in my stomach. We boarded a big white and blue plane with that read “Air France” on the side. The flight attendants greeted us in French, which kind of made me happy, because I knew that I could respond. I put all my bags up in storage. Then, about 15 minutes later, we finally started to move. The best part of the air plane ride was taking off because it was like a roller coaster; I love roller coasters. It was hard trying to force myself to go to sleep knowing I was thousands of feet in the air. The flight was 6 hours. We had made it to the airport around 5 that evening and made it to Paris around 1:30 a.m. I had stayed up during the flight because I was watching movies and talking to the other children in the program. Plus I was too scared I would miss something. Most of the children didn’t go to sleep just as I didn’t. We woke the adult chaperones so we could get off the plane.

Eagerly, my mom Marguerite (also a chaperone) and I started taking pictures. We got our bags and met David (in person from the program) and one of the La Courneuve program volunteers. He took all out bags and got our passport verified and stamped. David and our group took the train toward the hotel and then walked the rest of the way. Surprise, the La Courneuve program volunteer appeared with his little green van filled with our bags. Then we took out our bags and went to the hotel and got assigned with a buddy. I got assigned with Lanish so we took our bags to our tiny room and unpacked. A tiny room with a bunk bed, sink, mirror, TV, a bathroom similar to a port-a-potty and a small shower. After unpacking, everyone slept for an hour. Later we walked to a small restaurant which had no hot dogs, so we all ordered burgers, fries and cokes in French ourselves. We went back to the hotel and slept, not knowing what awaited us the next day.

A view of Paris. Photo by Alisha Jacobs.

I woke in amazement thinking “I’m in Paris.” I had problems – well, we all had problems adjusting to the time. Every day, we had 3 events so we were always busy. I admired the old buildings and brick streets. It was such a beautiful place even though we only walked a few blocks. Everything we saw from the streets to the buildings had a story and is connected to Paris’ history.

We moved out of the hotel and into the hostel and then we met the French kids from the La Courneuve program and ate with them. We went on a tourist boat ride. The boat announced the name of every building down the canal. There were boat houses, the Eiffel Tower and statues. That night I ate “Greek” – some meat similar to gyro but with another type of meat.

We went to Notre Dame, a large Cathedral which I’d read about in history books. We waited in a long line full with all types of people – peddlers selling pictures, waiters, etc. We walked in together but got lost because of the huge crowd of people but we soon found each other. After we walked through some of the most ancient streets, we went to eat. Then we went to our rooms to relax for the rest of the night.

We went to La Courneuve where our French friends threw a huge party for us. All day we made friends and played sports. We watched our French and American friends’ slide shows. Both group photos were presented in the photo exhibit. It made me feel like a star knowing everyone was looking forward to viewing my pictures and other children’s pictures as well. I had the honor of presenting our appreciation speech from the Chicagoans.

We also visited the Place De La Concorde with its huge triangles and the Champs D’Elysses, which is basically like the Magnificent Mile. We went to Parc Asterix, an amusement park based on a comic book which turned out to be a lot of fun. I thought it would be too kiddy, but it wasn’t. Lastly, the French kids had to leave and we all cried. We exchanged information to keep in touch on Facebook. That night, we packed and went to sleep because we had to wake up at 4 in the morning, Paris time.

On Saturday, April 23, 2011, we walked to the train station. It was a long train ride to the airport. I was sad I had to leave. I thought I wasn’t going to like Paris but I did. When we finally got to the airport and were going through security, I felt depressed, but I had to go. During the plane ride, I stayed up again all the way because I still hadn’t adjusted. The last words out of my mouth were “Last plane from Paris.”

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