I’m not going to paint a perfect picture. An album of beautifully crafted still lives haunt my computer screen and my thoughts. The experience, the moment, was the hardest thing I ever had to do (in my young adult life, that is). Four months in a foreign land felt like K.O.s to the old me. A long, hard, and lasting sting. It grounded the new me. Who’d knew I’d do such a thing as this?

Anyway, I landed in Aix a year ago. The marvelous southeast French villa was laden with beautiful places and people known for its thousand fountains. All of its beauty, however, didn’t make it easier for my heart. My heart needed time to prepare, as if anything in the U.S. and in the city I’m from, could prepare me for something like that.

So I arrived, better yet, touched France all bright-eyed bushy-tailed full of purpose, dreams and hopes for greatness, and gullible like a newborn child. My naivety got the best of me and I settled into my use-to-be home. The place inside me, once removed, where fear and lies abide. That place is where my thoughts rested for 2.5 months.

It wasn’t a perfect dream, definitely a flawed picture. I have nothing but nice things to say about my time in Aix. But I’m not going to lie it was difficult, I mean HARD.

What further separated me was the way I had to re-create myself. Being that I knew no one when I came, I sort of had the chance to be anyone; fashion a different persona, a character like in a book. That opportunity, along with others, grew me.

I tried to create bonds with new faces. They were amazing. The kind of people that were inviting. But they didn’t know me, no, not the real Shanisha. I went there not knowing a soul. But the hardest part? What set my heart and mind to tremble was the truth of the country being majority atheist only followed up by the Muslim population.

The thought of not being able to connect with a family of believers, this one big thing, isolated me.

Even though my host family was wonderful and the friends I made were great, I just couldn’t connect. Add my blackness to the equation and I’m doubly slated.

No one was like me, looked like me, spoke, dressed, or experienced the same circumstance. I couldn’t see the beauty in it. That one fact. I had so much life to share and I convinced myself I couldn’t or shouldn’t.

So that drained my experience.

On that second month and a half, it was a Friday night, I completely gave up. An ultimate surrender.

Me, in all of my glory shadowed by my Creator’s; standing, gazing, reminiscent of the start of creation.

I opened my mouth to speak to my Father and my heart flowed out. Simple declarations, requests. One after the other, after the other. Fresh tears couple with my already dripping crown and showered flesh. Eventually, I couldn’t tell where the moisture came from. I call it the shower scene.

Pure, honest, open. It freed me; and it felt good.

It wasn’t until the last day I realized just how much I wanted to be invisible. As if my blackness didn’t make me stand out on top of my natural curls and kinks. It’s quite comical, when I think about it. I wasn’t born to fit in. I was created to stand out.

I realized that God, if he didn’t do anything else, wanted to pamper me and show to me how special I am to Him. Every detail, moment was planned out and thought of. I couldn’t believe someone loved me that much.

And on that last day, on the plane back to the place I called home, a complete four months had passed but it felt like just yesterday I was standing by la fountaine de la Rotunde and snapping pictures with my new-found friends.

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