“A challenge that made me choose a different path”

Very often in life, you find yourself at a crossroad. Up to you to make the perfect decision at that time. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances can show you a path that you never would have thought about before. Most of the times - but not always -  you may have the choice to stay in the same situation as you know it, but life won’t get better that way. It’s a status quo. Nothing to gain. No progresses to make.

When you choose to follow a new and unknown path, the road may be very bumpy. The first few days or even weeks you will have doubts. You will miss those small little things you got used to in the past. Things that may have been left behind when taken that different path.
Think back and remember the feeling of excitement you felt when you made the choice.

“What did I just do?”

I was only fifteen. We were at my grandparents. It was a yearly tradition to meet at my grandparents place for All Saints Day and New Year’s day with the family. I can say that my grandmother was ‘The Don’ of the family. My grandfather was quite small, always had a tie on and with just one glance he could quiet us children. We couldn’t be too noisy, run around or put the music too loud. It was as if he didn’t really like all the commotion. He was pretty strict as opposed to my grandmother. She loved long talks and her family close to her. On those days we had a nice meal and we always knew in front what it was going to be. Tomato soup with meatballs followed by rabbit with prunes and croquettes.

As my grandparents lived in an apartment, there were two tables covered in two different but adjacent rooms. One for the grownups and one for us, the ‘kids’. We all recognize this scenery, don’t we? I guess that was my grandfather’s luck, as then he could enjoy a “quiet” meal.

It was at All Saints Day and we had just finished the main course. Mostly, my cousins and I, then went out for a walk in the park nearby, some of us smoking cigarettes secretly. We all got some pocket money to go and buy some candy. But that day I stayed in. I overheard the conversation of our parents. Actually it was a discussion. They speculated about a possible upcoming crisis and unemployment.
“There’s no such thing as unemployment”, I all of a sudden just called above the conversation. All heads turned into my direction. I was invited to join them at the table and found myself at the doorstep only twenty minutes later. My oldest cousin who had her drivers licence had to accompany me. I had the assignment to find a job within the hour as soon as we parked the car in the centre of the city.

‘What did I just do?’, I heard myself repeating to my cousin. She just kept on laughing all the time. It was cold as hell and businesses were closed as it was a holiday. What were my options? I was angry and thought that the assignment was unfair but I was not planning on giving in. Especially as they all were so convinced that I would fail. How can a fifteen year old kid be right in an adult discussion?

We started walking in the city. Clothing stores were no option as they were all closed. The only option left was the catering industry. I had never applied before, let alone just step in somewhere and ask if they needed someone to join the team.
When I entered the first restaurant, I was scared as hell. Me, ‘Miss. Big mouth’! I think I was even stuttering. I was so nervous, but determined to bring this challenge to a good end. I just needed to convince my family that unemployment didn’t exist, and that if you really want to work, there’s always something to be found.

I had never expected this turn in life

It was about forty minutes later, when we were in front of the fifth restaurant. I was losing faith and started to feel the taste of defeat coming closer. They served international dishes: African ‘Moambe’, Muskrat, Crocodile, Sushi, … It was all on the menu. I can still remember the special smell of exotic herbs as we entered . The waitress asked me to have a seat, while she called one of the owners. It took the owner hardly five minutes to offer me a job as a dishwasher during the weekends. My first shift would be on Friday evening, straight after school and on Saturday evening. He copied my passport in order to get the paperwork done, we shook hands and I left.

I remember how proud I was. Not only I had accomplished the challenge, I had the courage to walk in and ask for work! We immediately went to the closest phone booth and called my grandmother to inform her and the family that I had found a job within the hour.
Once we got back at the apartment, I was interrogated about my adventure. They wanted to know every detail. When I said that I wouldn’t go to work on Friday, that I only wanted to get my right, they all were surprised. The following ten minutes I only received counter-reactions. I had at least work that first weekend, as I had made an agreement with the owner. It would be disrespectful to not go to work. After the weekend I could decide whether to stay there or leave.

And so, instead of having fun with my friends after school on Friday evening I ‘went to work’ . And, I kept on going to work for the following three years! I was promoted to waitress after only two months, when I turned sixteen. After a while I was in charge of placing orders, drawing up the work schedule, some administrative work, …
I had come into contact with the catering industry and I just loved it! I was feeling independent from that first moment on. I had my own salary and studied at the same time. I could save money, buy clothes and I even bought my own brand new car at the age of eighteen. I then left for my adventure in the Ardennes, but always kept in touch with the owners. Occasionally I went back during the weekends to help them out.

How a statement can just give your life a total turn. I got to know the father of my children over there. I was only twenty when we started up our own business together. I had never expected this turn in life. Sometimes great opportunities are hidden in unforeseen circumstances or coincidences. Just accept them with both hands and dare to leap.

© Vicky Drappier

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