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Hiba Essa Al Ateek: Strolling out
September 16, 2016
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Today is the day I take my six month  old twins out for the first time on my own. I decide to go to the Galarie Lafayette to shop. Very daring for my first trip, my friends think. I feel optimistic and proud of myself as we take the elevator and walk to the bus stop five minutes away.

I admire the “petits trésors” of Paris, the treasures of life as the French call it, each time the driver makes a turn. There is always a detail to notice. The lace embroidery on the lamp post, facial sculptures crafted on its buildings or the Eiffel tower managing to always peep through from an angle somehow.

We arrive at the magnificent Galarie Lafayette and I manoeuvre my way in a zig-zag path with the double side by side stroller to get to the entrance. I take the time to inhale the wafts of scents ranging from a burst of floral, then jasmine to suddenly welcome something else. The place smells foreign being filled with tourists but the occasional BCBG (bon chic, bon genre) French would be spotted.

People stare but I am used to that by now. Some expressions translate to “Aaww, how cute!” and others “Ooo la la laa! God help her” along with the famous hand gesture on the forehead. Or “A girl! And a boy! Le choix du roi!” (A kings’ choice or wish.) You’re done! Followed by sweet giggles and questions.

It’s 11am and I have half an hour before I need to go sit at the café on the first floor to feed the babies. I visit the Christian Dior boutique because I need a new cardholder. It isn’t long before my son starts to wail without warning. He decides he is hungry and he wants his milk bottle NOW! I leave the store with all eyes on my screeching baby and some heads shaking only to realise that the elevators were too small for my humungous stroller. By this time, I have no choice but to carry him to comfort him while pushing the stroller with my other hand. I’m excusez-moi-ing my way through labyrinth alleys of boutiques packed with excited tourists.

I spot a high stool by the Chanel makeup booth and ask the saleswoman if I may sit to feed my children. I do not wait for an answer when I see her hesitate. I hand her my crying baby and I get out two bottles, the hot water flask, water bottle and formula and prepare their milk so skilfully. I realise how awkward this scene is but have no time to digest it. A stranger stops to stare as I carry my son and plonk myself on the high stool. The stranger grabs the bottle to test the temperature and then claims it’s too warm for the baby.  She goes on to ask where was I from and then state flatly that my sleeping daughter looks too warm in her floral bonnet. I smile bleakly and thank her, too surprised to answer.

I decide I must head back home before another catastrophe occurs. My confidence plummets. Its only when I get to the bus I relax. That didn’t last long though. The French wouldn’t leave me alone. A lady feels the need to inform me that I should not hang any shopping bags from the handles of the stroller no matter how small or light. Another claims my bulky stroller was taking up too much room in the bus and two women stand close enough to compare the twins of which I could only pick out a few words. I have no energy to reply and decide to stare at my phone to avoid eye contact.

I rummage through my bag like a lunatic looking for my phone. “No. This can’t be happening. No, no. Please!” I must have been the easiest target. The out-of-place nervous mother of wailing twins in Galarie Lafayette. My phone and wallet are gone.

I walk home almost in tears only to notice an elderly couple approaching us with a soft smile. “Uh oh, what now? Am I walking too fast with the babies in the stroller? Are my babies too fussy?” I almost mutter out loud.

After the typical introduction, they state “You need to remember the moments during the hectic days raising them,” and suddenly all is well again. These kind strangers that didn’t judge, criticise or shove their opinions are blessings. We part ways and I think to myself, “We all need strangers to give us the little oomph to keep going.”
 
Hiba Essa Al Ateek is an Emirati woman who swapped the corporate world in Dubai for life in bustling Paris. Hiba is a self-confessed coffee addict who, for the remainder of her journey in France, is determined to master the French language and discover what it really means to be a Parisienne in the 21st century.

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