Aix – Portrait 2 – Catarina

When I initially saw Catarina, she was talking and laughing in spanish with a group of three other latinas as they smoked together. It is true that one never finds a single latina. One finds a group of them. What caught my attention was the richness and sensuality of the Spanish R. It was pure effervescence. And the life with which these women spoke. There was an undeniable passion about them that came from deep within. In the blood, we might say. I imagine their blood to be the red of flamenco. Surging in a never ending sea of red waves.

Catarina’s gaze is disarming. Vulnerable and guileless as a child’s embrace, I melted into them helplessly. Her soft voice, tumbling locks, petite frame and devastatingly lovely heart-shaped face moved me, and I remember, when I decided to join into the conversation, how unfazed the group was. They continued the conversation as if I had never interrupted, making me feel instantaneously welcome. This barrier-less hospitality is something exclusive to the south americans. There was no hostility, no reserve.

They all were experiencing a series of administrative issues. We were all independent candidates to the university programme, so we all had dealt with our visa procedures, medical appointments, and everything ourselves. I will forever be thankful to this community, for if it be not for them, I would probably have never completed my visa validation, and wound up getting evicted from France. Neurotically thorough as I tried to be, I missed out that detail amongst the mountain of information that I read in the french official documents.

It was then that I also realised how differently the french administration treated citizens from various countries. Being Singaporean, my passport was a breeze to admit; I sent documents over once, to my bank, to the prefecture, to the medical insurance, and managed to settle my affairs within two weeks of being there. The mexicans and colombians, however, had to resend their documents twice, thrice, four times even, including translations of their birth certificates (never demanded from me). Basically, it was a nightmare for all of them.

My heart went out to them, especially Catarina, who seemed utterly lost and frustrated. I offered my help with the process, and that was when our friendship begun.

I saw the contradiction of Catarina. Guileless as she seemed, she certainly was not. She has an amazing history of social work in various NGOs. This woman is fearless. When she sees an issue, she dives in straight for it. Even if it meant displacing herself permanently and living in difficult conditions to do it, she would conquer the odds to do it. I saw a strength in her that I admired to the core of my soul. A generosity of spirit and genuine kindness and compassion for the unheard and trodden in society, that is so rare to find.

Her persistence ticks some people off as she asks questions about everything she was unclear about, questions that certain might not dare to ask, alway in her soft, but firm voice. In her quiet way, she was bold, beautiful and charismatic. I fell under her star qualities, and during the first semester, we were impossibly close, going out for drinks together, having picnics together, cook-outs together at Aby’s or my house.. a true latina, she was hilarious when drunk, and she knew how to rev up a house party.

I love how she is tone-deaf, yet sings her heart out when her favourite tunes come on. I love how self-deprecating, and bitingly honest she can be. I love her tiny hands and her guileless gaze, and I adore, above all, the goodness of her heart.