By Alexandra Paucescu
She is the kind of woman who enjoys life and embraces all the opportunities that it presents. Merry and kind, she spreads good vibes wherever she goes. Every day is to be lived to the fullest. Staying active is her way of life, and I am not joking about it… our first meeting started with a walk of almost 10 km through the forest, after which she still seemed quite fresh… me, not so much…
I discovered Paola Fornari, through Expatclic, a group where Italian speaking expat ladies regularly meet and share their thoughts and experiences while living abroad, sometimes thousands of miles away from their beloved homeland. Throughout her life Paola learned the importance of staying connected, getting to meet new people and discovering their own stories.
Life as wife of an EU diplomat taught her much. But she became a nomad of the world long before that. Because of her father’s job, she was born in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), went to boarding school in Kenya, later met her husband while they were both students in Edinburgh, after which they lived and worked in Ireland, Belgium, Barbados, Cameroon, Tanzania, Uruguay, Bangladesh and Ghana. They are now retired and divide their time between Brussels and Scotland, visiting their big family of three children and six grandchildren.
I guess she genuinely likes people. She tells me: ‘in every posting, I started by saying to myself: ‘’I know I have friends out there: I just haven’t met them yet.’’ And in every posting it was true. I mostly appreciated the opportunity to live for extended periods in different countries and to get to know people and their culture. Happiness, I believe, is a fleeting emotion. More valuable – more lasting – is fulfillment. I felt fulfilled in different ways in all of our postings, and that fulfillment came mostly from connecting with the people of the country in which we were living.’
However, diplomatic life can be sometimes stressful and complicated… ‘Before our first posting, my mother advised me to always ‘put on my mask’ in public. To me, the most difficult aspect of diplomatic life was finding the balance between wearing that ‘mask’ and being myself. It can be a lonely life, and the mask can get heavy!’
Her advice for young diplomatic spouses?… ‘Learn the language of your posting, even if it’s just a few words. Stay true to yourself. Find a private place where you can scream, if you need to.’ Good sense of humor all the way!
Paola studied Modern Languages and Linguistics and specialized in interpreting and translating. Later she trained as an E.F.L. teacher and an IELTS examiner. She tells me: ‘like many people who lead peripatetic lives, I learnt to reinvent myself wherever we were. In Barbados I designed an Italian course for people in the hospitality industry, in Cameroon I taught E.S.L. at my kids’ school, in Belgium I designed a Swahili course for beginners as a teacher training tool, in Tanzania I taught English to domestic staff and Swahili to diplomatic spouses, in Belgium, Bangladesh, and Ghana I was an IELTS examiner.’ She successfully succeeded to reinvent herself over and over again, constantly adding new facets to her complex personality.
While posted in Uruguay she discovered, quite by accident, her passion for writing. ‘Uruguay was our first posting without children. I wrote to my kids about my experiences and they encouraged me to go for publication. I joined an online writing group, did a couple of courses, and worked on entering competitions and getting articles into the most niche publications I could find. I managed to get published, for example, in ‘Practical Fishkeeping’, ‘Cycling World’, and ‘The Oldie’. I read some of her articles and I confess that I laughed heartily; they are wonderful, full of humor and vivid depiction of the places she once lived in.
This year she wrote a book, which will be published in November.
‘Leap into the Light’ is an account of her early years, long before her diplomatic life, and begins even before she was born, in 1947, with her father arriving to take up his first job as a doctor in Abruzzo. The title of the book came to her remembering her father’s own words. His move to Tanganyika with his young family in 1951 turned out to be ‘a leap into the light of an incredible experience, into a world light-years distant from ours, a world whose dimensions are so different from those in Europe, where one lives in another climate and another atmosphere’.
Depending on one’s attitude, Paola says, diplomatic life can also be a ‘leap into the light’.
About the author:
Alexandra Paucescu- Author of “Just a Diplomatic Spouse” Romanian, management graduate with a Master in business, cultural diplomacy and international relations studies.
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.