Sunday, April 08, 2007

Marley Makes Swiss Teen's Dreams Come Through

Marley makes Swiss teen's dreams come true
All Magalie Billod ever wanted was to visit the birthplace of her idol
BY KERRY MCCATTY Sunday Observer staff reporter
Sunday, April 08, 2007

BOB Marley made 18-year-old Magalie Billod's dreams come through yesterday. The late Reggae icon passed away eight years before Magalie was born, yet yesterday he proved that he still has the power to make women happy. In life he did it through music, and yes, charm. But even in death, he continues to keep people happy the world over through the legacy he has left behind.

So powerful is that legacy that 26 years after his death, this young Swiss girl - who is the first to admit that she did not understand a word he sang initially - travelled thousands of miles to experience that legacy first-hand.
Two years ago, then 16-year-old Magalie made one wish from her home in La Neuville, Switzerland - to visit Bob Marley's home country.

Eighteen-year-old Swiss national Magalie Billod (centre) poses with her parents Marlene (left) and Claude-Alaine, who arrived in Jamaica Friday on Magalie's granted wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation to see Bob Marley's home country. (Photos: Joseph Wellington)

She began living that dream yesterday thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which specialises in granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Magalie wrote a letter to the foundation, explaining her passion for Marley's music and her desire to see Jamaica.
"I explained exactly what I wanted," Magalie told the Sunday Observer yesterday.

Within six months, Magalie, who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disease in which the muscles gradually weaken, got a phone call that her wish had been granted.
"I was very surprised and excited," Magalie said, her face lighting up as though she still had not gotten over that initial surprise - even though she was sitting in the cafe at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

Since Magalie arrived in Jamaica on Friday, she has experienced many firsts. She had her first taste of Jamaican beer shortly after she landed. But she got her first real taste of Jamaica yesterday with a visit to the Bob Marley Museum.

Among the other items on Magalie's itinerary, which was organised by My Tropic Escape, is a visit to Tuff Gong Recording Studio, the kite festival in Seville and a meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. She will also get a chance to visit Marley's resting place in Nine Miles, St Ann.
She will spend a week in the island.
"It's [being in Jamaica] incredible," Magalie said. She was sitting with her parents Marlene and Claude-Alaine, and her hosts from My Tropic Escape, Imani Duncan Waite, Stewart Wanliss and Robert Alexandre.

Before she departed the airport in Geneva on Thursday - the day Magalie turned 18 - the Make-A-Wish Foundation presented her with a special Bob Marley birthday cake.
There was a buzz of French and English around the table yesterday morning, for while Magalie speaks fairly good English, her parents don't. Alexandre is their translator.
But Magalie wasn't always an English speaker. In fact, when she just started listening to Marley, who died in 1981, she never understood the words.

"First I never used to listen for message or lyrics, just for the music. Then I learnt English, and listened for message. Then I wanted to see his country, where he has grown," Magalie said.
Now, she listens to other reggae acts, including some French artistes and Burning Spear, who she has seen in concert in Switzerland.

Magalie and her parents travelled for more than 24 hours from Switzerland to Jamaica. In fact, mom Marlene admitted that she had concerns about geographic distance when she first learnt that her daughter's wish to visit Jamaica had been granted.

"It was her wish and she wanted to go, but I said 'Oh, it was too far,'" Marlene said.
Because of her illness, she is not able to walk. But she uses a four-wheeled, moped-like machine to get around.
The affable high school student says she has many friends who will definitely be hearing more about Jamaica.
"I'm going to tell them about the trip and take some gifts," Magalie said.

Magalie and her family will leave Kingston today for Breezes Runaway Bay where they will spend the duration of their visit.
They will return to Kingston and see the Tuff Gong studio before they depart next Friday, and Duncan Waite hinted that there might be a Marley surprise in store for Magalie.


See You in Jamaica