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Dunia’s Way Part 2: First Day?

Part two in Raya Al-Jadir’s young adult series sees our heroine off to her first day at a ‘regular’ school.




The day had finally arrived!


This was the day that I have been dreading since spring term. Isn’t it strange how you make a decision with full determination, then as the days pass, you begin to doubt the choice you have made and even fear it? That was my exact situation, I wanted to go but I would much rather stay; it took me months to be accepted by my peers at my special needs school. Contrary to popular belief, disabled children are no different to non-disabled ones. They too can be mean, mischievous and prejudiced! To be fair, I too didn’t think disabled people were like that either. When I started FDR, I naively had a rather romantic, be it distorted, view of being welcomed by these angelic figures who were just like me, but I learnt quickly that people are people regardless of ability, and human nature takes precedent over anything else. I was shunned by everyone because I did not speak a word of English and no matter how hard I tried, no one wanted to play with me. I soon found a little tree in the playground that I sought refuge under as I didn’t want anyone to notice that I was a loner, and I certainly didn’t want any pity.


The tree gave me the protection that I needed and at the same time allowed me to observe the playground dynamics and understand the pupils behaviour. I discovered then that I was not the only one who got shunned – other English-speaking students were too. It took me a while to realise that the reason for their exclusion was ironically their disability. So here is how it works: the more severe the disability, the less likely you will be welcomed into the cool and popular group, and if your disability is of a visual or cognitive nature then you have no chance whatsoever! It was a cruel environment, more so than anywhere I have ever experienced. I guess it hurt more because the people who I thought would be the most understanding and compassionate were equally as prejudiced as non-disabled people.


I was determined to break that mould and enter the exclusive world of the popular gangs. In the space of six months or so, I achieved my task and became friends with nearly everyone in the entire school – it was a small school, with a total of 80 students. I worked hard to learn English, read so many books, watched TV to pick up the accent and had extra tuition just so that the language barrier could be eradicated, and I succeeded. Why did I fear this high school then? Surely it would not be that bad, I was fluent in English by then, some even said I had a British accent; I was mentally prepared for what might occur, and essentially I was more aware and confident.


Yes, I am fine. It was just last minutes nerves I guessed. Also it was good I reminded myself of that bad period. As much as I loved FDR, I would not make it something it was not nor idolise it, yet with all its faults I would always love it for being perfect for me in its imperfect way.


The beautiful thing about Walford High School was that it had a link with a special needs school that was on the same campus, so basically along with all the other disabled students I would be registered under John Chilton, the special needs school, but integrated into the high school. It was the best of both worlds. I had tried mainstream school and a special needs one and each had its faults but now they were combined, a balance that was equal. I thought I would be OK.


The bus arrived to pick me up from home, and I felt both nervous and excited. We had to wear a uniform, but I doubted the other students would be wearing it on the first day, so I decided to wear the best clothes I had. After all, I wanted to make a big impression and look presentable. Well that was my first and biggest mistake. As soon as my wheelchair was on the bus lift and I began to see the other students on the bus, I realised they all had their full uniform on and I was the odd one out, but it was too late – I was on the bus and the driver was starting the engine up!


There were two girls on the bus: one a wheelchair user, and I couldn’t tell the exact disability of the other as she was already seated. One of the girls was very friendly and chatty, in fact she didn’t stop talking which began to irritate me as all I wanted to do was stay quiet, study my surroundings and decide what to do about my non-intentional rebellious act of not wearing the uniform! But that girl just wouldn’t stop for a minute to give me a chance to think in silence. We picked up another wheelchair user, the only boy on the bus. He was a weird mixture of both nice and mean qualities, but it was too early to judge. Anyhow, I could not concentrate with the non-stop chatter of that girl, and my anxiety was like a jelly in my mind that keeps bouncing around, not resting.


“We have arrived,” the bus escort announced, and the driver began offloading the wheelchairs, one after another. Once I reached the ground, I was greeted by our integration year teacher – basically the teacher from the special needs school who would help us to integrate fully into the mainstream high school. She looked at me and said, “Did you not get the school induction letter?” to which I nodded. It took her a while to speak, or maybe I thought she was taking her time, but she put on this patronising kind of tone and went on to say that “I know what you are wearing is very pretty, but this is a proper school not like FDR and rules are rules – they apply to everyone, even if you are disabled. You are no exception and must learn this. We will not treat you with kid gloves – this is a proper school and…”


I switched off after that last word as I was trying to stop my tears from coming out. I had already messed up once with the whole uniform fiasco, I must not make the situation worse by publically crying! How dare she belittle FDR? Has she ever been there? Does she know any of the teachers? NO, NO, NO! So who on earth does she think she is to pass such a sweeping judgement in her superior ‘we are better attitude’! FDR was a million times better – at least the teachers were kind and gentle.


I wished I were there right then, I could just envisage in my mind Mrs Vincent and Mrs Altoft welcoming all the FDR students back from their summer holiday with a big smile and hugs. I should have been there instead of this cold and snobbish place, listening to this bitter woman who was clueless about my school yet had the audacity to attack it and assume that I was after special treatment as though that was what I was used to at FDR! Did this woman realise how ignorant she was in reality?


That was it. If I had had any doubts before, I had now made my mind up! I detested this new school along with its teachers and students, and I would not be coming back. Nothing was worth all this misery, not even being educated was worth tolerating such attitudes!


No, I didn’t care. I would not be returning the next day; no matter what mum would say, I would not come back. But how would I endure the next six hours?




Raya Al-Jadir is an English degree graduate from Queen Mary, University of London, where she also received a Masters degree in Renaissance Studies and is currently researching for a PhD thesis. She is a freelance translator, writer and proofreader. Her main interest is promoting disability awareness, especially amongst Arabs and Muslims and is the founder of Careless – a disability awareness page. www.accessless.com