Signing Off

April 1, 2012

This is my 45th post. Apart from my introduction, the one where I had a writer’s-block, and this one, I’ve written about 42 different things. That’s 42 issues, concerns, experiences and memories that I felt I needed and wanted to get off my chest and share with everyone. I feel as if I’ve said everything I set out to say, and that I’ve done that to the best of my ability.

So with that, this is going to be my last post. My Facebook page will remain active; I’m always up for a good discussion. And if anyone wants me to stalk about something, let me know; I may return occasionally to write and about what you want me to, or about something that happens that I feel like writing about.

To be honest, I didn’t even think I would last this long. When I first started this I thought it would be really frequent the first few weeks, then every couple weeks, then every few months until eventually… “What blog”? But when I realized just how interested you all were in what I had to say, I felt for the first time that my opinion is actually valid and there is no need for me to stay in my shell any more. But in saying that, a part of me knew I couldn’t do this forever.

Although this may sound quite melodramatic, this blog has taught me so many valuable life lessons, the five most important ones being…

Lesson #1 –No matter how long you choose to keep up a façade for, people are eventually going to see through you. Open up, be yourself and people will respect you for it.

Lesson #2 – someone always cares. I always thought my experiences were insignificant compared to what other people go through. But if they have an impact on you, it matters, and it will matter to other people too.

Lesson #3 – if you open up to people, they will open up to you too. In this blog I’ve told stories that I’ve never told before. Because of that, so many people (some of whom I haven’t talked to in years, or ever) have told me things they’ve been through but haven’t told anyone before. In this way, you give people a safe space to open up and get things off their chest, especially when it’s hard to know whom to trust (in saying that, be trustworthy)

Lesson #4 – always keep an open mind. Try new things. Being open to new opportunities can change your life. Never in a million years did I think I’d have the confidence to be on the radio and write in a magazine

Lesson #5 – Nothing happens by accident. As Rafiki said, “the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it”

Now for the cheesy thank you…

Thank you to everyone who supported me this past year.
Thank you for joining me on this somewhat experimental journey.
Thank you for making me realize that I do have a say. When you don’t have what everyone else has, it is so easy to think that your opinion is less valuable than their’s.
Thank you for spreading the word.
Thank you for all the ‘likes’ comments and ‘shares’. That in itself is a confidence boost.

So, this concludes the weekly-blog chapter of my life. I hope you’ve all learned just as much as I have from this.

Peace, love and bless you all,
Latifa

Bullying

March 25, 2012

Bullying. I can write an entire thesis about this and I still wouldn’t be able to accurately project how I feel about it. I was never going to write about bullying, but I was inspired to after hearing about the “It Gets Better” campaign. It really is aimed at the LGBT community but it got me thinking about bullying in general towards all types of people.

If you are one of the few who have never been bullied, consider yourself lucky. You would be surprised at how many people feel worthless and humiliated at the hands of another person, or group of people. It is very likely that the strongest and ‘coolest’ person you know has been bullied in their life. Some people would say that bullying makes you stronger and that it’s almost a blessing in disguise. Some say that it ruins you for life. I would sit in the middle of this spectrum.

When I got bullied, it destroyed me and I think people underestimate the power of bullying. Especially now with texting and e-mails, they cunningly do it outside of school hours so the school cant get involved. Being called ‘fat’ and ‘weird’ and ‘a cripple’ and even ‘she’s probably pretending to have a disability just for attention’ is not something anyone can take lightly.

But that’s what I was told to do and now when I think back, the advice people give to those who get bullied is sometimes really silly. You can stand up for yourself, but only if you have the guts to. You can brush it off, but that will only take you so far. You can use it to your advantage, but only if you’re creative enough.

To look at the bigger picture, will there ever be a day when bullying doesn’t exist anymore? To re-phrase that and make it more loaded than it already is, will this world ever be fully tolerant? Will there ever be a day when people who are ‘different’ don’t have to justify their difference?

No one can answer that question. That is something that can only happen if this entire world turns into a fully tolerant one. That’s because bullying isn’t something that only happens on school grounds. A child can be bullied, an adult can be bullied, and a country can even be bullied.

My experience of bullying still impacts on me to this day. When I go out I still hear “you don’t know what people ACTUALLY think about you, they just won’t say it because they feel sorry for you” ringing in my head and those insecurities still exist. But on the flipside to that, I now know that people aren’t always what they seem (but not in the way that suggests I’m hostile towards everyone I meet)

To me, bullying is a response to the fear of difference, which seems to prevail in this world. The only way you can be ‘different’ is if you’re a minority. Minorities are an easy target whether it’s a physical ability, physical appearance, ethnic background, religion or even just a difference in upbringing. But the implication of being different is that you have something different to offer this world. It may not seem like this at the time, but later in life you’ll realize that having difference is far superior to being a sheep.

The Dreaded Future

March 18, 2012

I’m not sure what the best years of your life are meant to be. Some say high school, some say university, some say both and some say neither. I can’t make a judgment about that yet but I can say what my hardest year was.

It was my last year of high school, year 13, or form 7. The summer before I started that crucial year, every single person said pretty much the same thing – ‘study hard but enjoy it because you will miss it, even if you don’t think you will’. So that is exactly what I tried to do. It started off great and I remember thinking that they were all right, I definitely was going to miss it at some point. But mid-way through, that all changed.

It was that year when all anyone can talk about is his or her future. Everyone is deciding what university they’re going to, what they’re going to study, where they see themselves in ten years. I had never thought about it in such detail before. I guess a part of me knew that there was no point because most people end up changing their mind anyway.

I couldn’t help but be part of that hype. I started thinking about my future too, which was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. That was the first time it hit home that this wheelchair, this disability, is my future. I can’t escape it. I won’t be able to share in the same experiences as everyone else and what if I can’t get a job because of it? The more I thought about it, the more depressed I got about it but for some reason I couldn’t get it out of my head. It got to the point where I just dreaded going to school because I could think of nothing worse than hearing the careers advisor stress how you have to make a 10-year plan and start working towards it from now.

I would listen to everyone say, “I want to be a doctor”, “I want to be a lawyer”, “I want to be an actor”, “I want to be in parliament”, and all the while I didn’t even know how I was going to make it through the day. This isn’t an attack on the people I went to school with because there’s nothing wrong with having ambition and most of them will probably end up where they planned to.

But I couldn’t have ambition. I didn’t want to have ambition. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of having high hopes for myself only to find that what I had been told about the opportunities for disabled people out there, was a pack of lies.

What if people in wheelchairs don’t make it? What if there is no future for people like me? Is there even any point in getting further education? What if I try and try and give it everything I have only to end up being a cat lady on the invalid’s benefit? What am I going to tell these lawyers, doctors, actors and MPs at the reunion? I should just bypass all that drama and drop out now.

Of course no one knew I was feeling this. I was still at that stage in my life where honesty was bottled up and it was all about how well you could fool people into thinking you’re happy. All that anxiety has pretty much gone out the window now but now I think all that stress was a necessary step. It wasn’t until I started university that I realized there is a future out there for ‘people like me’. And if I hadn’t tried, I wouldn’t have known that.

Compromising Situations

March 11, 2012

I’m not sure if many people follow the cricket around here. To be honest, I only got into it at the end of last year when the Black Caps beat Australia in that fluke. Cricket was never really my thing; I’m not sure why. However, in the past couple of weeks I’ve started to take an interest and I have to be truthful here, I never thought a sport that is a minimum of 6hrs long could be so intense. But why I started to show an interest was for one reason in particular.

For four nights spread over two weeks, we entertained Hashim Amla, Wayne Parnell and various other managerial guys of the South African cricket team. When I told my cricket-loving friends they almost fell over in shock. This made me ashamed to confess that when I first heard they were coming to our house, I had to Google them to figure out who they were and what the big dealio was. A radical confession to make, I know. But after this I had to watch a couple of games to familiarise myself with these people.

Most importantly, I thought, “famous people are coming to my house, I have to be on my A-game because this is huge”. By thinking that I had to treat them like celebrities, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I think we were all star struck on the first night. No one really knew what to do. It was quite incredible seeing them on the television and then not long after, having them sitting on your lounge floor drinking tea. But from on we became more and more relaxed and we developed a friendship with these people we had only known of not long ago.

People say that at the end of the day, celebrities are just ordinary human beings who happen to be in a profession that makes them well known. That kind of flew out the window on the first night but the more time I spent with the cricketers, the more I realised this was actually true. And the more I think about it, the more I think that the way I hate it when I get treated differently because of my disability, that must be the way they hate it when people crawl over them constantly (theirs is on a bigger scale though of course)

But that is not the only thing I’ve realised. They taught me a whole lot about how to live life. Those cricketers were incredibly humble, down-to-earth and didn’t play the celebrity card at all. It was as if they have such a high status in the sporting world and are so well respected but they’re themselves all the time. This got me thinking about people who have influence, but abuse it. They behave as if they’re so high and mighty and they have the right to trample over whoever they want just because of where they stand in whatever “hierarchy”. It’s disheartening to know that people compromise their morals when they’re handed positions of power.

Having Amla and Parnell over and getting to know them was a great learning experience. They taught me that no matter who you become, you must never forget who you are. Whether you’re world famous or not, there will always be situations where it would be easy to forget about what is right and wrong but because it can be so hard, that’s the reason why there is nothing more rewarding than staying true to your morals and values no matter what.

We all have a bus driver story. Whether it’s one of those extra-happy ones that sing and chat to everyone that hops on board, or one of those that don’t say a word and frown the entire time.

Well, I think we can all agree that most of them are in the ‘angry’ category and if you think they’re grumpy just because they have to drive a large vehicle all day long, imagine their faces when they find out they ACTUALLY have to get out of their seats to help a wheelchair-user on board. I mean, it’s not like 9/10 people thank the driver as they get off to show their gratitude or anything.

Poor bus driver. It must be so annoying having to do those extra 10 steps after sitting on their asses all day. I mean, just look at what they have to do for us inconvenient “invalids”; get out of their seats, unfold the ramp, lift the seat in the wheelchair area, fold the ramp back up and then sit back down. Wow, such a marathon. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must be. But I guess I’m at fault for incorrectly assuming that because they’re driving a wheelchair bus, that it is their job to help a wheelchair get onto the bus. Silly me.

And then on top of this, I got told twice that they don’t mind if it’s a manual chair but electric chairs are safety hazards, and from now on I’m “going to have to find another way of getting to the city” (legitimate quote). And then to add to this, it’s funny how after I enquired about this to Maxx and NZ Bus, they assured me there was no such policy. If there truly was no such policy, I can’t think of any other reason as to why I almost got refused entry on two separate occasions and in the same week, I heard of another person who had the same experience. If NZ Bus tries to convince me one more time that it was a “one off”, the anger you sense in this post won’t even come close to measuring up.

Sarcasm aside, I don’t understand why the majority of them have this attitude towards people in wheelchairs who are genuinely trying to get on with their day in the same way as everyone else. And it isn’t just us, I’ve seen some of them be absolutely horrible to the elderly – not lowering it for them, not waiting for them to sit down before zooming off. Able-bodied people lose their balance for a split second when they start driving; imagine how it would be for a pensioner with a walking stick?

All we really want is independence and getting to where you need to be on your own is a huge test of independence. But in order for us to be independent, we have to depend on help from the rest of society. It’s a weird paradox but it’s the reality.

When I was about to start my first year at university last year, the hardest thing for me was the fact that I would have to bus to and from the city. It required an incredible leap in confidence and I’m glad I gained that. If I hadn’t I would have stopped catching the bus when I got called a “burden” and a “safety hazard”. To me, this represents that attitude that difference means vulnerability and if I had stopped catching the bus because of that ignorance, they would have won and I would have been the one that lost in the end.

Dangerous Assumptions

February 26, 2012

Last Sunday I had to break my Sunday blog-writing habit for two reasons. Firstly, it was my birthday and secondly, I was a bit tired from my 5-day long trip to Northland.

This trip was amazing. Paihia has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It rained for one of the days and even then, it still looked like a picture from a postcard.

Apart from one thing, wheelchair accessibility in Paihia is flawless, the people are super friendly and I recommend it to be a holiday destination for all. From a wheelchair-using point of view, I only have one complaint like I said and even though this complaint was a pretty major one, I can usually write a list of things that are not up to scratch from a wheelchair’s perspective when I go on holiday. And considering this town is a tourist town I would expect it to be perfect.

This quite-major mishap was the accommodation situation. A couple of weeks before leaving my mum did her appropriate research and booked a room that was wheelchair friendly, reasonably priced and in a central location. So, confident that we had a place to rest as soon as we arrived after a 4-5 hour drive we hopped in the car and got on the road.

Once we finally got there after one of the longest drives ever, we got to the hotel. We got given the key to our room and when we got there, there was a step to get into the “wheelchair accessible room”. After speaking with the manager on duty at the time, who was incredibly rude and didn’t even understand what the big problem was, we cancelled our booking and started looking for another hotel. The manager of the second hotel also said they had an accessible room and when we had a look at it, it was the same situation – a big step to get into the room. Third time lucky, however. That one was perfect.

I can easily say that this could be purely due to ignorance and people assuming that you can just lift it over the step. On a side note, this would be possible if I had a manual wheelchair, but I don’t, and electric chairs are impossible to lift. But this is more than just an ignorant assumption. The council approves this and that is why they can have these ridiculous rooms deemed ‘legally wheelchair accessible’. I can’t even begin to describe how shocked I was at this. How can the room be wheelchair friendly, if I can’t even get into the room? I don’t understand.

This proves my theory that in order for something to be ‘wheelchair friendly’, it needs to be approved by someone who is in a wheelchair. There is no way a person who is actually in a wheelchair, or has been in the past and knows exactly what provisions need to be in place, approved that stupidity. Any able-bodied person can say that its ok but at the end of the day, that’s a mere assumption and assumptions are never a guaranteed truth. And the ultimate thing that makes it even more stupid – shouldn’t it be obvious? Able-bodied or not, if the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about wheelchair-accessibility is “big step at the front door”, you should be worried.

A Second Chance

February 12, 2012

This time next week I’ll be celebrating my 19th birthday. The age of 19 seems to be that awkward age; you’re an adult but you’re still in the ‘teen’ years.

I never really knew how I felt about birthdays. But then again I guess I never thought about it so deeply before. On one hand its just another day, 18 one day, 19 the next. And on the other hand it has this deep significance, which is the reason so many people make such a big deal over it. I think I was in the middle ground, just like pretty much everyone. I celebrated it mostly for the attention (its not selfish, you do it too, admit it), loving the idea that this was MY day, while knowing in the back of my mind that there actually was something to celebrate.

I started to think about ‘birthdays’ after having a conversation with my grandmother about it a couple of weeks ago. When she asked me how old I was turning, I had to explain it to her the Fiji way – “finishing 19, starting 20”. This concept took me years to understand and I only just got it. (It also makes me feel old). Next Sunday I’ll be celebrating the completion of my 19th year of life and from Monday onwards, I’ll be starting the journey into my 20th year.

Now that I’ve got my head around this idea, I really appreciate the idea behind it. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it but it really makes you feel as if you truly do have something to celebrate on your birthday. It’s that notion that ‘you’ve made it’. In the past year you’ve been through all the crap this world has to offer, you’ve been through yet another year of ups and downs, you’ve been through another year of challenges, and you survived it.

So many people don’t. So many people don’t make it to the age that you’re at and that makes you one of the lucky ones. You have the chance to take all the lessons you’ve learned in the past year and take them with you to the next year where you’ll learn even more lessons. I forgot this. I forgot that my life could’ve ended at age 14 and I forgot that I was given another chance. I wasted so much time feeling sorry for myself and wishing things could’ve been different that I couldn’t even begin to accept how much I had actually gained. Up until a year ago, I refused to see it.

Maybe that just goes to show how much we fuss over the tiny details that we forget about the bigger picture. How many people texted you? How many people wished you on Facebook? (People who wouldn’t even know it was your birthday if its weren’t for good-ol’-Facebook).

Sure, it makes you feel a whole lot better. I remember on my birthday in year 13 I was complaining about how ‘this is my last birthday in high school where everyone at schoolp makes a big deal over it and from next year it will be in the holidays and it wont be the same anymore’. I’m not going to be self-righteous and say that I don’t care about that stuff, because when it comes to birthdays, we all do.

I’m not saying not to take advantage of the one day of the year where everything is about you; everyone needs to get spoilt once in a while. But don’t forget the real significance of it.

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