It was June 1992. I had been selected to attend a French exchange programme in Reunion. I think there were 10 of us state school P6 students who attended. For some reason, I remember it being dark when we landed back in Seychelles after the two-week exchange. I am not sure whether it was actually night-time or if the ‘darkness’ is symbolical of what was to come. As we made our way home from the airport, my mother informed that early the next morning I had an entrance exam to sit for a scholarship to attend the International School. I remember feeling nauseous. I hadn’t told her yet that while in Reunion I’d had my first period. I had also come down with a terrible flu. But I knew that none of that would get me out of what they had decided for me. I recall bits and pieces of that next morning. I specifically recall fighting back tears while I attempted the tests. There were two papers; English and maths. I wasn’t prepared – obviously. The threatening tears though were due to how unfair I thought the whole thing was. I felt like I was set up to fail something I didn’t even want. I’m not sure if that makes sense.
A phone call a day or two later confirmed that I’d scored the highest marks in my category (there were three) and that I was to come in for an interview. At that point, I had started to come round to the idea of moving school. I was aware that my parents were not very keen on the idea of me eventually attending the National Youth Service. My older brother had not fared well being away from home and given his account, I had understood that they were unlikely going to send me there. International School, which up until was not open to Seychellois students, was really the perfect solution. So, there was some excitement for that interview. I recall sitting with the two other girls afterwards while we waited for our fate to be pronounced. I got in. SBC, or maybe it was still RTS then, came. It was a big deal. 11-year old me got to tell the country on national television how proud of myself I was. It was a great day, albeit short-lived.
September 1992. I not only moved to a new school but my life changed – dramatically. I am not exaggerating. No one prepared me for what was to come. Few people know of the anguish I endured for the first few years. To say I was different from the other kids would be laughable. I dressed different, I spoke different, I wore my hair different, the content of my snack box was different and my account of weekends, when Mondays would come was also, very different. My salvation to an extent, was how oblivious I was to how I didn’t fit in. For a while, I thought everyone around me were strange. I suppose that helped me cope with the fact that no one wanted to be my friend. I did eventually catch on.
Prior, at Mont-Fleuri primary school I had been the exemplary student. I don’t think I ever scored less than 98/100 for any exam. I was a right teacher’s pet – I have to admit that. I was confident in my academic abilities and everyone around me had decided I was going to be a lawyer when I was older. 1992 was also the year that Mathilda Twomey appeared on our television screens in drafting the country’s new constitution. I recall being told I was opinionated like her. No – I am not trying to blow my horn here. I am just trying to paint the before and after picture as honestly as I can.
And so I took my ‘anything less than 10/10 is unacceptable in a test’ attitude to International School. It did not help the awkward newbie in anyway. In fact, I quickly realised that it made things worse. It added to the ridicule. So, at some point, at 12, I decided that I had to sabotage my grades to not get any unwanted attention. That would be the start of my academic downfall. I describe it as such because with the exception of an exam once in a while I never managed to become an A-student again. Over the years I applied enough to get a decent grade and that became the goal. That was it.
My ‘different’ made me an easy target. Except for one or two foot trips when I would walk by, none of ‘it’ was never physical. I must make that clear. ‘It’ was almost always verbal. I think it was clear that I was harmless and that I would never answer back and reciprocate any of it. To be honest, I have forgotten the exact words and the looks, though as we all know, you never forget how you felt – yes, that will always be there.
Things started to turn around I would say in the last two years. New students would come. Some liked me and through their friendship I gained enough confidence to slowly come out of my shell. To some extent I think I had become part of the scenery as well. Maybe there was no thrill anymore to throw daggers at me. I certainly was no threat to anyone. All the other girls were far prettier than me – at least that’s how I saw it. Funnily enough, the first ever tennis lesson at PE comes to mind. It turned out, much to my surprise that I was somewhat of a natural. I remember someone picking me to be their partner in the next tennis class. I think that was the first time it had ever happened. At 15, I was also finally allowed to pick my own clothes and shoes. I will always remember the person who told me my shoes were nice. I think the fact that the memory is significant and even to this day, manages to make me smile, says everything there is to say about what I went through and how I felt.
So, where am I going with this?
I have not felt defined by those three years. I mean my God, if they were the price I had to pay to earn the life-long friendships and the husband I have, I would do it again. Easy perhaps to say, given that the devil is not about to appear infront of me to make such a proposition. I find myself revisiting those years because this year is the one where my son turns 12. That same age I was in 1992.
Let me go back five years.
I think Reece must have been around 7 years old when it dawned on me that he was ‘that kid’ that for a long time in my early years I had longed to be like. Perhaps, to phrase it more honestly, ‘that I had longed to like me’. He was a popular kid in school. He was both academic and athletic. Some girls already fancied him. Funny, it was. But it took me 10 seconds to decide that I had to make sure he was aware of those who struggled – those who had a harder time. I felt he had a responsibility to do that. I insisted on it. I didn’t realise at first why it was so important to me. But then, he joined International School a year ago and something triggered some of those memories. It all eventually made sense. It’s not that I want him to be an ally for those who need it, I need him to be. After all these years, I know that I will never be able to escape the trauma of what I went through. But raising a kid who I wish had been around then, who could have made things a little different for me – that is how I heal.
Inferior. Inadequate. Unworthy.
If you have ever been made to feel any of that, I dedicate this one to you.