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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stop the Music!

Nora, 12

Nora is a student at the Princess Basma Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children. This is a school where children can receive both an academic education and special treatment for their disabilities. It sits on top of the Mount of Olives, a high hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. The halls and classrooms of the large white cement building are designed to make it easy for the children to move around on crutches and wheelchairs. The children use their various abilities to help each other down hallways or out to the playground—pushing wheelchairs or providing a stronger shoulder to lean on.

Nora’s classroom is down a long ramp to the basement.

I am from Beit Safafa, to the south of Jerusalem, in Palestinian territory. I am a Palestinian.

I have three brothers, but no sister. I wish I did have a sister. I sometimes think about all the things we could do and talk about. If she were close to my age, we could wear each other’s clothes. Then it would be like we had twice as many clothes. My brothers are nice, but they are all younger than me, and can be very noisy. They bother me sometimes.

I love my brothers, but they can sometimes give me problems, like the day when I went to shop by myself. I was born with something wrong with my legs. I’ve always been in a wheelchair. I get around in the chair just fine. The wheels are like my legs.

I’m not supposed to go out by myself because my mother thinks I won’t be able to move fast enough if the soldiers come. There are a lot of soldiers where I live. They watch us all the time. We can’t do anything without being watched by them. They carry guns, and they give me nightmares. We would like them to go away, but they don’t care about what we want.

The soldiers are always around, but sometimes they move into the streets, and then everybody runs to get out of their way. If they feel like shooting, they will just go ahead and shoot. They don’t care if they shoot at a child or an older person.

My mother is afraid they will shoot at me for not getting out of their way fast enough. I think I could throw stones like the other children and still get away quickly, but I can’t throw stones if I’m with my mother.

The streets aren’t always smooth, though. Sometimes, there are a lot of rough places where the army has blown something up. I can’t move my chair on my own over places like that. Someone has to push me. My mother doesn’t allow me to go out by myself, but I went anyway one day when she wasn’t paying attention.

It was fun to be out by myself. I felt scared that she would catch me, but it was an adventure, too. I felt brave and scared at the same time.

I went to the little shop not far from our house. I bought some chewing gum. My mother doesn’t like me to have chewing gum, either, but I like it, so that’s what I bought.

I made it back home without being caught. Everything would have been find, but then I told my oldest brother what I had done. I wanted to brag, I guess. My brother thinks he’s so great. I should have known better. He went and told on me to my mother. She lectured me in front of him, about how I should be smarter than that and set a good example for my younger brothers. I didn’t like that, but I did like the gum.

I’m usually late for school, but that doesn’t have anything to do with me being in a wheelchair. There’s a van that goes to Palestinian towns and camps and picks up the kids like me to come to the school here. We’re supposed to be let through the checkpoints because we have a special permit. Even if there is a curfew on, we are supposed to be able to get through, but the soldiers always hold us up. Even though they know us, even though they see the same faces every morning, they still ask us for our identification papers. They count all the kids and ask us a lot of questions. They don’t care if we’re late for school or not.

Many of the kids in my class come late. School is supposed to start at eight-thirty, but kids come in at all times during the morning. It’s hard to concentrate with kids coming in all the time. The teachers are often late, too.

We can’t go visit my grandparents. They live in a town in the West Bank, and the Israelis won’t let us go through the checkpoints to visit them. They live so close to us, just a few miles, but they might as well live far, far away. That’s what would make me happiest, to see my grandparents again. I haven’t seen them in over two years.

I know there are other children in the world who suffer a lot. They get shot at even more than we do, and they get sick and go hungry. Some day I’d like to do something to help them. If I had three wishes I would become a doctor and I would be famous, maybe as a writer. And I would be able to walk.

(Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. By Deborah Ellis, Groundswood Books, Toronto: 2006.)

My day started off poopy. Just one of those "why me?" days. Ellie's sick with a cold, and we had to get up early for the drive to Movement Centre physical therapy this morning. As I was brushing my teeth, looking at the still warm and oh-so-inviting empty bed in my room, I felt jipped. Why was I even brushing my teeth so that I could take my child to therapy, an hour away? Why was I even contemplating whether or not she was too sick to spend the morning working the muscles that don't function properly? The big question of my Tuesday morning off from work SHOULD be, "do we go grocery shopping or out for breakfast?"

I am thankful that these poor-me days are getting fewer and more far between. I used to feel this way often. Especially at the beginning, when Ellie was recently diagnosed. Time is a healer, and as my mommy-heart has mended (somewhat), the self pity has also resided. But, I'd be a flippidy-flipped liar to say that I still don't wallow sometimes.

I was still shakin' my booty at my exclusive pity party while at work in the afternoon. As I was going through the new shipment of books, I came across this one by Deborah Ellis. I was intrigued. So I opened up the crisp pages and began to read about a girl named Nora.

Nora's in a wheelchair. Nora probably had to go to physio therapy. Nora most likely saw many doctors in her short life. Nora's mom worries about her as much as I worry about Ellie.

But Nora's mom worries about more than how other kids will treat her daughter on the playground, or if it's in her daughter's best interest to receive botox injections in her hamstrings. Nora's mom worries about her daughter coming home from school ALIVE. Nora's mom worries about going grocery shopping with her daughter because she may be gunned down on the street.

The Travoltaesque dancing at my pity party came to an abrupt end. I closed the book and thanked little Nora, a world away, for her honesty. And smiled back at God, knowing that the timing on this shipment of books was no coincidence.