They Stick to Me like Magnets
Naeem was born in Bangladesh and came to this country just after turning six. I first got to know him six years later when he wrote an autobiographical essay for a newsletter I edited at the time. We didn't actually meet, however, until I interviewed him two years later, when he was fourteen. The story below is based on that interview.
In his autobiographical essay, Naeem wrote about what it was like for him as a child with cerebral palsy living in Bangladesh. "I got limited care," he said, explaining that there weren't many opportunities and facilities for kids with disabilities and that only a few hospitals employed physical or occupational therapists. Additionally, "there was no equipment, so I had to be carried an hour's walk to the hospital each day to get exercises for my cerebral palsy problems." When our interview began, I asked Naeem if he remembered anything more about being a person with a disability in Bangladesh. Specifically, I wanted to know if he thought he'd been treated differently from other people.
I was grateful because my family's very knowing and loved me very much.
So they treated me like everybody else. And most people who I was around
and am around now treat me the same way. In Bangladesh — I can
remember bits and pieces — I had a really big family when I was
out there, and my parents always got me outside, always did things
with me. Even though I was, like,
I do a lot of speeches and talk to people about disability and different issues when I can. At my mosque — I'm Muslim — I talk sometimes, or when a person just comes up and asks me, I can talk to them. I also talk at different functions. Like there was a function about a year ago. I had to talk about Islam and talk about my disability a little bit. I had fun doing it, but the ultimate thrill for me is that most of them I think understood me a bit better. I think that's the main joy in it for me. It's, like, whoopee! they understood me and can take me seriously.
I think almost everyone that I've met, if they really get to know me, they stick to me like magnets! Or I help them out, they help me out. Y'know? Like, after I meet someone, they open the floodgates, should we say. So I think making friends is really easy for me. But there's always been like one or two people that didn't really wanta know me. Because some kids or teenagers or whatever are really tentative about, y'know, talking to people who have a little bit of a disability or look weird to them or are not smart as they are. In those situations I just talk to them, do different things, and, hopefully, the friendship will develop. Or if not friends, he or she gets to know a little bit more about me so he won't feel like I'm a stranger to him or he's a stranger to me.
I really think my attitude helps me with that. I think I have a really good attitude towards my disability. I mean, I just try to do the best I can, and my parents help me with that process. Some people have said to me that they know someone with sorta the same problem or disability that can't handle it that well. I guess most adults with cerebral palsy or any other disease like this really get fed up because they have to deal with it for the rest of their lives and they've been dealing with it for a while. Sometimes even to me, I get fed up, too. It's certainly not easy. 'Cause let's face it, for cerebral palsy there's really no cure other than exercising or doing what the doctor tells you to do, y'know? Occasionally you can have surgeries or what have you, but there's no permanent cure or anything. And after dealing with it for so long, you can get frustrated, like with any other thing in life.
Like sometimes, when some kids really don't wanta be that open, if it's a really nice person and they don't wanta get to know me, that can get really frustrating for me! But I just think it over or talk to my parents about it and usually, after a while, I keep pushing on the button so much that they have to open the doors. That can really be a thrill — making friends that really don't wanta be your friends at first. It's like climbing K2 or any other big mountain you might find.
I hafta really push myself a lot harder than any able-bodied person would, just to get myself up and, like, play a sport or do a activity or something. People have always told me that most of the time I'm really persistent in whatever I'm doing. I think in most cases, if you're persistent, you'll eventually get there. It might take you much longer than it would take an able-bodied person, but you can get there eventually. I mean, just knowing that really helps me on my day-to-day life and experiences.
In the last year and a half, I had three surgeries, and for the first twelve, twelve-and-a-half years of my life I didn't have any. Surgeries are a very hard thing to come back from. And after having three surgeries in a year and a half, I really had to have a lot of persistence to come back from everything. I think one of my main achievements and what makes me happy is that I have my parents and my uncles and they really helped me. Like, I always know there's someone back there just in case I topple.
My parents try to teach me whatever they can about Islam. It gives me courage to know that, and I try to help them as well. Like sometimes, kids won't be open towards something, and I try to be open most of the time. But sometimes, say, you're doing a sura — that's one of the teachings of God that God sent down to us — or you're reading something from a book about Islam. For a grownup, it's really easy. But sometimes, learning different suras, to get one sura right, you have to do it over and over and over again. I practice each and every night before I go to bed. My mother sits down with me until I go to sleep. I've been doing it since I was a kid, so sometimes it gets a little boring! But I think that's where my persistence helps me a lot.
I just think because my parents teach me — and even when I don't wanta learn, they kind of push me to learn — in the long run I know it's really gonna help me. The stronger belief I have in different things — like education is really important, religion to most people is really important — I think it will give me a lot of courage to face the rest of my life to know that those two things are firmly in place. Education is important for jobs or anything else, and Islam is just a belief in your soul that you have something, and if you can just hold onto it, it really helps through adversity in your life.
Living with a disability, sometimes it gets hard because some buildings don't have wheelchair or walker accessibility or whatever. And I think that really needs to change. If restaurants or all buildings had more of that, more people with disabilities would come out to them and really go in. I think people high up need to try to be more aware of people with disabilities. I know they're trying to be — I'm not criticizing anybody or anything — but maybe try to be, like, a little more aware. And people with disability always, I think, have to try to let their voices be heard a bit more. Y'know, my parents always tell me when I don't tell them something, "Tell us what the problem is or what's going on, or how we gonna help?"
On a last note: I think in their daily lives, people with disabilities
have to have hope. Because sometimes we all have bad days, but if we really
have hope and couple of people that we can really depend on, we'll eventually
get through it and we'll be able to use our full potential.
Linda Hillyer, compiler and editor of Listen to Our Stories
logo art by Adiyana Paramita
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