The most suspenseful Monday I have ever experienced was the first Monday that I attended at my new school…

Some background first: I  attended a type French immersion program in Quebec called a “classe d’accueil” meaning “welcome class”. This is an umbrella term for classes that take place in a normal French-speaking high-schools that help newcomers to Quebec (who don’t speak French) acclimate to a new type of culture and become fluent in French. People who attend these welcome classes are typically refugees and/or immigrants in search of better opportunities whether in health, education, or general quality of life.

So far I had been at my new school/welcome class for about a month and had met and befriended so many incredibly kind, funny, and amazing people, yet as many know, no matter how nice the people can be, the first week of a new school can be rather difficult socially, especially finding somewhere to sit at lunch.

This was where my suspenseful Monday truly began. Luckily for me, a girl from Egypt (who turned out to be my closest friend as I continued on at my new school) asked me if I would like to join her for lunch. 

Grateful to avoid the awkwardness of obvious seat searching, I agreed and brought along a deck of cards. As her English was better than my Arabic, I taught her a game while we ate. The game was called Egyptian slap and in retrospect, I should have changed the name, because as soon as I said it, she gave me a pointed look and told me that this, in fact, “was not an Egyptian game”. 

After eating, we started to play, adding the occasional slapping hand hitting the table to the noise of the cafeteria. As my new friend adjusted her cards, I took the time to take in the scene around us; hundreds of kids eating lunch at rectangular plastic tables, conversing in at least 50 different languages. Everyone was joking, laughing and eating. I looked at the table across from us and briefly made eye contact with a girl who smiled at me and then looked away.

The card game continued for another two minutes when simultaneous to a particular loud slap on the table, the distinguishable thud of something hitting the concrete floor caused a momentary silence to creep over the cafeteria. Then, all hell broke loose – in rapid-fire French – which I guess is just regular hell?

Teachers flocked to the table across from us and huddled around the girl who had smiled at me moments before. Tables and students alike were pushed away to make room for her still body, and I was yelled at to get up and leave.

The cafeteria was then evacuated and I was forced from my stunned daze to join the stream of confused students being escorted out. On my way out, I could see her legs, khaki pants, and shoes, black converse covered in pink stickers, sprawled and motionless. 

Five minutes passed and I was still trying to process what had just happened with the fragments of French I could understand. Suddenly, I was shoved against the wall by a student to make room for the paramedics to rush past. 

I assumed they would take her straight to the hospital, but instead, they took out medical equipment including some type of blade and placed it on the table next to her. What was about to happen became quite apparent to me and not something I wanted to witness.

The bell couldn’t have come sooner, and the mass of shocked students and I started the long walk to our next class.

I wish I could say the horrifying parts of my day were over, but sadly they were not. It was the comment my new friend made to me right after the bell that horrified me the most…

“I have seen bodies in the street before, enough that this does not shock me, I remember seeing one girl in an alley like this”… and she proceeded to demonstrate a sprawled body, with arms at awkward angles.

What troubled me even further was the way she said it so… nonchalantly … Yet this might have been my imagination as her English was still a work in progress.

And with that, she turned away, and the day continued.

It was at that moment on my first Monday of my new school that I realized how different life could be from my own and how much I had taken such basic things like; safety or being surrounded by my own language for granted… and I guess that’s my confession, I had been so blinded by my own privilege for so long and didn’t see how safe I was before until that moment.  I encourage everyone to try and push themselves to be in a new environment or situation so unlike your own to realize what others experience on a day to day scheme.

Zara Gounden

About Zara Gounden