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The Lesson of Hardship

’’Hardships and difficult situations in our life serve us and are meant for us to find happiness through them.’’ – my fraternal grandfather used to tell me in my childhood.

I love my body. I truly consider it perfect, as it is. Its “imperfection” makes my body perfect. It is such a good feeling to move the way I want- freely. My body has taught me so much. It has taught me willpower, persistence, and belief in myself. I have experienced the world, its invisible, and visible aspects in a unique way.

New year – new life. On the 2nd of January, 1979, I made a decision in my mother’s womb that it was time to leave my mother’s safe nest and experience the real world so the birthing process started. My mother was taken to the hospital, where it turned out that her doctor was not on duty. Therefore, another doctor on duty was asked to help my mother give birth, however that doctor resisted. He gave tranquilizers to my mum, despite the fact that I was already in the birth tunnel, where I was stuck, due to the tranquilizers. As we were in the middle of the process, the doctor saw that he could not intervene and he could not make this process slow so, after a while, he gave another injection to my mum which would accelerate the birthing process. After I could get out of the birth tunnel, the doctors sensed that there was something wrong with me, since the color of my face was blue. I was immediately taken to another hospital, which was equipped with incubators and it turned out that I had swallowed water in the womb and had gotten pneumonia. I stayed in an incubator for one month.

Despite the fact, that my parents took me to regular check-ups, during which several, different doctors kept telling them that everything was fine with my motoric skills, when I was 6 months old, my parents revealed that there was some motor deficiencies with developmental coordination disorder on my right side. At that time doctors working in Hungary were not familiar with disabilities and they did not know how to deal with this condition, as they were not trained on the different types of disabilities. Therefore, my parents took me to a Children Hospital specialized in children with motoric skills disorder where the doctors diagnosed my hemiparesis on my right side. My parents took me to special physiotherapies, and I was 2 and a half years old when I gained outpatient admission to the International Pető András Institute headquartered in Budapest dedicated for special education for the physically-impaired people where I attended the special education sessions (physiotherapy) three times a week for 16 years. Besides the International Pető András Institute, my parents took me to swim, to another type of special physical education, to acupuncture, special physiotherapies, massage and from the age of 4, also speech therapy, as I had a lisp.

At that time, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the majority of disabled people were segregated in the Hungarian society, they had their special institutions where they studied, they could be hardly seen onboard the buses, trams or metrocars. Wheelchair users were not able to use buses, at all, as no dedicated space was designated for their wheelchairs on public transport vehicles. Disabled people were invisible in the society. Despite the situation, my parents decided that I should attend the integrated nursery school, kintergarden, primary school and high school, however at that time it was extremely rare. Only a tiny percent of disabled persons attended integrated schools.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, neither children, nor teachers were prepared for how to treat these “special” children. At that time in Hungary, this topic was even not on the table, as most of the physically- visually-hearing-impaired children were taught in segregated schools. My very first memory I remember about in my childhood is that I was sitting in the integrated nursery school, watching howmy mates were playing. I was out of that circle. Except for some of my supporting teachers, most of the teachers did not believe in my accomplishments and results since they thought that I was also mentally-challenged, despite the fact that I was not; they kept telling me and my parents that I would achieve nothing in life. They kept telling my parents that I would not be able to walk, talk, read, would not be able to learn and have a degree. Several of my mates in kintergarden and school made fun of me and bullied me and they kept staring at me. Only some of my kintergarden and primary-high school mates had disabled relatives so they knew this condition, hence they accepted me. It is interesting to mention that after one of my teachers told my parents that I would not be able to read, my parents decided to have a special tutor for me who would teach me how to read at age 7. After two months, I did read and won the First Prize on a reading contest held at my primary school. Since I was a diligent pupil, I enjoyed participating in different school contests. I was a pretty good student and my willpower led me on the way. I had pretty good grades in school and even won an IQ test.

In my high school, in the ‘90s, my headmistress kept telling my parents and me that I would not be able to finish high school, let alone have the school leaving exam or attend a university. She created this opinion based on my physical, and definitely not based on my mental, condition and she did not want to believe her eyes that I had good grades even in high school.

Attitudes in schools and at home were very controversial. I was raised in a very warm, accepting, helping family. Both my parents and grandparents and my brother encouraged and helped me. They have always said that I have more capabilities and competencies compared to what the teachers kept telling us.

As I already mentioned, I had a lisp and speech disorder due to my disability on my right side. I was seven years old when the American cable channels entered the Hungarian media market. I was surprised to learn that the Americans pronounced words the same way, as I pronounced the Hungarian words (which was considered a speech disorder in the Hungarian language) and I thought that the reason why I pronounced the Hungarian letters the way the Americans pronounce their words is that I am truly American so I asked my father to teach me my “real mother tongue”. I fell in love with English immediately. I started to dedicate my time, my energy more and more to English, besides physiotherapies, swimming, acupuncture and speech therapy. I even attended an English language course and learning English contributed to the improvement of my pronunciation a lot.

I was 20 years old, in 1999, when I went to London to immerse myself into British English and culture. That was the first time when I experienced in the British society that people outside of my family circle could treat disability in a positive, accepting, tolerant way. That was the time when the British people showed it to me that we can see the physical-impairment in a positive way and even tolerance and positive attitudes can be practised towards this condition and towards physically-impaired persons. They taught me that I am not less than the others; I am only different. It was a milestone and had so much impact on my life. By that time, I had a crush on the English language and identified myself with English. At that time my British experience just grew my attachment to English that much that I decided that I would dedicate my life to it. Since then I have gained two degrees in English: I acquired my first diploma on Teaching English as a second language and my second diploma on English translation in the field of social sciences and started to work in the fields of translation and international relations. I translate mainly technical documents and also texts that deal with success and psychology.

Since then, I have been to the US (in 2006) where I dealt with American-Hungarian relations, I have been granted a scholarship to the European Commission- Directorate-General for Translation (in 2011) where I was translating internal documents, made interviews for the Ministry of Internal Affairs with US expats about their assimilation in Hungary, have translated EU tenders, written psychology-related articles and have participated in equal opportunities campaigns (between 2000 and 2010). Besides English, I study Spanish for which speech disorder is extremely beneficial. I can already be part of a community very easily, people accept me completely and they like the fact that I am very optimistic and cheerful.

Since then my pronunciation has improved and is perfect and only my right hand is strained. Apart from my right hand, the movement of my whole right side is the same as that of my left side. I have attended Irish and Greek dance clubs, rock’n’roll courses, danced African dance and zumba, which improved my motoric coordination to a great extent. I enjoyed the African dance a lot, which developed my feminine side, as well. When I was dancing the African dance, I felt some deep attachment to my feminine power and body, some spiritual energy that helped me overcome the hardships.

I had to learn how I can gain self-confidence and self-esteem in a society where disabled persons were either invisible or had to fight against many facets of discrimination. I had to learn how persistent I am, that my love for English, my ambitions, my willpower and my faith in myself are much stronger than people’s superficial opinions (judgements) about me. It was a long road that I had to take, which I had to go the extra mile. I had to find my inner power source.

It was after Hungary’s entrance to the EU (2004) when situations and circumstances of people with special needs started to be discussed in Hungary, since also an EU regulation prescribes that equal opportunities must be ensured in every single field of life and also at organisations in every Member State, thus Member States must participate in equal opportunities this way or the other, buildings and stops must be accessible for disabled people and this topic must be discussed in social terms. Since then, disabled people or people with special needs are treated equally and supported in Hungary. During my university years (after the year 2000), I could sense that there was already some progress in the Hungarian society in this field and people have become open towards “special” people: I was given a mini tape recorder, with which I could take notes on the class more easily, while my visually-impaired classmate received a special laptop from the university. At that time there was a lady working at the university’s Human Resources department who dealt with students with special needs and we could turn to her in every way if we had some obstacle.

My paralysis has been my biggest teacher: it has taught me that we can always develop, physically, mentally and spiritually. We must find all the potentials in our life, no matter what, believe in ourselves, and ignore what other people tell us about our capabilities. People can sense only snapshots from our life, they cannot see how persistent we can be, they cannot sense our willpower or potentials in the greater picture. My paralysis taught me that we should not judge people because we cannot know what is behind the surface.

As far as I think, people with special needs are not disabled people because they can be worse at some field of life but they can be much better at another field. I am not good at math but I have special capabilities for languages, communication, human relations and I am very social sensitive. I am more sensitive to social issues and to different subcultures.

Every person is different this way or the other. While one person is good at one field, the other person is good at some other field. People motivate and teach each other both consciously and unconsciously. As far as I think, it is extremely important to reveal what those potentials are that a disabled person is good at.

In my case, my experience in London at age 20, the British people’s tolerant, accepting attitudes and my commitment to my “other mother tongue” led to my real profession and calling. To achieve this, I needed to experience the exclusion, my willpower, the British people’s tolerant attitudes, my inner potentials, love, the attitude-related, behavioural controversy between my family and the Hungarian society in this regard and my hard work done physically and spiritually because these are the reasons why I have become the person I am now.

We must never ever give up. Every hardship and difficult situation in our life teaches us and develops new skills. Without my paralysis and the discrimination I experienced in Hungary and the positive attitudes towards the physically-impaired persons, I may have not chosen English and English translation. I love my profession, as I can truly dedicate my time, endeavour and energy to my part of self, which was found at the age of seven when the American cable channels entered the Hungarian media market.

’’Hardships and difficult situations in our life serve us and are meant for us to find happiness through them.’’ – my fraternal grandfather used to tell me in my childhood.

Lesson learned

My paralysis has been my biggest teacher: it has taught me that we can always develop, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We must find all the potentials in our life, no matter what, believe in ourselves, and ignore what other people tell us about our capabilities.

People can sense only snapshots from our life, they cannot see how persistent we can be, they cannot sense our willpower or potentials in the greater picture. My paralysis taught me that we should not judge people because we cannot know what is behind the surface.

About the Writer

I am Ms. Melinda Mondovics, and I am an optimistic people person who is passionate about life. As far as I think, challenges in life are meant to develop through them and happy moments are to enjoy them. I love cooking, getting to know different cultures, reading, talking to friends, dancing, and traveling. Life is a present and we must get to know it to the fullest.

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