I grew up in a gated mining town where I was isolated from the world. Because of the mining company, the public school attended had better facilities than most public schools in my country. There were plenty of textbooks. There was a library full of books. The schools had everything.
I felt safe to walk through the streets at night because of the street lights. Since permits were required to enter the town, there were fewer people coming in town. This, for us, meant lower crime rates.
During my teenage years, my mother went back to university to further her education. Since she lived in a small apartment near her university campus, I went to live with my grandparents in their village. I attended a local junior secondary school (junior high) which was different from where I grew up. First, the classes were larger, and the buildings were rundown from years of vandalism. My new peers borrowed everything, pencils, sharpeners, anything. Most of them could not afford uniforms and had to bear the harsh winters since the principal did not approve of anything that was not the school uniform.
It made me uncomfortable to see people struggling while I had everything I needed for school. It was a shock. We were all around the same age, yet there was a wisdom in some of my peers’ faces. They had experienced more hardships than I could ever imagine. It made me feel spoilt. And I quickly grew out of the selfish, only child mindset and learned how to share my resources.
In addition to this, my grandparents lived near a bus rank (bus station). There was a constant bustle, with people either living or coming into the small village. There were constant attacks. Thefts. Harassments. The crime rate was high. At one instance, a young woman escaped her assailants by running straight into our house since the door was open. My grandfather kept it open because he wanted fresh air. This prompted my grandfather to put locks on the gates. I became paranoid. Every time I walked in the streets, I looked behind me to check if someone was following me. It was probably my own footsteps.
By luck, I ended up in a private school for my senior secondary school years, the equivalent of high school. I was in boarding school, so I was gated in again. I was safe from the outside world. I could walk freely within those gates. I could wear what I wanted within those gates. I felt lucky within those gates.
I was around “rich kids” during those years. They are not the selfish people who tv likes to portray, they just grew up having more. At times, I found myself longing for the things they had and their ability to travel the world. I was impressionable. I forgot about how lucky I was and how far I had come.
That school opened a lot of doors for me.
Now I live Australia. I attend the University of Queensland on a scholarship. My monthly allowance greatly exceeds the minimum wage of people who live in back home. The university is amazing, advanced. Everyone has a laptop. Everyone has a phone. The internet is fast. Everything is fast. It is a normal way of life for people around me, they are used to it.
Here, I can walk in the street as late as 12 am, from the school library, and feel safe enough to walk, at a normal pace, from the bus stop to my apartment. Nothing is in the dark.
There is a sense of wisdom at having experienced this change. I was content. Now I feel lucky. I keep reminding myself to be grateful and to appreciate where I am. I keep reminding myself not to get used to it. Not because I feel as if it will not last. I never want to forget to be thankful.