The Leaving Certificate was the storm I had been waiting for to hit for several years now, and the 8th of June 2016 was impact day. It brought with it all the destruction and devastation that had been predicted. My mental breakdowns and friends’ meltdowns were forecast in advance and inevitably unavoidable. We were constantly drained and temperamental, our parents unfortunately were used as punching bags once we had left school and didn’t have each other or our teachers to take our anger and stress out on. The supermarkets were constantly leached of chocolate bars and instant coffee and India’s tea business must have been thriving after 20 cups of the stuff were given to comfort any student who thought they hadn’t done well after an exam, which was all of us.
Somehow, we all managed to avoid being swept up in the hurricane of revision, tests and exam papers. Okay I know what you’re thinking, it’s a little extreme to compare exams to a hurricane? Well it’s like being in the eye of a storm. Somehow in the midst of all the frenzy and chaos around you it’s, not quite peaceful but… it’s still. You’re frightened because of what you can feel and see and sense, but it’s still and you’re your own and getting through somehow, not with a plan but just by doing so. If any of that makes sense.
See, the thing is the Leaving Cert isn’t just a set of grades you receive, they are your lifeline to college. You get allocated points, based on your grades, for example the highest grade, an A1, is worth 100 points, and the maximum you can get is 600, you sit 7 exams, but 6 are counted. You apply for colleges through a system called the CAO, and you’re sorted into college courses through that system based on how many points you receive, but that’s another story, for a different day. This story picks up after 2 weeks of exams, where a well needed rest was deserved and a new fear had set in- the results.
So, I headed to the Greek island of Kos to seek sanctuary in the hope of escaping my new founded looming fear and attaining Ireland’s one elusive element- sunshine. With every meal time featuring a buffet, and a steady supply of ice cream, my Leaving Cert weight gain diet was put on hold for a week, just so I could add another pound or two to the set amount to be lost. My time on Kos consisted mainly of lounging by the poolside. Although being scorched by the sun made me resort to what I like to call “shade- bathing”, I had the beautiful views of the Turkish coastline to enjoy. It was paradise.
It wasn’t long however until the illusion I thought was paradise quickly dissipated, and in its place, was the pessimism of humanity I went there to escape.
You see, it wasn’t until we were there that we became aware of the potential of Syrian refugees crossing through Kos in order to reach mainland Europe. During that time, the news reports were constant, even more so than now, streaming footage of stranded refugees, these victims of war, these people. The world was in shock and empathy for these poor people and shook their heads in sorrow and horror over what they read in their newspapers and saw on their TV screens and heard on their radios.
On the island, to my dismay, people recoiled from this gossip horrified by what they were hearing and addressed these refugees are if they were insects to be swatted at. I actually heard one woman complain how she “came here for a holiday” and wished they would “bother”, someone else, elsewhere. It was fine once reality was contained behind a screen or trapped in words on paper, but the world refused to face reality in reality. And it made me sad. And it made me sick. And it made me mad.