Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mouthpainter shares story of love at first sight (Part 2)

This article was first published on AbleThrive. Read Part 1 here!


One evening when they were working late in the office of their organisation, the Bandung Independent Living Centre, Indonesian mouthpainter Faisal Rusdi finally confessed his feelings to his childhood crush, Cucu Saidah. He had been keeping his feelings for his colleague and soon-to-be-wife to himself for 24 years.

When asked to describe what he loves most about his wife, he said candidly, “I liked her thick eyebrows. She is beautiful, very intelligent and she loves me.”

A year after dating, they decided to marry. But first, they had to break the news to their parents. “My mother and my family were surprised, overwhelmed and happy,” said Faisal, who is based in Bandung, Indonesia.

However, Cucu’s parents did not like the idea of them being together. “They tried to keep us apart, to the point of keeping her at home,” said Faisal. “I think they considered me severely disabled and unable to take care of myself.”

Through one of her brothers, Faisal tried to communicate to her parents. “My uncle and my family approached her family to ask for her hand many times but we were refused.”

Increasingly stressed and frustrated, Cucu grew distant from Faisal, who struggled to accept the reality of his situation. “But her love for me became stronger, and for me as well. We kept trying, and praying and consulting with many people,” he said.

Eventually, they decided to solemnise the marriage through a legal procedure that overrides the bride’s need for a wali, or guardian – the closest male relative – since her father was against the marriage. Finally, the religious court granted them a wali hakim, or a judicial guardian.

“We still invited her parents and family to the wedding, but not one of them attended. Only my extended family and our friends,” said Faisal.

Faisal and Cucu in traditional wedding outfits from Padang, West Sumatra, enter the accessible reception hall on their power wheelchairs during their wedding in Bandung.

After the wedding, the couple continued to reach out to Cucu’s family and their efforts eventually paid off. “Eight months later on Idul Fitri [a celebration after the fasting month of Ramadan], her parents started to accept us slowly,” he said.

Faisal and Cucu were married on 30th November, 2008 in Bandung. As his parents were originally from Padang, the couple chose to follow West Sumatran customs and traditions for their wedding. Naturally, since both Faisal and Cucu are electric wheelchair users, the event hall and wedding dais were designed to be as accessible as possible.

The wedding was just the start of a relationship with unique challenges, which widens the common but narrow conception that the daily work of marriage only involves two parties. For example, Faisal hires a regular caregiver. “The role of assistants/caregivers who help me in my activities is extremely important, and I do not deny it,” he said.

“An assistant [knows] the technical and ethical aspects of accompanying a person with disabilities. He is a good friend who understands me well, and is part of my life. The presence of an assistant completes my independence.”

While the couple strongly promote a definition of independence from their perspective – that includes the presence of an assistant and not solely the ability “to manage oneself” – they still have to deal with society’s misconceptions of their relationship.

“[People think] that we are not able to manage a household, be physically and financially independent, or not able to have or raise children,” said Faisal.

As for their marriage goals, Faisal and Cucu look towards helping their broader community as well. “Both of us want to own or start an art restaurant or cafe where people can come to not just eat but communicate, educate and advocate about an inclusive community.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mouthpainter shares story of love at first sight (Part 1)

This article was first published on AbleThrive


For professional mouth painter Faisal Rusdi, 41, who was born with cerebral palsy, love at first sight isn’t simply a cliché.

Faisal first saw his wife, Cucu Saidah, on his first day at a special education school in Bandung, Indonesia. It was 1983, and back then there was a flag-raising ceremony every Monday. Cucu was standing just a few metres in front of him – she was leading the ceremony.

“In that moment, I knew I liked her immediately,” said Faisal. “Perhaps we could say it was love at first sight, at nine years old.” However, Faisal’s nine-year-old self was “shy, reserved and quiet.” Throughout the four years of elementary school, he never even greeted or spoke to her. Later, Cucu continued her secondary education at a mainstream school, while he remained at the same special school. They occasionally met each other at school reunions, where they had brief conversations. “I still felt the same as I did. I liked her, but I kept it to myself,” said Faisal.

To take his mind off her, Faisal threw himself into drawing and painting. In 2002 he was part of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA). The next year, Cucu returned from 10 months in Japan, where she had been following a leadership training on independent living. She began to apply this philosophical knowledge through events and workshops. Faisal found himself at one of these events, at the insistence of a friend and fellow painter.

‘Why, Faisal jealous ya?’

“I met Cucu after such a long time. I greeted her with a smile and at long last, we became friends,” said Faisal. Together with her friends, Cucu invited him to work in her organisation, the Bandung Independent Living Centre (BILiC). Faisal soon replaced Cucu as the head of the organisation as she had accepted a job in the US, although she soon returned in 2004 to BILiC as a consultant. As they continued working together, Cucu had no idea that Faisal’s feelings for her were growing stronger by the day.

One day in 2007, they were working late in the office – long after their colleagues had left. “As we worked, Cucu chatted with me and I don’t know why, but I told her that I had once dreamed of her walking with some guys that I knew. She replied jokingly, ‘Why, Faisal jealous ya?’”

“I was a bit scared. Slowly, I turned off my computer and told her everything,” said Faisal. Cucu was surprised, because he had been keeping his feelings from her for the past 24 years. “I made her promise to not get angry, to not make fun of me, or to tell our friends because I felt embarrassed.”

Confessing his feelings to Cucu was the easy part of their courtship. Faisal soon had to overcome many other obstacles before he could marry the woman for whom he had fallen at first sight – at nine years old.

Read more about what Faisal had to overcome to marry the love of his life in Part 2 next week!


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