Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The 50-year-old Malay version of "Yes, we're trying for a boy"

L to R: My mum (daughter #3), daughters #4, #2, #1 and in front, #5
Today, we take so many photos of our kids on our phones but we risk losing them all once our devices are down.

When I look through old studio photographs like this, I think about the monumental effort it must have taken to get all kids fed and dressed and out the door. Arrive at the studio at an early enough time so everyone's not cranky yet. Get everyone to look at the camera at the same time.

Well, at least one little girl snuck in a funny face.

This photo of my mother and her four sisters dates from around 1956. Waitaminnit, did you mean three sisters and a brother?

Well, my maternal grandparents wanted a boy so badly that Salamah, the fifth daughter, got dressed up like a boy until she started school at the age of seven.

The one and only boy, Mustakim, came after two more daughters, followed by one last daughter, making a grand total of nine children that survived infancy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Inspiring the able-bodied, one day at a time.

Meet Siti, a heroine rising from the ashes of mainstream media representation of people with disabilities (PWD).

Siti suffers from ignorance around her medical condition which has a scary sounding scientific name. Thanks to her various mobility aids however, she is able to overcome public pity and discomfort to gain dignity and autonomy.

With the help and assistance of her caregivers, she triumphs over her limitations and accomplishes essential everyday tasks such as showering, getting dressed, eating and going to the toilet.

Because you think she probably also has mental limitations because she does not speak, look or act like you, she often suffers from patronising treatment. She fondly recalls one fancy dinner where the only thing a Very Important Man said to her, speaking very slowly and loudly: "The food OK for you?"

Everything she does is special and/or inspiring: from abovementioned daily tasks to getting any level of education or having a family. More inspiring is if she can travel from point A to point B by herself: not many possess the courage to find a stranger to press the lift button that is either too high or blocked by a trash can.

Few are able to handle the adversity of being stuck in the rain waiting for someone to pass by and pick up her dropped phone. Even rarer still are those who can keep their patience when a car blocks the ramp from her house to the road.

But Siti pushes through, day by day.

Most inspiring of all is if she is better than you in anything -- art, science, sport, procreation or religion -- because you think that anyone who has the use of their limbs should be able to be better at everything that PWD can do. This is Siti's biggest obstacle: eradicating the belief that she can only reach her full human potential if she was able-bodied.

When she's not busy being patronised, she occupies her time with helping able-bodied people feel better about themselves. She stops them from whining about their shitty lives because at least they can walk/see/drive/go to the toilet by themselves. She also inspires them to do more with their lives because of aforementioned abilities.

She helps out the well-meaning ones the most. She inspires them to create an excessively humble but uselessly hollow self-image by calling themselves things like "more disabled than the disabled". She helps them feel generous by thinking they can't even do what PWD can.

Most importantly, she helps them feel altruistic because they can raise money by dancing and singing, instead of dealing with the sticky and difficult tasks of fighting for social welfare, making public and private spaces accessible, or creating safe and decent paying jobs beyond peddling small goods on the street.

When asked about the most important thing others should know about her, she shrugged and said simply: 
"If able-bodied people can be seen as complex human beings, be portrayed with dignity, and not have mobility aids overshadow their actual talents, we can do it too! Never give up!"


This is satire, obviously, written from the limited perspective of an able bodied person who grew up with a sister with a disability. "Siti" is a generic Malay name, not unlike Jane Doe.


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