September 2012 was not a very good month; the tasks to carry out were many: preparing and cleaning the carpets, preparing the supplies, preparing for school and university, as well as dealing with the Syrian crisis, which left none unaffected.
September 2012 was not such a bad month; Mayas was walking one of the vital streets of the Tartus Governorate. He was walking fast and, despite his slightly wobbly steps, he did not fall.
A woman stopped him for a little while, her extra weight did not prevent her from running towards Mayas – that young man with staggering gait and very simple clothes and body. She headed towards him with some money she wanted to give him.
The ‘Zakat’ (charity) seemed to be one of the best ways to get close to God, and everyone needed to get close to God during that period. He took the money with a smile and walked away silently.
Mayas Salman, a young man with a disability, from Tartous governorate, Sheikh Badr district, Al-Nuwaiha village. Lack of oxygen during childbirth changed the life of this young man and let him with a mobility impairment. He could move, but to a certain degree, which made him face repeated rejections and made him feel broken.
“ “The details of my childhood are a bit fuzzy. I was always trying to walk, but what I remember the most are my first steps and my first falls. I might hurt my feet a little, but I was standing and walking again”.
Just like any other child, he laughed, played, screamed, run and fell. His laughter could differ slightly from the laughter of other children, but the joy he felt could not hide itself. This happy child was the explorer preparing to enter school until three men came to his father and forcefully said: ‘there is no need to teach him, why send him to school?’
Many things lose meaning when you do not discover them yourself, especially when it is something that is related to you. You may know a lot about yourself, and others may ignore a lot about you, and others again may know something that you do not know yourself.
The school presented some difficulties for Mayas. His entire community gave him a hard time. ‘Between myself and I, I do not feel my disability, I do not feel that I am different from the rest of the people in my community, but I cannot overcome the idea of my disability when interacting with society.
,’I was thinking…is this disability my problem? Or is it the others who consider it a problem?
But as Mayas got older, his community – the village of Nuiha – became more acceptive of him. The whole village knew him by then; maybe it was due to his academic excellence, or maybe because of his family trade business of vegetables and grains, or maybe because of his disability.
This was not important, the important thing was that he could walk in the streets without receiving the astonished looks he used to receive, nor looks of compassion; but Mayas did not know that he was about to enter a new stage, in a new and diversed society, and did not realize it until he became part of it.
The university community was very new to Mayas, and the looks were new too. He felt he was not welcome and that it was not his place even though he fully deserved it. Holding the university books in his hand and showcasing them while walking along the halls of the university did not help, so even if he became a student of the Faculty of Law he felt as if he was not worthy of it.
To meet the fewest passers-by and avoid the looks, he used go through poor neighborhoods, running in tunnels and garages to enter the university and learn like his peers.
This went on for a while, and as it was usually the case for this stubborn young man, he decided to challenge the situation. Day after day, he thought of walking at the heart of the university paying no attention to who was looking at him or how he would look, because people would always look. It did not matter whether they would look at him or at anyone else, he should let them look as much as they wanted, as it is better to care about the people we know, rather than those we do not know.
After Mayas graduated from law school, perfectly on time, he started thinking about what every other young person of his age thinks about, connection and emotional stability. He always dreamt of having a big family and settle in the village he used to live in.
We often use the word “but” in many of our conversations, talks and attitudes in life. Mayas found it in his quest for stability as well. The first experience was a constant challenge for him; the first experience in anything: school, university, travels, work and love.
Finding the right girl could be easy, approaching her, thinking that one day there could be a family and marry her was quite more difficult. Satisfying the family of this girl though would be much more difficult, especially when they saw him as an imperfect person who cannot manage his life. They reject you without even give you a chance to express yourself.
Mayas was in his third year of work in the financial directorate of Sheikh Badr district. His house was fixed, and his land was ready for cultivation. Nothing was missing, but the looks he received were the same, those that accompanied him during his growth, study, graduation and work. Looks did not change, but they would change from one person to another.
After many similar situations, Mayas abandoned his dream of getting married, which he still hopes for now and then, but he no longer chases and pursues.
Perhaps Mayas’s disability prevented him from living many of the moments that people without disabilities could live, such as cycling, playing, drawing, playing football; and moments of love in his teenage years, but it allowed him to have other more distinct moments that won over them, such as feeling the pride of his teachers, his effort and academic excellence, the feeling of winning any challenge he would face.
Mayas’s accomplishments are many, the last of which was his entry into an effective integration camp. “Ashar” camp was an unparalleled experience for him. Individuals from different backgrounds and cultures, with disabilities and not, lived together 21 days sharing every moment: moments of boredom, happiness, work, food and entertainment. From this point onwards, Mayas began to believe in his cause again, working not only for himself but for every person with a disability in his community.
If birds would stop flying…could this deny their nature of being birds? Would it mean that they do not eat, reproduce or sing like birds?
We are born naked; with no identity, religion, name written on our forehead, attribute, or anything else, and over our lifetime we gain a set of characteristics, behaviors and issues that we wish to fight for…But sometimes we are already born with a cause and decide to defend it fiercely as well.
“So…Mayas Salman, a law graduate in the third decade of life, a community activist in the field of rights of persons with disabilities, an employee of the Finance Directorate, count many accomplishments and reached goals. I refused the rejection that I faced and became a more productive actor.”
My story could be the story of all of you if you let your voices speak up.