For professional mouth painter Faisal Rusdi, 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. 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.
“I met Cucu after such a long time. I greeted her with a smile and at long last, we became friends."
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?’” Faisal had been keeping his feelings from her for the past 24 years.
“I was a bit scared. Slowly, I turned off my computer and told her everything. 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!