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. 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."
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."
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.”
Read about how Faisal and Cucu met in Part 1 of this post! And be sure to share the love story of this amazing couple to show how they overcame challenges in order to be together.