Who Is Your Life Partner?

Meron Kebede always looked for a man who was tall, muscular, rich and romantic when she was a university student. With her friends she was always on the hunt for the “perfect” man.

A couple of years back, before the coming of Facebook, she used to chat with different guys on Hi-5 and one guy somehow fulfilled her criteria. Looking at his picture, an above waist shot, what she saw was more than enough. He used to send her money for mobile cards and to buy this and that.

Her friends loved him and it was not only her but her friends who used to talk to him over the phone. Finally he decided to see her since the relationship was getting serious. They were talking about building a home together and how he would take her to Sweden. Finally he bought a ticket and went to Gondar to see her.

Once at Gondar University, he waited for her at the gate. At the gate what she saw was not her “prince charming” or the man she pictured but rather a dwarf man with crutches.

Seeing him she did not even want to talk to him, she ran back to her dormitory. After almost nine years she can’t forget how his face and how his eyes could not hide his feelings.

She told her friends and they had to go out and console him. If she could turn back time she believes she would have done things differently, justifying her “stupidity” with her age.

Forgetting the taboo associated with dating a disabled person there seem to be a number of criteria that have to be passed before everything. There seems to be too much of everything or too little, which gets in a way.

The ears are too big, he is too short, she is too fat, too poor and what not, which diminishes a decent person to a walking list associated it with a certain body shape or material things. The healthy are seen as courageous to do that and the disabled are seen as martyrs that should be sympathized with.

Solomon has been dating a handicapped girl for the past three years and among his friends he is seen as the courageous one. Everyone around him seems to admire what he does and sometimes he questions whether they would feel like this if he was dating a girl who wasn’t handicapped. Their introduction was sudden. With his friend they went to one government office and saw her. His friend was interested in her but did not know she was using crutches. Since she was sitting he only saw her face and upper body.

While the friend was asking for her number Solomon saw the crutches but did not say anything in front of her. After leaving the premises he told him what he saw and the friend did not want to believe it but after a couple of days the friend saw her walking. He did not want anything to do with her. After three weeks Solomon again went to her office and this time he properly asked her out.

They started calling each other and have been together ever since. Some mistake her and only notice “the crutches” nothing else. Trying to cross the street one-day, his sister in law one time saw them and asked him if he was helping her cross the street. When he told her she couldn’t hide how shocked she is.

“Her surprise was very vivid on her face but I guess I’ve gotten used to that,” says Solomon. They seem to take their relationship very slowly and he is still scared of introducing her to his parents even though he is planning to build a future with her.

“I know my parents will not be happy with her,” says Solomon. According to him, she seems to accept the taboo and everything but she is always scared whenever they are in an intimate situation. He is planning his future with her despite the family’s disappointment and says “love is about making sacrifices,” says Solomon.

Those with wheelchairs, walking sticks, crutches, and mental disabilities are categorized as “the un-datable”. For some disabled people this classification of the datable and un-datable is not acceptable, they chose to do what they want with their lives.

For some hooking up and dating is not an issue. Born visually impaired around the Kazanchis area, Gedlemichael has never seen himself as being any different from everyone around him. He says the start is accepting one’s self and acknowledging the existing stigma and discrimination.

Acknowledging this fact for him, the dating issue becomes a burden to women. According to him they are seen as one-night standers or the worst thing is that there is a high rate of rape. “Many of them are not married or in the case of the men, many of them settle down with their maids,” says Gedlemichael.

Married with a healthy woman seven years ago, he says he is one of the exceptions not the rule. He has a radio program entitled ‘one dimts’ (one voice) on 98.1 where he talks about these issues. Having a familiar face in the media helped him with his wife’s parents, where they welcomed him openly.

Many still face challenges of dating able-bodied people. Rahel Taye is one of the g characters, a mother of two who despises that idea. Having a disability makes you look at the world in a different way, makes you extra g and makes you face painful realities, which is what happened to Rahel.

She was told she could not work and run around with crutches but she did and she was told it was impossible for her to have a baby but she did and broke all the barriers. Still when she walks with her husband or when they were dating people would constantly give them penetrating glares.

Still she cannot forget the way the doctor stared at her and gave her such discouraging news, forgetting that even though she is disabled she could be a mother. He said to her, “why do you want to have a child in your case anyway?”

Determined to have a baby, she had two of them. Even though she does not want to reveal what kind of relationship she has with her husband, she says he supports her in many ways.

Scared of being rejected, many choose not to cross over and to instead date or marry their “own kind” but they who dare cross are still facing societal oppositions. Sometimes the opposition comes from the disabled family’s side as well.

Leaving her family, Dibabe Bacha came to Addis Ababa to live with her aunt. She only focused her energy into her education and heard some men saw her and other disabled women as “exotic” because they were different. They are seen a virgins, free from HIVAIDS and also very good in bed.

This irritated her and all her life she avoided questions of being with men. She could not resist the question of her now husband who is able-bodied. The challenge came from her aunt’s side who did not see the marriage working. Her attempt to refuse the marriage did not work, instead she gave birth to two children within five years. Being a social worker at the Ethiopian Disabled Women’s Association, her aunt still does not want to see her come to social activities such as funerals.

She feels like her aunt wants to hide her and somehow she has gotten used to that. For her the most important thing is the love of her husband and children. Within this, even though many fight it, sometimes relationships are changed into the caregiving type, which they might of course get sick of

. Born from a rich family, Mahlet Sheawaye was always against her parents’ rule. When she was in university she met a guy who she felt pity for a disabled guy paralyzed from the waist down. His car accident broke her heart, his fragile character attracted her and she fell in love with him.

Living in Ethiopia without access to restaurants was very difficult since many of the places do not have ramps. At first, dating him was okay, she resisted the staring, the discussions behind her back.

On his side he was a stranger to the dating scene, he was scared of rejection but she was there to encourage him. For her love was not about race, color, body or any other case so she did not allow the disability to be the number one defining matter, even though many did.

After some time the struggle started to become cleared and clearer, having to know all the right restaurants, ask for help and extra attention each time highlighted his limitations and showed her that she could not be with him any longer. She started getting frustrated and started talking behind his back. “This is not what I signed up for,” she would say.

Within all this, at first she did not tell him how it was embarrassing for her to always ask for accessible seats, ramps, restrooms and the space between tables. The things that did not bother her at first started to bother her, like comments about him being crippled and people asking her about their sexual life.

Looking at her life was what she felt was only a pity so he was a martyr case and finally she decided to leave him. Within all these challenges, struggling with society’s attitude seems to be another burden that made their life a living hell.

For Aychesh Molla, accessibility specialist at the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) believes an accessible barrier free environment is the first step towards fulfilling the right of people with disabilities to participate in all areas of community life.

She defines accessibility as a very broad term, which covers all aspects of assuring disable people can participate and have the same choices as non-disabled people can and have the same choices as non-disabled community members.

This includes access to transportation, election access access to water supply and sanitation technology access appropriate sources of communication and media to ensure information and an infrastructure that breaks down all physical barriers preventing equal access for disabled persons as the members of a community. Many of the educational institutions, buildings, and cultural centers lack what she calls accessibility.

Source : The Reporter

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