Gazan defies handicap to live life to fullest

In steely defiance of his handicap, Abu Lubda mastered host of hand-centric skills: ping pong, learning to paint, making handicrafts.

ping pong Gazan_311 (photo credit: The Media Line)
ping pong Gazan_311
(photo credit: The Media Line)
GAZA CITY, Gaza – Abdul Qader Abu Lubda is walking down the street in his n Gaza City neighborhood one afternoon this week. In one hand he has a sheaf of papers perched precariously between his palm and two short fingers. In the other, two stumpy fingers are holding a heavy bag. But Abu Lubda doesn’t look or act like he’s struggling.
Along the way he is smiling and greeting neighbors and acquaintances. When someone stops him with a question, he easily puts down his load and takes a pen and piece of paper from his shirt pocket, confidently jotting down words with the pen positioned between his two fingers. In a minute, he is back on his way.
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Born with a rare condition that left him with two deformed and short hands, each with only two fingers, Abu Lubda doesn’t just handle the ordinary challenges of day-to-day life with ease and aplomb. In a steely defiance of his handicap he has mastered a host of hand-centric skills, mastering the game of ping pong, learning to paint and making handicrafts. And, in a society that looks down on the disabled, he has found a wife and is father to four children. Now, he is taking on a college degree.
“You were shocked when you saw me carrying heavy bags with two fingers,” he tells a visiting reporter. Heavy set, with dark hair and a trimmed beard, Abu Lubda fits easily into the Gaza street scene by his looks and dress. “You should have seen me carrying my children when they were toddlers. I even held two of them at a time in each hand.”
The ease with Abu Lubda, 34, copes with his disability belies the many years be spent struggling to overcome his physical limitations and more importantly the psychological blocks to accepting who he was and what he could or couldn’t do. In a part of the world where suffering and redemption are usually framed in political terms of the Palestinian struggle against Israel Abu Lubda is rare instance of a Gazan whose challenges were intimately personal and physical
“I went through a phase in my life when I lost touch with reality. I was doing everything a normal person can and was even doing much more sometimes. I didn’t feel disabled,” he recalls. “I was angry when someone would label me as disabled. But then I learned the lesson, if you want to overcome your disability you should accept it first and not deny it.”
Even today, it took convincing to get Abu Lubda to tell his story. “I’m not extraordinary, you know. I’m just like everybody else, I just worked extra hard on myself.”
Life in Gaza – a tiny enclave of 1.5 million people, impoverished and cut off from the wider world by Israel’s embargo – but Abu Lubda and others with physical handicaps must also contend with social stigma placed on them. While more and more services are available from organizations like the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), many grew up without the help of trained professionals and families with the knowledge and resources to help them. Abu Lubda serves as mentor for many of them.
Basel Muqdadi, 11 years Abu Lubda’s junior, was born with the same condition. The two were introduced two years ago and since then, he says, Abu Lubda he become his mentor and inspiration. “When I met Abdul Qader I was blown away and immediately saw him as my role model,” he told The Media Line.
“It’s hard to be young and disabled, especially in Gaza,” says Muqdadi,. “People either judge you or show you pity with little consideration to your feelings. No matter how amazing you are at the end of the day you are called ‘disabled’ by your friends and family and by your society.” 
Abu Lubda was born in 1977 in Rafah city to a poor family that already had five children to raise. He was left largely on his own to figure out on his own how to cope with his disability. Slowly, he trained himself how to tackle actions as simple as holding a pen, over the years gradually emerging into an independent, self-sufficient teenager. If he was ever angry at himself for his fate, he never blamed his parents for not knowing how to raise him.
Left to his own devices, he says, he became driven to achieve a better life and overcoming his disability.
“Yes, you sometimes ask your parents and God why you? Why did you have to be disabled while others are normal?” he asks without any hint of self pity.
“I was frustrated at my early age, especially when I saw my parents feeling confused and frustrated because they didn’t know what to do with me. Gaza back in 1977, there were much fewer associations for the disabled and fewer awareness programs,. Families with disabled children were considered as jinxed or cursed, which doesn’t make you feel exactly happy when you are just a little kid who was born with a condition and didn’t actually do this to himself.”
He also took advantage of every opportunity that came his way from professionals, which led him to the PRCS when it embarked on a new program to teach the disabled sports and other activities. “I trained hard and grabbed every opportunity I could to become better, better trained and stronger,” he recalls.
When he was asked in which program he wanted to enroll, he answered: “Thank you, I’ll take them all.” He wasn’t joking, and a few years later he was competing in ping pong, was painting and engaged in handicrafts.  “I thrived to absorb every bit I can from every program because I had bigger plans in mind,” Abu Lubda adds proudly.. 
He is a member of a slew of Arab and international clubs for the disabled athletes and, travelling to Lebanon, Jordan, Dubai, Syria and European countries on a special visa, he has won medals for ping pong in Arab and international competition.
He holds a paddle confidently between his two fingers as if he had no handicap at all. Perhaps why his four children – two boys and two girls  have never asked him about his disability. They simply didn’t see it.
“I had to sit with them and explain the condition I was born with,” he says, adding with a laugh: “I don’t want them to think that I’m normal while all other people are disabled because they have five fingers and long hands
The toughest challenge for Abu Lubda is making a living. He gets about 1,000 Israeli shekels a month ($293) in the form of an allowance for the disabled. Sometimes it works out to less than that. “It brings me nothing these days aside from rent, water, electricity and life expenses,” he says, but expresses no bitterness.
 “I’m luckier than others. I get paid sometimes for training others and participating in competitions or handicrafts exhibitions “Other disabled people don’t get any financial help at all and can’t find jobs because disabled people here are degraded. They’re considered to be less than normal people regardless of the fact that they can be even more.”
While the PRCS gave him a chance to acquire skills and confidence, he says not enough is done in Gaza to help the disabled. “Although you hear about many associations caring for the disabled people in Gaza, most of them are just a front for a bogus association that gives very little actual help to the disabled,” he says.
Abu Lubda isn’t resting on his laurels. He is now planning to apply to enter a business administration program at Al-Quds Open University because it offers a flexible program that doesn’t require students to always attend class. He sees himself working in an organization in an administrative post.
“I didn’t get the chance to go to college, I was busy learning everything else,” he explains.  “But I guess now is the right time.”