Australia’s Maysa Abouzeid speaks to Mspiration about how blindness didn’t get in the way of becoming a touring comic and acclaimed theater performer.
I couldn’t see since birth. A lot of people don’t realise this but I don’t see at all. Actually, what I do see, if you could call it that, is so tiny that it is not measurable. It is is the corner of my eye so I don’t even see in front of me. But really my eyes are blank and what it does show is the damage to the retina. I can’t read the newspaper and I can’t drive a car.
I knew there was something different about me. At school the students would exclude me from things like sport and teachers would never ask me, for example, if I was reading. But there was a moment when I really realised this. I was seven and the family were getting out of the plane at Cairo Airport and we had to walk downstairs to the tarmac. I remember my mum specifically telling my younger brother to make sure that I would get down the stairs. I felt like “why is she saying this?” My brother, who was five years old at the time, made sure I placed my hands on the rails and walk down. That to me was a realisation. I was like okay, I don’t really see. Till now the most vulnerable I feel is when I walk down a set of stairs.
Growing up I felt really conflicted. I thought I was like everyone else but I wasn’t and you are shunned by it. I remember one day in school we had to speak about what we wanted to be when we grow up. One kid said a firefighter and I said I wanted to be a politician. I remember the teachers and schools for years would say I should be an interpreter or a switchboard operator. It took me a long time to realise I am more than that. Who I am is worth more than just sitting down and flicking switches.
People would instill shame in me, but I never had shame. I was too busy doing stuff. I have always been outgoing, doing show and tell and expressing myself. In my family my brother was quiet and I always had a big mouth and I think a lot of people were intimidated by that. They didn’t know how to deal with it because I was always eager to learn. They thought that I could see and I was dumb but in reality I couldn’t see and I am smart.
I had a lot of pent up energy and I didn’t know where to direct it. It all started when I joined the Anti Racism Action Band (run by the Victorian Arabic Social Services) and at that time I would just show up and sit there hoping that something would happen. Then we got a new coordinator, her name is Kate Gillick and I remember there were only four of us in this session. Two girls were doing a dance and I looked really ridiculous doing that. So thankfully Kate showed me these acting monologues that people would perform in auditions. So I started writing a monologue and by the second week it was ready.
Comedy to me was very important for my personal growth. By laughing at myself it allowed me to come to terms with my flaws and I learnt that flaws are not something that hold you back. It makes me realise that I am not a little princess and I don’t even need to be. It is also a coping mechanism. Comedy was a great way to learn about performance. I think it is in my personality and even when I am talking about serious things the comedy part is not too far away. I mean when I am performing and talking about the (government social services agency) Centrelink, I speak about how I am very good at it because I tick all their boxes: I am ethnic, disabled and from the northern suburbs and this all means I am unemployable. You need the humour.
I did small gigs here and there, so to be accepted in New York Arab American Comedy Festival in 2006 was just an amazing experience. I felt so inspired in New York. I wanted to drop everything and just live there. There was so much movement and all that noise. The excitement of the city was way beyond what Preston could have offered me. It was such a comedy literate crowd and very supportive. I did three shows, one in one night and two others. One of them I headlined, actually. It turned out okay, some shows I did well and some shows I struggled, but it was a great experience.
My new show, Nest, was something I have always wanted to explore. This concept of non-traditional theatre. I don’t like the idea of people just coming down to sit down and watch as I don’t think you get all the information. So I started exploring this idea of sensory theatre, where the audience come in and have all their senses stimulated. So they would come in and eat, touch and listen to something and this is all linked to the story that they are going to hear from me. The audience are asked to touch and explore the stage which has these little boxes, almost like trinkets. Then the audience are asked to describe all these objects to me. The point of it all is that there is more to images than what you see and in my monologue I speak about that, as well as home and love.
Being blind gave me a massive challenge. I didn’t learn to read or write until university. It is something that I really have to connect with Allah SWT about. I am working on it. I am asking myself is this really a blessing, I guess, to have this attitude to life? Sometimes I do wonder if I wasn’t the way I am, what would I be. Would I be the ‘self-absorbed’, materialistic girl that wouldn’t think of others? I guess I never really will know that, which I don’t see as bad thing. I do believe in God and I know there is a reason for everything. I do have that connection and I do believe in it and I am working on building that connection further.
Whenever I go through a new stage in my life I always go through a stage of grief. This is because I go through this phase with no sight and I do have moments where my body grieves, my heart grieves, my soul grieves because it wants to understand. I ask myself, God, what could possibly be worse? Then I feel and realise that this is only a stage that I am passing through. This hurt is part of the healing process of what I am going to do next. I realise there is a lot more to things and to life than not being able to see.
The Muslim community needs to acknowledge there are Muslims with disabilities. We need to have more services in the community to create more access to attend Muslim services. For example I can’t attend the mosque for a prayer because they wont let my guide dog in. In England a mosque made a kennel to allow this Muslim man to have complete access to the mosque. There are two ways to look at disabilities. One is a doctor who sees it as a problem that needs to be fixed. The other is a humanist that says this is our life, this is how we live and this is how we are and makes room for that. The Muslim community generally look at it as something that needs to be fixed, to them it’s a problem. Too many doctors. I can’t have my eyes replaced or do some laser surgery and then it is all done. This is me, I can’t be fixed. Take it or leave it.
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