Zainab Al Eqabi lost her leg at age seven when an unexploded bomb went off in her home At the age of seven,
Iraqi Zainab Al Eqabi was at home trying to fix her bicycle with her father. Little did they know that the tool they were using to fix the bicycle was an old unexploded bomb left over from the first Gulf War.
The bomb exploded, leaving Zainab with severe leg wounds.Once at hospital, a medical error in not properly treating the wound meant that her right leg would have to be amputated.
Now aged 24, Zainab is a graduate of the College of Pharmacy, University of Sharjah with an academic achievement of honours with excellence, and is working as a medical representative for a multinational company, as well as giving talks around the world about her life story and how she overcame the odds.
Speaking at the ABILITIESme conference on special needs in Abu Dhabi which concluded in Abu Dhabi last week, Zainab says her story is proof how someone with a disability can succeed, though she admits it was a challenge at the beginning.
Recounting her ordeal, she said, “I became an amputee at the age of seven. Try telling a child that you can’t run any more, try telling a child who was riding a bicycle that you’re not going to ride a bicycle any more. Going back home as an amputee was the worst nightmare for my cousins, and not only for my [immediate] family.
Being in an Arab society unfortunately means that they immediately feel that your life is over, especially being a girl in an Arab society. I had to go through a lot of challenges. Yes, I cried a lot, yes, I’ve been injured a lot, I’ve been through a lot of pain but at the end of the day I survived.”
Despite the medical error that meant she would have to her leg amputated, Zainab says she holds no ill will towards the doctor, and that she couldn’t envision her life without being an amputee.
“You think maybe I’d have some hate for the doctor... nothing at all, my heart is full of love and I’m really thankful to him in some way, that he took it away from me. My life wouldn’t be better with two legs, I don’t see myself with two legs.”
It was when she was in university that Zainab decided to make a change, frustrated with the perception of disabled people always being in need of someone to help them. Zainab wanted to change that perception and show that disabled people could live their own lives normally without people’s pity.
“People perceived me as someone who always needs help. That really hurt me, and that’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to continue on the same path.
That change started when I decided to make a simple page on Facebook, I just used to write my thoughts about disability, and intentionally I chose the status disabled and proud. I wanted people to read positive thoughts, so whenever they remembered the word ‘disabled’ it will be connected immediately to a power of strength, desire, faith, and happiness,” she said.
Zainab says she now lives her life to the fullest by challenging herself to do things she used to fear. “I used to have a fear of swimming, not because of the fear of water, but the fear of facing people without my artificial leg. When I started to make a change I went to the sports complex in my university and I asked the coach if I could swim with one leg.
He said yes, and the next day I was in the pool. I was an aggressive swimmer at my university for two years, swimming every day not less than 2,000 metres per hour with two hands only. After graduation I became committed to the gym, a normal gym, not a gym in a sports complex for the disabled. I wanted to deliver a message to the public,
I wanted to show that yes we are there, we go to the gym, we do exercises and so on.” Other activities she has taken part in to challenge herself include a 5-kilometre walkathon, power sailing, horse riding, and skydiving. According to Zainab, one of the big challenges she overcame was removing the cosmetic covering of her leg, which would then reveal and show the prosthetic leg alone.
She came up with the idea after being invited to give a talk by Shaikha Jameela Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Director of the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services. “I wanted to stand on a stage to deliver a different type of message, I wanted to show the disabled in a different way that maybe the Arab audience is not used to.
I told her I want to do something weird, I told her I want to take off my cosmetic parts. The next day I went directly to the doctor and asked him to take off the cosmetic parts, and he asked me if it was just because of the talk because we are in an Arab country, and I said yes, but to myself I said ‘no it’s not going to happen’.”
Zainab says it was a challenge with her family at first, as it reminded them of her disability, as well as the glances and attention it would get from the public. “It’s different to go without the cosmetic, everyone will be staring, everyone will be whispering, so it was a huge reminder for my family.
It was very hard for me to see my family in pain, but I was able to accept it, because I wanted to make a change in the Arab countries, it’s not about me any more. I then started to post my pictures for the first time on social media, hoping other disabled people follow.”
She concluded by telling the audience to be proud of who they are, to live their lives, to not let other people hold them back, and to make a change.
by Gulf News