Alexandria’s Armless Calligrapher

By Omar Shehata

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In the wake of political turmoil and civil disruption in Egypt, it can be difficult to get our minds off the frequent grim and violent news. In our daily lives, we often face numerous obstacles in everything we do and we make excuses to justify unfulfilled promises we make to ourselves.

But there’s plenty of beauty to be found in the streets of Egypt and it can surprisingly go unnoticed for a very long time. Ahmed Hakim is a passionate calligrapher who paints in beautiful strokes that are difficult to match. He has recently retired from the Egyptian Advertising Company, Al Gomhoreya Journal. He also has three missing limbs.

Hakim grew up in Alexandria. When he was seven, he fell and was hit by the tram. The accident led to both his arms and one of his legs being amputated. Such an event would be the end of all hope and ambition for most people. It seemed as though Hakim’s fate was to spend the rest of his life as an invalid, unable to take care even of himself.

But he did not give up.

After his discharge from the hospital and a short recovery period, Hakim sought a vocational rehabilitation institution that could teach him a craft, anything he could do to be financially independent. He was armed with nothing but his hope to be a productive member of society as he raised his head high and applied.

“They immediately rejected me. They said, ‘You have three missing limbs. You can’t make it here'” recounts Hakim. They coldly sent him away with his disability as his sole impediment.

But he did not give up.

“Even after they refused me, I tried again. And I made it in, thank God,” Hakim said.

It was there that Hakim was inspired to become a painter. He saw someone at this institution who had also had both his arms amputated, but not to the extent of Hakim’s. He watched in silent wonder as he held the brush between his forearms and painted.

“I would look at him and think: I want to be like that,” Hakim said.

And so he did. Sticking a brush to his sleeve, he learned to paint natural vistas and landscapes. He left the institution as a 15-year-old painter with a new-found joy in life. He was no longer defined by his disability. He was now able to do what some fully healthy and capable men and women could not.

The art scene in Egypt, however, is not the most lucrative, and so Hakim decided to widen his skills to calligraphy in order to support himself. So he went to a calligraphy school and asked to learn the craft. Just like before, he was rejected on the grounds of his disability. Hakim knew not to quit, but despite his persistence, they never accepted him to the school.

But he did not give up.

He chased calligraphers around and asked them to teach him their trade. He asked everyone he knew and everyone he didn’t. He practiced day and night and took up any calligraphy job he could find.

“I wrote banners for people, for stores, mosques, anything I could find,” Hakim said.

Hakim eventually excelled at calligraphy. He had even mastered many different styles of writing due to his consulting with so many different professionals. His ambitions never stopped there, and at 20 years old he applied to the Egyptian Advertising Company.

“They tested me to see if I could really do it before I got the job. I remember they all gathered around to watch what this armless man could do. I was really proud of what I had accomplished,” he said.

Despite having one foot, Hakim continued to escalate up the corporate ladder until he became the supervisor for advertisements as well as a marketing agent.

He is now retired, but you can still see him driving by on his motorcycle.

 

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“It really upsets me every time I see a perfectly able young man just standing in the street, washing car windows at traffic lights or begging for money. I can’t help but want to shout at them, ‘What are you doing? Go! Run! Find a job! God will ask us how we were given the gifts of sight, two hands and feet, and were unable to do something useful. Do whatever it takes! And never give up; there is no life without hope,” he said.

Hakim wanted to be a painter, and he is. Hakim wanted to learn calligraphy, and he did. Hakim wanted to be a happy man and raise a family, and he is.

 

 

 

WE SAID THIS: Don’t miss Diving with Disabilities in the Red Sea.

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