When Asroel was born in Jember, East Java, in 1979, he was fourth child and the long-awaited only son born into his farming family. Eager to have a male heir, his parents sought the advice of a village priest and made special offerings. His mother, who continued to perform strenuous physical labor throughout her pregnancy, suffered bouts of numbness in her left arm, left leg and right arm. These physical complaints suffered by Asroel's mother perhaps foreshadowed what lay ahead, for when he was born, it was without a left arm, a left leg and most of a right arm.
Born with the severe physical limitations of life with only one fully developed limb, Asroel's earliest memories paint a picture of the hazards that his handicapped existence entailed, including being momentarily abandoned by a sister while he was attacked by by swarms of angry bees and another recollection of a trampling by a herd of goats.
Unable to move on his own until he was five or six, his siblings and parents carried and pulled around him around on his backside. Blessed with a good mind, Asroel excelled in school where a headmaster took note of his natural aptitudes. Ashamed because of his inability to walk, the boy took to hiding in a local coffee plantation where he tirelessly practiced standing by gripping onto the trunks of coffee tree. Eventually becoming very proficient at hopping around on one foot, Asroel grew in his self-confidence and mobility.
The boy's parents refused to treat their son as handicapped, expecting the boy to help his father in his work collecting firewood and other chores. Encouraged by his parents, Asroel attended high school in East Java, hopping the considerable distance to school by leaving his home at 4:30 a.m. each morning. Excelling in art and history, the boy also mastered the ability to write and draw using his right foot.
The School of Hard Knocks
Finishing school in 1997, Asroel wished to escape the drudgery of plantation life and traveled to Yogyakarta where he worked initially as a parking attendant during the days, while making and selling American Indian accessories to tourists in the evenings.
Later, he "tried his foot" at portraits painting and Islamic calligraphy. Managing to only eke out a very modest living, Asroel recalls often having to sleep on the streets with friends. Living rough and often reduced to fighting to defend his turf, he developed a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, ranging from fellow street kids to wealthy people.
During his stay in Yogyakarta, Asroel also met his wife-to-be, a language student at a local university. Unprepared to accept the prospects of a handicapped son-in-law, her parents compelled her to return home to Kalimantan (Borneo). Proving that love always finds a way, she returned to Yogya after several years absence and married Asroel in 2006 before moving, as husband and wife, to Bali where he could pursue an artistic career.
Disturbed by the tragic effects of two bombings in Bali and wishing to contribute to peaceful understanding between religious groups, Asroel focuses on painting portraits of famous peacemakers.
Refusing to see himself as handicapped, Asroel is also active in the Senang Hati Foundation where he works and inspires by teaching others with disabilities learn how to draw.
Exhibition at the Dragonfly Restaurant in Ubud
An exhibition and sale of Asroel's painting will be held at The Dragonfly Restaurant on Jalan Dewi Sita in Ubud from September 22 through October 21, 2006.
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