Category Archives: Abled Differently

Ask my shoe of our love affair

In love with heels but baby, we've got to part.
In love with heels but baby, we’ve got to part.

Image credit

I am a typical woman. That statement is loaded with qualities that only women would understand. You know, like having a closet full  of clothes and not being able to find anything worth wearing? Anyone?

Today I’ll not talk about the fullness of my closet  or inadequacy thereof. Today we are all about footwear. You see, I have these gorgeous toenails that need a trendy pair to go with. Someone once told me never to wait for validation from elsewhere. “Celebrate yourself”, he said. So, here’s to me celebrating me.

The thing is I never get shoes that I can walk in comfortably. Just like clothes, my shoe rack is a cemetery of sorts for shoes. It’s either grown too big for my right foot to hold or too small for my right foot, yet while buying them, they seemed to fit perfectly.

Then there’s this problem I have with heels. I know they are gorgeous on my feet, and make me look elegant in photos. I have resigned to be practical. What’s the use of having six inches heels when you can’t find your balance while walking in them?

I know that my birthday is still a long way to come, but just some heads up. Hint hint! Should you feel like blessing this lover of shoes with a pair, please keep off the thin six inches things. We are just avoiding some unpleasant eventualities.

How I miss the good old days when I used to walk in sandals and open shoes. Now, if I dare put on anything without straps, I will kick it while walking and meet it ahead. My right foot cannot hold shoes. It needs support. Which begs the question why there aren’t sandals with straps that hold feet. Why aren’t there slippers for adults with straps? Just thinking out loud.

I look for fashionable flat shoes with straps, and fail to get the right fit. maybe it’s because I am a number 7. My shoe problem is combined  with the big footed girl problems.

Speaking of which, today I just feel like throwing away the pair I am wearing. It is pinching my right foot. I just can’t wait to get home and off these shoes. It was a different story when buying them. They were the darling boots that you’d have to be really blind not to notice. My right foot doesn’t understand that. My right toes cannot fold themselves as my foot expands.

Sometimes I get that pair that fits well. I make it my best friend. I wear it every day. Problem is, the right shoe gets damaged, leaving the left intact. Sometimes I look at my shoes and ask, “are they worn by the same person?”

There’s a bright side in every situation. I get to give away most of my shoes. Sometimes I buy a shoe, walk in it for two three days, when it starts saying, “Darling, I think we need to part.” I oblige. I have learnt to accept things as they are and move on. May be, just maybe, one day I’ll find a shoe that loves me back as much as I love it.

With love from,

Juls.

In all things, give thanks- Autism notwithstanding

AAMwordcloud3

I got an invite to a thanksgiving church service. One I would never miss. Who would miss Ryan’s thanks giving service?

Well, maybe you don’t know Ryan, so let me give you a picture. Ryan is the person who makes you feel at home in their house. I sometimes stay for years without visiting them, which of course is reason enough to develop that stranger feeling.

Not with Ryan. He will talk to you about football, food, School. Anything. He is entertaining too and processes a photographic memory. The last time I went to visit, he asked me about things I got from China. I had even forgotten the details of the 2008 trip to Nanjing. This was seven years later. Yet he still remembered.

Ryan is the 20 year old son to the Obutus. He has been autistic since he was a toddler. His family has gone through a lot in the process of raising him. From rejection by schools to having to look for him on several occasions when he got lost. In all these, his mother says, “God kept him safe”.

what-are-you-thankful-for

I lived with the family when I was doing my high school exams. Ryan’s mom happened to be my Home science teacher. Then, I didn’t understand why a seven year old could not talk coherently. I still remember the song he used to sing me though.

I later came to learn that he was autistic. In fact, his mother has a passion for raising awareness on children with special needs.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Here was a family thanking God for giving them the grace to raise a child with special needs. Not complaining, but giving thanks.

Ryan sat for his GCSE last year and performed well enough to be awarded a certificate. Now he is in college studying hospitality. He also has a unique gift of mental calculations, he doesn’t need a calculator.

One thing that came out clearly through the whole service, was that everyone was praising Ryan. From his neighbor who has developed friendship with him due to his routine of paying them a visit daily at 2-4pm, to his cousins who said that he is the most honest individual they have ever met.

What touched me was his parents saying that Ryan has been a blessing to their family. And thanking his younger brother Nicky for missing out on a huge part of growing up, while ensuring that Ryan coped with his environment.

I greeted Ryan on this thanks giving day. Ryan, how are you? “I am blessed”, he answered with the familiar smile that he wears.

Image credits

Image 1, Image 2

Raising a disabled child in Maasai land

By: Rading Biko Gerro.

Yiamata Lootasati in her compound in Elangata Wuas, Kajiado county
Yiamata Lootasati in her compound in Elangata Wuas, Kajiado county

She wakes up at 5 a.m. to cook breakfast to send the other children to school on time. She then proceeds to care for the cattle by taking them to the water shed then rushes back to care for her disabled daughter. At around midday she has to walk distance to fetch water for her family and she has to rush back to care for her disabled child. This is the daily life of Yiamata Lootasati, the 35-year mother of 9 who has a disabled child.

Once in her home one cannot miss the sight of Yiamata either at work, tending animals, carrying a baby, breast feeding, fetching fuel wood from the surrounding thicket, carrying water containers, or building and repairing a manyatta. The classic multitasking of the female species.

In between her burdensome chores of the day the Maasai woman is also a beader with such intangible high skills built into her cultural knowledge and practices.

Most of her struggles are shaped by circumstances and the challenges of her time including deep seated patriarchal attitude. The woman is simply faced by the “triple burden”: to reproduce, to produce and to bear all the other social roles.

The 2009 Kenyan census estimated that there were 1.3 million disabled people in the country, only three percent of the population. Though the numbers are hard to verify because some children with disabilities are kept hidden and out of family counts.

Stigma plays a role in the discrepancy and adds to the problem. Families will keep children born with disabilities out of sight from their neighbors.

Mengea Lootasati is aged 15 years but she does not look her age due to her disability situation, she was born normally like any other healthy baby, but her parents realized she was disabled five months later. Yiamata described her daughter as being healthy when she bore her and it was very hard for them to realize she was disabled.

Yiamata caring for Mengea at their Homestead
Yiamata caring for Mengea at their Homestead : Photos- Biko Rading

“Mengea was overweight when I gave birth to her and we thought she was just  overweight. She would take long to move her arms, but later we realized she was disabled,” laments Yiamata.

In Maasai land myths about the causes of disability persist and in one case, neighbors blamed the disability on bad spirits. They claimed that a murder committed by a previous generation was being punished through the disability of Yiamata’s daughter.

The family did not seek out modern medicine until traditional methods were exhausted. That’s when Action Aid Kenya and Loodikilani women network stepped in 2013 and sensitized her concerning disability. Apart from education, Action Aid Kenya catered for the daughter’s therapy, which she has been undertaking for one year.

Doctors says that Mengea’s case is a special one since her parents did not realize her situation early. “Doctors says her left side is entirely paralyzed and she will only be able to use her right side in her entire life,” narrates Yiamata, a tear flowing down her cheek.

Most parents with disabled children do not even consider the option of educating them. Some are kept tied up and even caged. Yiamata plans to enroll Mengea to a special school.

“Action Aid have trained me on the right for girl child education and that why we have decided that we shall enroll her in a special school. She would meet other children with her special needs, and would not be discriminated,” Yiamata says smiling.

According to Kenyatta National Hospital staff disabled children who get care at health centers are often unsupported when they return home. For children like Mengea, the cost of traveling to the nearest clinic is too great even when care is free.

Though raising a physically challenged child, Yiamata is an enthusiastic woman. She has challenged many to fight stigma and discrimination faced by People Living with Disability across Maasai-land. Through the training, vows to educate other women in Elanga Wuas on the need to care and love children with special needs because they too are children.

Blindness is relative: inABLE’s IT Bootcamp

Thika Primary School for the blind signpost.
Thika Primary School for the blind signpost. Success is our major goal: Disability is not inability.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.- Helen Keller

Cocktail parties are places of filled with possibilities. This one introduced me to the great work of inABLE. That evening, Microsoft was awarding nonprofit organizations with monetary donation of $50,000 each. They had just been awarded the Microsoft #Upgradeyourworld prize, as one of the Kenyan NGOs that impact lives positively.

I was curious about their initiative because they work with visually impaired children. Catherine Wamwangi, their country representative was more than willing to let me tell their story. She introduced me to Peter Okeyo, their program manager who took it over.

November 29, 2015, I set out to Thika Primary School for the Blind to see how visually impaired people use computers. They had an IT boot camp for students from three schools. Thika, St. Oda and St. Lucy schools for the blind.

Those children challenged me to my core. They use desktop computers and iPads like real gurus. The camp aimed at equipping the students with Java programing skills.

Walking around the school compound, I was accompanied by Zackary Muasya, a totally blind trainer with inABLE. He knew his way around the school pretty well. At some point, I was torn between offering my help, to help him navigate the not so familiar way through the school. I know too well how it feels for a person living with a disability when everyone thinks you need their help. It has happened to me- from very well meaning people.

I ask how I may assist him. “Just hold my hand”, he says. All along the way, he is really aware of his surroundings. Greeting people, noticing a fire that’s burning rubbish, and even directing me on the way to go. Zack knows how to build rapport and keeps the conversation going until we reach the secondary school block. I learn that Zack recently graduated from the University of Nairobi. One of the achievements he left there was a body representing students living with disabilities.

We reach the class that has over 20 students, all busy on their talking iPads. I address them like many other visitors who have probably come to see them working in the past. Then, just then, I feel compelled to inform them that I am also physically challenged. “Today you have proven to me that disability is really not inability”, I tell them.

Part off the IT Boot Camp.
Part off the IT Boot Camp using iPads.

These children have great dreams of becoming great people in society. One girl wants to be a lawyer another a magistrate to fight for the rights of people with disability. Moses from St. Oda wants to be a teacher, because he appreciates the work teachers have put into their lives. One boy even types my blog address on an iPad.

There are totally blind, partially blind and students living with albinism. Georbert Athoo, one of the instructors tells me that people living with Albinism are classified as visually impaired. “We train them on braille because eventually, there is the possibility of losing their sight altogether”, he says.  “We train primary school children and the staff working in the schools”, he adds.

Walking back to the primary school block, Zack gives me a tip on typing using one hand. “Have you tried using the sticky keys?” he asks. “It helps when you have to type multiple keys on the keyboard concurrently”, he adds. I went in search for a story and ended up with more than one lessons, I silently tell myself.

As if to crown it all, Zack remarks, “I don’t worry of my Inability, Instead, I focus on what I can do”, he said. “I live a normal life, just like a visually able person”, he adds.

Zackary Muasya, an instructor at inABLE and Juliet.
Zackary Muasya, an instructor at inABLE and Juliet.

Peter tells me that they discovered some of these tricks when they were met with challenges. “We have grown from a few slow computers in 2009, now we have computer labs for the blind”, he says.

inABLE encourages corporates to develop easily accessible sites for visually impaired people. Keeping in line with their mission to provide accessibility to visually impaired persons, they offer their services to corporates, making websites more accessible. Some of the corporates they work closely with are Safaricom Ltd and Safaricom Foundation.

Left shakers

Credit: zazzle.com
Credit: zazzle.com

I am silently contemplating,
Why some take offense,
When I stretch a left hand,
T’is disrespect you know,
Momma should’a taught you that.

Forgive my poor manners,
Don’t judge me on first impression,
Wish I could stretch a right,
I’m done beatin’ my self up,
For a fault I can change not.

There is a story behind the story,
Of triumph over tragedy,
Oh yes, she taught me manners,
But life happened to trash all that,
Yet I remained, to shake your hand.

I’ve learnt to joke about my shake,
Called it the scouts bravery shake,
Many joke along accepting my shake,
Many have rejected my crooked shake,
Why the left and not the right?

I notice little about those moments,
Till someone else raises a voice bout it,
So here’s to fellow left shakers,
Life’s got more to give than the norm.

Juliet Awuor ©2015

A Neighbor in Need: Practical Test on First Aid Skills

Ever thought of getting a first aid kit in your home? Photo borrowed from: http://www.myhealthkit.net/images/first-aid-kit-red2_LRG.gif
Ever thought of getting a first aid kit in your home?
Photo borrowed from: http://www.myhealthkit.net/images/first-aid-kit-red2_LRG.gif

It’s 12.05a.m. I have just gotten under my covers with a book on Emotional Intelligence to lull me to sleep when….. ‘Baddy, open for me, please open, I am dying!’
I know I am the only tenant on the third floor with lights still on at this ungodly hour. I try to ignore the calls for help and try to sleep. Forget the book. Who can read with that commotion outside? The desperate pleas persist.
Afraid, I decide to open my door and check on what is happening. The cliché that Nairobian’s curiosity killed the cat quickly fading from my mind, adrenaline taking full control of the situation.
‘What’s wrong’, I ask.
‘I have been stabbed, I’m bleeding, and I’m dying.’
I join in the frantic call for help. ‘Please open for him, he’s hurt badly’.
Five minutes later, Baddy, my neighbor opens the door and the young man collapses in a heap on the door. He explains to Baddy that he has fought with thieves who have managed to stab him. Baddy is evidently confused as he tries to call someone for help. Terrified by the sight of so much blood, I go back to my house and start praying. ‘God, please don’t let him die’.
In my house, I recall the First Aid we learnt in the HPE 113 at Daystar University during the January Semester. I remember how some of us found it annoying and time wasting. Not to mention the extra fee we were paying for such an ‘irrelevant course’.
I open my door again and this time, I enter my neighbor’s house. ‘Look for a belt or something to tie his leg, let’s stop the bleeding.’ My instructions fall on deaf ears, no, confused ears. Baddy walks out to go open the gate for the other friend who has arrived on a motorbike. He alights and the rider leaves. He is also limping when they arrive at the door. He says he has been hit on the leg by a hammer.
With my desperation evident, I explain to them that I need help to tie the bleeding leg so as to block the blood supply. ‘I am only able to use one hand, that’s why I am asking you to help me’. Baddy gives me a belt which fails to serve the purpose, and then resorts to his baby blue scarf. He helps me to tie it just above the knee.
Baddy then tells Freddie, the stabbed guy to wash the leg. By this time the entrance to the house is a bloody mess. Deep cuts should not be washed to aid in blood clotting, another valuable lesson I picked from HPE class. ‘Please do not wash anything, just call for help’.
‘Give me a blanket please; I want to cover him as we wait for help to arrive’. As he adjusts himself to lie on his back, I see the two chunks of missing flesh on his shoulders. They are also bleeding but not as seriously as the leg.
I run back to my house and reach for some gloves that I used to use for cleaning toilets back in the days when I lived in flats that shared common lavatories. They were medical gloves that I had taken from KENWA if my memory serves me right. That long? Now is not the time to think of the probability of expired gloves. Your safety comes first even as you help an injured person- another gem I got from the time wasting class. At least they are finally going to serve their real purpose. I pick a pair of scissors on my way out. Just in case we need to cut the tight trouser.
Quickly I slip two of the gloves on my left hand, and avoid the right hand which is time wasting should I try to wear gloves on it. I find myself giving instructions to baddy. ‘Put on these gloves and help me pull off the trouser.’ The teamwork is amazing and in a short time, the trouser is off.
A plain clothes policeman on night patrol arrives with the flat caretaker. He interrogates the two gentlemen and they explain their ordeal. He then leaves, leaving instructions for them to go to hospital, get treated and record a statement at their station in the Chief’s camp the following day.
Freddie is now complaining of the cold and thirst. I ask a neighbor who has also joined us to help me fetch a glass of water. I then hold the glass to him, he props himself up and lustily drinks. I then ask his injured colleague to throw me a pillow which I use to support his ‘baby-locked’ head. ‘Madam, shut the door, I am cold.’ We add another blanket, just to keep him warm and I push the door to keep the night cold out.
‘Madam, will I really make it to hospital, I am getting weaker’, Freddie says. ‘You have to be strong, you will make it.’ I assure him.
‘Madam, tie for me my leg, it seems it’s broken, it’s very painful.’ The injured colleague requests me. ‘If you suspect a fracture, just lie straight and wait for help’, I answer Freddie’s counterpart whose name I didn’t have time to catch.
An hour later, a white taxi arrives to take them to hospital. The surprising thing is that Freddie’s injured friend with the supposedly fractured leg is the one who carries him downstairs. I follow them with a blanket. They exchange with Baddy the duty of carrying him on the first floor. Once in the car, I cover him with the blanket and stand aside.
Another neighbor asks me if I am accompanying them to hospital. I reply in the negative. Baddy runs back upstairs to lock his door and comes back to enter the car. They then drive off to Mama Lucy Kibaki hospital.
As we are left behind, the caretaker, two gentlemen and one limping lady, we are wondering just what the young men were doing outside at 12.00a.m. A conversation develops on the type of neighbors they are and their weird characters.
‘I beg to leave, let me try and catch my sleep’, ‘Oh! Madam, you go and rest’, the caretaker replies. I go back to my house on the third floor, shut the door, wash my hands and glance at my phone. It’s 1.33a.m. This has been an interesting end to a dull day, or is it the beginning of tomorrow? Till then let’s try to catch some sleep.

Dear Paullette

You asked me the other day how I manage to be bubbly, full of life and always happy. You wanted to know the secret to such a fulfilled life when I am different from others. You said that your kind doesn’t have friends. Oftentimes, you feel alone in the midst of many.

Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I sometimes feel out of place. I am not that confident, sometimes I feel too self-conscious. What I do during those moments is I try to look like I am happy. Sometimes the cares of this life overwhelm me, and I feel none can understand me. Ever heard of fake it till you make it? It really works, you should try it.

Smile when you feel like frowning,
Laugh Out Loud when you feel like crying,
Read or watch something funny if you must,
Just to get that laugh, smile or grin,
You will feel much better, more confident.

It helps to know that no one is perfect. Everyone suffers from those secret insecurities. You don’t notice them because they choose to ignore them. What you focus on, you magnify.

People do not ignore you. They may be too busy to even notice you. Cheer up and initiate the conversation.

BLESSING IN DISGUISE?

I get it…. I get it. So it’s that obvious? Today was the nth time I have been stopped by someone to tell me of registration of persons with disability.

First, my dad called me to talk to his visually impaired friend some two years ago. He advised me to go register as one of ‘them’, there were some supposed benefits. I don’t remember detail of what he said. As far as I was concerned, I was normal and did not want anything to do with handouts. I was trying so hard to prove a point- CAPABLE not a BURDEN!

I listened politely and agreed to everything they told me. Later when my dad asked me when I would go to register myself, I told him bluntly that I was not DISABLED. He just put the issue to rest, never to remind me of it again.Hiding Hand

Ever since, I have been stopped by people on the streets….. One time a lady named Grace stopped me and asked me about my disability. She told me that registration would open doors for scholarships and even business. Now that reminded me of an old woman who came to my mother immediately after I got the stroke. She told my mother that I should register with disabled persons so that I get a wheelchair. With this wheelchair, I would then get access to a hawking space in town. Not that I have anything against hawkers. Just that there were so many changes that I was trying to get to terms with.

Then there’s this time that I went to be baptized. Some people came to me at Nyayo Stadium pool entrance. They were part of the paraplegic swimming team. They told me to join ‘them’ and even offered to train me for free. Oh! And I would access the pool free of charge every Saturday morning. I took out my swimming costume, the one that I bought and never used……That’s as far as it went. I never pursued it. Of course my Saturday mornings have been busy with classes.

Today we were walking along Ngong Road with my friend Maryanne. Suddenly two men inside two posh vehicles called us. We looked at each other puzzled, and then looked at the direction of the parked vehicles. The men urged us to go to them. ‘Don’t be afraid, we just want to talk to you”. One was a Caucasian man and the other was a Kenyan. We cautiously approached the vehicles. The Caucasian man asked me if I had prosthetics. He explained that they were both persons with disabilities and were confined to wheelchairs. The Kenyan man showed me a handicap sticker on his windscreen. I became more relaxed. I told them that although I was disabled, I did not have prosthetics.

Using right hand
Using right hand

The Kenyan man then asked me if I have registered with the National Council for Persons with Disability. I said I tried but didn’t follow the process through. They told me to complete the process immediately so that I can apply for government contracts. The government is giving priority to women, young people and most importantly, persons with disability. I ended up thanking them, getting a contact card and promising to follow the process through.

Slanted shoulder
Slanted shoulder
Hiding Hand 2
Good at hiding

I am reminded of my friend and former high school teacher- Mwendwa Marete- Mrs. Obutu. “Use what God allows you to go through for your advantage”. She is just part of the numerous voices that have been trying to convince me to register and get benefits enjoyed by persons with disability.   I now accept I have been locking myself out of opportunities while complaining of not having a job. I would be an employer by now.