My name is Brian and I had an accident in 2014 that changed my life. I became disabled because of the accident. We face different challenges like the lack of accessibility, struggles to get and keep a significant other and other challenges of which the biggest one is economic. Specifically getting a job, or starting a sustainable business. Like everybody else, I have had economic challenges and the road to becoming self-independent has not been smooth. If you haven’t read the beginning part of my story you can find it here.
When we were growing up it was customary for uncles and aunties to ask us what we wanted to become when we grew up. These conversations would happen during family get togethers shortly after overfeeding on goat meat and chapatis. At the time, there were only four or five acceptable answers to this question; become a doctor, pilot, engineer, president or news anchor. These were the careers that we associated success with. My preference was piloting. I chose it simply because it sounded nice.
It didn’t take long for us to be uprooted from that mentality and planted on the mindset of, “You can become whatever you want to be”. We were encouraged to look deep into our hearts and find our passions; the thing that came most naturally to us. The thing we’d never get bored of doing. I didn’t have to look too far; I knew I wanted to join the army. To put on that uniform and to serve my country. To strengthen my application, I was advised to at least get a degree first. I obliged; smart soldiers live long. So, my future was well planned out. But when a man makes plans, God laughs.
I struggled in school, but I still had the plan to finish my degree then enrol to be a soldier. As it turned out, I never completed my degree and neither did I become a soldier. Instead, I shattered my spine and faced the music of paralysis. I went through all the stages of grief. I had lost the use of my legs, hands and everything else in between. Even worse, I felt like I had lost my future; a man with no hope for the future is a sad man.
What does a disabled man with no education past high school do to earn a living and build a future for himself? The obvious solution was to think about going back to school, finishing my degree and hoping for the best. But how does a man with no use of his fingers, who passes out because the volume is too high attend calculus lessons? I tried; I really did but I was too weak. Does it sound like I am making excuses? Maybe I am. Deep inside I had no real desire to go back to school, I wanted to keep sleeping and I wanted the pain to end.
Many people often know what they want to do, what they are good at and they program themselves in such a way that their focus is solely on excelling in that field. You might need a minute to restructure your hope and dreams when life hits you with a spine injury. Even when you get lucky and figure things out, you still have dozens of battles waiting for you to bend the knee.
Logistics is one of those battles. It is both expensive and cumbersome enough even when travelling with private means. Think about having to spend ten minutes boarding a matatu, not knowing if your wheelchair is being handled well, spending ten more to disembark from the matatu onto your chair, and finally wheeling yourself through the bumpy stretch to your job where you have to be lifted every morning by the watchmen because it’s all stairs. Worse still, you have a bowel accident at work because the doors to the toilets are too thin, thinner than the width of your chair. Even after all this, your workmates will treat you like a charity case and avoid any opportunity to partner with you in work projects.
Amazingly, there are men and women that go through that process every day and they rise above the exclusion, prejudice and inaccessibility every time. The rest of us admire their strength and draw inspiration from their poise. In the meantime, we sit back and do what we can to make sure that sitting isn’t all we are doing. We open shops, salons, M-PESA shops and other small businesses which sometimes are meant to keep our minds engaged and far from depression rather than actually doing business. So, we open small businesses because we don’t have too many options.
It took me a while to overcome my blooming depression and wake up. I couldn’t keep borrowing airtime money from my mother, so I ventured into a couple of very popular pyramid schemes. The cardinal rule in these ventures is to get out early. The greedier you get, the harder your heart will break. Knowing this, I did what any broke young man does, I got greedy and lost a whole lot of cash. I spent numerous hours thinking about something I could do at home, without having to trouble my parents further.
A friend suggested I try academic writing; for those not conversant with the term, it’s basically being paid to do someone’s homework. I tried it the first time and got overwhelmed by the complexity of the tasks I was given. This coupled with the fact that I can only type on my phone… Writing ten-page documents can pose a challenge. I got frustrated and really questioned my intelligence. My mind was all I had left to try and make something out of myself. My mind was refusing to work.
I wanted to earn money so bad because I am a man and men are supposed to fend for themselves. It felt wrong to watch television all day, that was not the life I wanted. Being disabled is so expensive. I could see the expense of my disability weigh down my parents. It angered me. I was angry at myself for not trying harder. So, I tried writing once more, I figured if I failed enough times I’d finally know how to do it right. So, I failed and failed until I stopped failing.
What comes to your mind when you think about adult diapers? Is it a taboo topic? Is it shameful to speak about? Well, for us guys on wheelchairs, diapers are just as important as a hot meal. Catheters follow closely, google them. In one week, you can use 1500 on diapers and another 500 on catheters. That’s 2000 without medication, logistics, special diet, physiotherapy. All that and boychild still doesn’t have a job.
It then begs the question; what is the solution to this conundrum? Empowerment, making the disabled community feel prouder of their abilities. Not all of us have the strength to defy our conditions. Sometimes we conform, we do what we have always seen other disabled people do, we sleep, eat and get fat.
Those are the options society gives us. Once the good men and women are empowered and motivated, they come out to the world and contest for government tenders, they invest in irrigation schemes rather than the pyramid ones.
The government ought to play its part by enforcing the laws that have to be set to lessen the burden of a disabled man. If the law says that they should be exempted from paying certain taxes, let it be so. If the law says a certain percentage of work should be assigned to the disabled, let people steer away from those jobs. Let them not give them to their wives or sisters instead, that’s all we ask.
Here is the beginning of my story if you haven’t read it before – Fr From Nakuru To Nairobi By Ambulance And Waking Up To The Reality That I Was Paralyzed