My friend Mumbi had been pushing me to attend a comedy event with her in Nakuru town. It had been a while since I had been out of the house, so I figured it wasn’t such a bad idea. The show was at a luxury hotel in downtown, we got there and asked the security guys manning the gate to help us lift my chair out of the car. They were nice guys, they made sure I was comfortable and went back to their duties. As we approached the entrance to the conference area, I was stopped by two mildly drunk gentlemen. They both gave me hugs I hadn’t asked for. One placed his right hand on my shoulder and his left on his chest. He leaned over to me, struggled a little to compile his thoughts then finally said, “bro, you are strong, kama ni mimi, ningekua nishaajimaliza.”
People fear what they don’t understand. Fear makes people say things that they wouldn’t normally say. They say these things as an attempt to hide their fear and lessen the awkwardness. A lot of things are said to disabled people, we hear really good things, sometimes we hear bad things and other times, its things that sound good but don’t feel right.
Disability compliments are subtle phrases with a pinch of prejudice that are uttered to us in the disguise of praise and encouragement. When you walk up to me and tell me that I am too handsome to be on a wheelchair, what am I supposed to do with that information? What you are essentially saying is, you think I am handsome BUT again, I am on a wheelchair; so, the chair cancels the prettiness, quick maths.
When you tweet an albino lady and tell her that when you see her you don’t even complain about the spots on your face because you know it could be worse, is she supposed to say thank you? Is that really a compliment or are you actually telling her that your fear of her skin disability is what inspires you to love yourself?
I went out with my cousins during Christmas eve a few years ago, I remember being so excited because it was the first time being out since the accident. I was minding my business, savouring the moment and marinating myself in all the goodness that surrounded me. The waiter came to take our orders and when I asked for the pay bill, he almost gasped… a disabled guy, paying his own bill!?! The young guy told me,” You are paying for everyone? Waah wewe uko poa, wengine kazi yao ni kuomba”. Was that a compliment? Was I supposed to give him a hearty hug? No sir.
During the few occasions when we are not receiving “compliments”, we are used as cautionary tale.
“…If you don’t change your ways, you will end up like that friend of yours on a wheelchair!”
When we were in high school, a man by the name of Mr Kariuki came to talk to us about sex, abstinence, STIs, HIV…it was all going well until he started showing us pictures of individuals who had not listened when they were told to abstain. Graphic images of deformed private parts that haunt me till today. That’s the tactic of the cautionary tale; Mr Kariuki was simply telling us, if you have sex during the midterm, this will be you.
The manner in which I got my accident was subject to a lot of debate. The fact, however, remains that I was involved in an accident as I was coming from a party. With that knowledge, my story is used to inspire a little fear to the straying teens that are in need of direction in their lives. If they start drinking or going out, they are shown my pictures and just like Mr Kariuki, the question is asked, “… do you want to end up like this?”
I have learnt to become desensitized about things that people say to me because I am disabled. I figured that my peace is more important than spending a minute harbouring feelings of anger towards someone who doesn’t even know if they offended you. Instead, I can pass some education through my experience and hopefully, enough people will learn to be more sensitive about their attitudes and utterances. The notion is that disabled people are always in need of a word of encouragement to lift them up from their seemingly sad sad lives. In an attempt to sound caring, you end up overcompensating and saying things that leave us less encouraged and more offended.
I have had screws drilled to my skull with no anaesthesia, trust me, I know pain but nothing compares to the pain the world can inflict with their words. It’s the kind that never goes away; always lurking in the heart. Choose your words carefully and really think about the gravity of the energy you are releasing. From Stairs To Ramps: My Body Is Bound To This Wheelchair But My Mind Is Free