"In My Shoes"
This is Robert Mokaya. He is 24 years old and lives in Nairobi. Robert is visually impaired, and this is his story.
It was the year 1996 that I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, ten kilometers from the central business district. I was born to a single mother who had three children, and of whom I was the last born. My mother had left her native home to move to Nairobi, to seek greener pastures after having finished her secondary education. Memories of me as a child are a bit vague because I was well taken care of, thus providing for no wounds as a child that I can remember. My mother worked really hard so that we never lacked any necessities. I also had the benefit of attending private school in the whole of my primary education, which only adds to her merit.
It was around class seven or eight where things started to go south. It is also at this point that I would like to inform the reader that I was a stubborn kid and caused my mother quite some hassle, but we don't have the time to get into that here.
My mother’s health greatly deteriorated at this particular time, and by the time I sat the national exams, and when the results were not yet out, she passed away. Ever since, life has never been the same. It is what artists sing when they say that “you never know what you got till it's gone.”
After her burial in the upcountry, it was agreed that since I was to join high school, I might as well go to school there. Above, I have indicated that I was stubborn, and the trouble I caused was not small. Now, among it was my missing school for many days at time. This, as you would guess, made me perform poorly at the national exams, and as a result I was not qualified to join a decent high school.
Fast forward to 2011, when I was to join high school while staying with my uncle. At this juncture, my reader, if I dare say that I was taken to a school which lacked facilities, it would be an understatement of the reality on the ground. Be that as it may, it was my uncle's home which had turned my life into a nightmare. I was overworked, and in retrospect I can't believe I managed to live under such conditions. To counter the situation, I devised a plan of how to escape from my little hell. After explaining the state of affairs to a sister of my mum, she convinced me to hang on until I got my report form card at the end of the year. And that is exactly what I did, as hope patted my back for a better tomorrow.
Time flies very fast, and behold 2012 was here, promising as always the new year does. I was enrolled in my new high school as a form two student. This school was different since it had teachers who were employed by the government. Plus it also had a laboratory, of which my former school did not, and such was the excitement of my new prospects.
The months came and went. All seemed well until that evening when I interacted with some boys who were in form three. They told me that there was a certain chemical in the lab that had the same effect as alcohol. And with the sharpened naivety of a youngster, I agreed to join them the following day. Now, the following morning when I was in class I was called by one of them to the lab. There was a preparation for the competitions for science congress going on there, which managed to camouflage our intentions. Step-by-step I was led to the lab as lamb is led to the slaughterhouse. All was set and only awaited execution of the plan. Each of us sipped a little, one at a time, and little did I know that I was slowly sipping into my blindness.
Finally I lost consciousness, and was laying straight on the ground. I was rushed to a nearby dispensary. I stayed there for three days then was discharged to go home. By the time I was going home, I was completely weak so that even the wind could push me to the ground if not supported.
The following day as I was sitting outside the house I started to see fog-like images, and before long I was completely blinded by darkness. After two days I was brought back to the city where we went to seek an eye specialist, who informed us that the methanol I had taken could cause irreversible blindness, and that I was also lucky to be alive, because in many such cases people die.
My new normal was unbearable, which made me believe that life had come to an end. I was surprised to see people going on with their lives as if nothing had happened. The hopelessness I felt cannot be described by words. Boredom turned out to be my best friend after all of them had deserted me.
There was a friend to my mum who had a child born lame, and with whom I was acquainted with. I accidentally bumped into her, and she was alarmed that I did not recognise her so as to salute her. I explained to her what had just happened to me, and she informed me that blind people could also read, and from a recent seminar she had attended, she saw one who could write an email. I was ignited from within, for behold, all was not lost.
Later, she introduced me to a youth group that had benefited her son with crutches. The gentleman who was overseeing the youth group introduced me to a school where I went to learn braille. I remember the first time I could read the word “dad” in braille, the joy can only be compared to when man discovered fire, or the excitement of the internet. Now, at least I knew what to do with my boredom.
As I noted earlier, a new year comes with many promises, and 2013 was no different. I was supposed to go back to high school after learning braille. However, this was not possible because judging from my past conduct, no one was sure that I could make anything of myself, but that fate had doomed me forever. I went and got the admission letter from the school, but no one was willing to support me with school fees or even the boarding requirements.
In between these years, a lot transpired, of which this space is not enough to fill right now.
Another opportunity came in 2016 when I was interviewed and allowed to join Thika High School for the Visually Impaired. Well-wishers came forward, and with the assistance of the youth group I was able to be admitted. I worked really hard, knowing that education was my salvation from stigma, poverty and low-self esteem. Four years later I was among those who did well in their national exams, and was going to join the university.
The above piece of my life journey is not to elicit pity or sympathy, but to show that there is a second chance for all of us, and that you are the biggest determinant of what you want to happen in life.
In conclusion, for those who cannot help but criticise me, this is what I would leave for them: that is, the worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best. And a quote from Shakespeare: “The world is as a stage and we are all characters.”