I discovered very early on that if I wanted to live a full life as a disabled person, I had to be a bit brave, ruffle some feathers and make people a little uncomfortable. I always tell the story of when I got my accident and started thinking about how many disabled people I knew and could draw inspiration from. At the time, nothing mattered more than knowing I wasn’t going to be alone, I needed reassurance that I wasn’t going to be a social misfit as soon as I left the hospital.
After thinking long and hard, I could only place one guy who used to park his wheelchair next to the campus I was attending, with a cup in his hand hoping to get money to feed and clothe himself. No judgement to him, but I didn’t want to be that way. It would take a few months later for me to see a positive role model on media, who I could look up to and want to associate with. It was the then member of parliament for Kamukunji, Yussuf Hassan who had been injured in a terrorist attack.
He was on Jeff Koinange live and he spoke with such confidence and conviction. Before then, I had believed that disabled people were supposed to be timid, reserved and sit at the back like chicken that had been rained on. But here was a man, on a wheelchair, being bold about who he was and not allowing his disability to define him as much as it was a significant part of his identity. Because he took himself seriously, everyone else listened to what he had to say. In my eyes, he was truly and fully living, I wanted that for myself.
As a disabled person especially in Kenya, you ruffle feathers every time you break the mould and want to do things that are uncharacteristic of the constructs that society has set for you. I discovered this when I went out for the first time to a comedy show in my hometown. At this point, I hadn’t gotten used to being in crowds but my eagerness to be out defeated my social anxiety.
It started right after I exited the car, there was overwhelming energy directed towards me. At first, I thought it was just intrigue and curiosity but I later came to find out through comments here and there that there were people who thought I shouldn’t have been there. I guess they couldn’t comprehend how a disabled person could find the time in his depression marred life to have some fun.
Not too sound too woishe, but these were the times I was afraid of rejection that was based on something I had no control over, my disability. I was sensitive at the time and each insensitive comment pierced through me like a hot blade. I was seated there staring at the ground wondering why I even left home. Living outside my bubble wasn’t worth all that trouble. But the world was never going to change, it was I that needed to grow a thicker skin.
H_art the band came to my town last year and it was at the height of their hit song ‘My Jaber’. Entrance was free and the venue was wheelchair accessible, so I figured why not? I was supposed to go with some friends but they bailed out at the last minute. I decided to attend anyway. I got there an hour before the show started so I could pick my spot and read where all the exits were (wheelchair people do this so that they can sit closest to the exit).
It was nerve-wracking to sit there all by myself and to see everyone really staring at me. It was uncomfortable at first until I discovered tunnel vision; focusing on only what you want and deleting anything else around. This was the beginning of me starting to be brave around people and holding my head high without apology. In the past, I was reserved because I felt out of place and ‘grateful’ to be invited but at that point, I resolved to be present and to own the moment.
You must be brave in order to have a fulfilling life as a disabled person because in most things our society will want to exclude you. You must have the courage to assert yourself into all the places that you want to go, not only the ones that are designed for you.
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