What stands out the most about Abel (no pun intended) is the contradiction between how he sounds and how he looks. He has a heavy rusty voice that you would ideally imagine belonged to a hefty, bulky dude who’s a gym instructor and like to spend his free time at the gym working on his chest muscles. Okay, maybe I have overdone it with the descriptions but let’s just say Abel has a surprising voice. He is small in stature and I say this respectfully. I know him to be an eloquent and intelligent man from Kapsabet who is big on Twitter and is working really hard to finish school.
I first met Abel on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Nakuru was cold that day and he was in town to do his end of semester exams at the Kenyatta University Nakuru Town Campus. Every semester he makes the 300km trip to KU and back as a requirement for his Bachelor’s degree in Library and Information Science, which he is in his final year. We had arranged to meet so that I could hand him some adult diapers that I had raised money to buy through my Foundation’s adult diaper initiative. Abel was the first recipient and we talked about how important the diapers are in our lives.
Whenever he travels, Abel is accompanied by his younger brother Lameck and best friend Shadrack. I was particularly inspired by them because they had willingly and happily chosen to play the caregiving role for their friend and brother. Shadrack drives the trio and they spend close to a week in Nakuru during exam period.
“I can describe myself as a go-getter. I’m physically challenged but that won’t put me down in whatever I do.” Says Abel. Multiple conditions have led to his disability; he was born with Kyphosis, also known as “Hunchback”, which is caused by an abnormal curve of the spine. He is also a single limb amputee. The disability affects his immunity so he can be quite susceptible to opportunistic diseases.
Since Abel is at home in the house for a good part of his days doing assignments and coursework online, he doesn’t go out often instead, he enjoys spending his free time indoors as well. “I like watching documentaries, mostly on the National Geographic channel. I also like being on Twitter too. I’m quite active there”
I am probably the least travelled person I know, it would therefore make perfect sense that I don’t really have the slightest idea about Kapsabet, the area where Abel comes from.
“Kapsabet is in Nandi County” he explains, adding, “I’m a Nandi. What we eat mostly here is ugali and mursik. Mursik is fermented milk. It tastes great.”
One of the first things you notice about Abel besides his wheelchair is the fact that one of his legs has been amputated. In 2015 after a long battle with Osteoporosis (also known as a brittle bone disease) the doctors advised that the leg had to be amputated to prevent further infection. When describing the challenges that he experiences because of his disability, Abel states, “ Disability comes with so many challenges but we have to fight hard and accept ourselves. One of the challenges is mobility. Moving from one place to another is a big challenge for me.”
Are there any upsides to having a disability? The order of balance dictates that most things that happen to us have a positive and negative side. I posed this question to Abel, wondering what the worst and the best thing about is having a disability.
“The worst thing about disability is that you are the only one who knows and understands the pain. Other people will keep giving you hopes but they literally don’t help. You must fight alone by accepting yourself,” he remarks.
Speaking of the best thing about disability, Abel notes, “The best thing about disability is that, you challenge yourself every day. You also challenge those without disability and inspire them.”
26 year old Abel is a man in his prime, already adulting and most probably thinking about his independence, starting a family and getting a job. What impact has disability had on all these aspects of his life?
“Disability has impacted my life mostly in a negative way. First, I have lost some friends due to my disability. I can’t move and hang out with friends out there like before I joined this other part of the world.” Abel states, adding, “Another challenge is getting a partner or dating. Our society hasn’t accepted that PWDs can live normal social life like any other person.”
Abel admits that though he thinks about having a family one day, sometimes he struggles with the fact that his disability may affect his chances of having a partner who will accept him as is and be ready to start a family with him. “I am however still very hopeful when the time is right, I will find the right one.”
“What is one thing that people don’t know about you?” I asked.
Abel pauses for a quick minute, lets out a hearty laugh and finally says, “People don’t know a lot about me. Maybe a few friends whom I have shared with them. But I’m a very social person and I dislike being treated with pity and sympathy.”
As we ended our conversation, I asked the man from Kapsabet what were his fears and dreams. He simply retorted that he is terrified of falling off his wheelchair and that his dreams of having a good career one day that will enable him to have an income which he can use to provide for himself. “It is my dream to become financially independent one day. It is something that would mean so much to me. I think about it a lot.”
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.