I have been doing TikTok on and off for around two years now and when I am not being horribly inconsistent, I put out educational/entertaining content about my life as a disabled man and the ins and outs of my unique experiences. This kind of content might not be as popular in the Kenyan TikTok spaces, but a few people resonate with the message. Most notably, other disabled people and their partners. We are able to connect through our shared experiences and create impactful networks that last a long time.
I met Boniface through his wife. Well, meeting him in this case refers to online interaction. His wife saw a video I did and reached out to me. She thought that Boniface and I had lots in common, from our levels of injury, being young men and simply the fact that we were going through the same journey. She was right. A Gikuyu proverb states that Akurino people recognize each other by their turbans. This describes how people who are going through similar experiences recognize and acknowledge each other. Boniface has a turban, and it is fashioned exactly like mine.
A chief inspector of police based at APS headquarters, Boniface Mutua Muithya describes himself as a God-fearing man who is motivated in all the things he puts his mind to. “I would also say that I am quite brave” he casually adds. I wonder if, during the training to become members of the police, applicants are asked if they are brave or not. Have you ever seen a shy policeman or woman? These were the thoughts and questions floating in my mind, but I chose not to ask them because I was more curious about knowing Boniface’s roots.
“I grew up and went to school in Nanyuki,” he explains. His family lived in the army barracks since his dad was a military man. It seemed like he was always destined to serve and protect his country in one way or another. Boys want to grow up and be like their fathers and Boniface wanted to put on a uniform and holster his weapon just as his father had done.
“My ambition was to work in the military, but I ended up in the police,” says Boniface.
Boniface is a newly disabled man and I wanted to know what Boniface had thought of disabled people before his accident. I always ask my disabled friends this question because I was completely oblivious to the disability community.
“Before my injury, I had not interacted with any disabled person, but I had always been empathetic to them when I met them,” Boniface remarks.
As a community, acknowledging that at some point we were also ignorant of some of the issues that don’t sit right with us now, makes us more patient and tolerant of a society that is still learning about disability.
Boniface goes on to narrate how he was enlisted in the police service in 2006 after seeing an advertisement in the media. He attended the recruitment exercise in the then Machakos district.
“On 27th Dec 2019 while on patrol in Wajir county the vehicle that I was in was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Two of my colleagues died and I got a spine injury that caused me to be a paraplegic. A paraplegic is someone who experienced a spinal cord injury that affects their legs and lower body but they still have complete function of their hands and upper body. Quadriplegics, on the other hand, experience loss of movement and sensation in their upper and lower limbs. I am a quadriplegic.”
Addressing the accident that caused his injury, Boniface explains that such explosions are common to police who are mostly in terrorist-prone areas like Lamu and the Northeastern region. “I stayed in the hospital for eight months and after getting discharged, it took a lot of courage and determination to learn how to use a wheelchair.”
As a young father of four and having a wife who depended on him to provide, it is hard to imagine the amount of pressure and stress that he must have been experiencing when in hospital, trying to come to terms with the fact that he would probably spend the rest of his life on a wheelchair. “There is nothing as worrying and traumatizing as a father knowing that you can’t provide for your wife and kids. I thank God that I was able to keep my job and be able to earn a living. I pray that we never lack.”
One of the things that I struggled the most with after getting disabled was knowing how to deal with my social life. Being in a wheelchair and losing significant control over my body lowered my self-esteem and confidence. This actively affected my relationships, and I was curious to know if Boniface had experienced something similar.
“My social life changed drastically mostly because I can no longer do the things I used to do while I was walking.” Speaking about his wife, Boniface added, “I would like to appreciate my wife for standing with me at this trying moment and may God bless her. Family is the strongest pillar for people like us.”
Talking about the societal stereotypes directed at disabled people, Boniface shared that people don’t understand his condition and neither do they attempt to. It is easier for them to treat him as society has always treated disabled people, with pity and prejudice. “They think I cannot do anything because I am in a wheelchair! I might be physically challenged but the potential I have in me is so amazing!”
As we came to the end of our conversation, I asked Boniface what in his opinion, is the biggest misconception about disabled people.
“In the eyes of many people, we are thought to be burdens and that couldn’t be further away from the truth. We need to come out strong and prove that the potential in us is much stronger than what they see as a physical challenge!”
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