1 September 2012

Zambia: Coping With Life When Half-Deaf, Half-Blind


How can one cope with life when one has serious physical disabilities like being half -deaf and half-blind? Society should not laugh at, but sympathise with, those in our communities unfortunate to be afflicted with this or other disabilities. After all, such calamities can happen to anyone. STEPHENS SIKOMBE, now narrates his experience.

IMAGINE how a human being can cope with life when he is deaf and blind. Now, I'm not exactly such a person myself, but I'm half-deaf and half-blind.

One day, while I was in Grade eight in September, 2005, I noticed that, I couldn't see clearly what was written on the black board.

I ignored this thinking that it was just a bad day, but it lasted for almost two weeks. By October that year, I'd lost half my sight. I told my mum about it, and she took me to hospital where I was given some medicines and requested to return if there was no progress.

However, all the prescriptions by the doctors for restoration of my sight failed.

It was at this same time that, unfortunately, I began to realise that my hearing was fading, which shocked me and I felt like I was half dead.

In two weeks, my condition got worse and my friends at school and home began to tease me.

This prompted me to request for a transfer to a near-by school, where, after explaining my condition, teachers and students welcomed me.

They appeared to understand because they thought I was born with the condition.

But that was just for a short while because they could not pretend any longer and started teasing me because I couldn't understand what the teachers were saying, much less see clearly what was written on the board even though I sat in the front row, about a metre from the board.

This mocking became too much and I was literally heart-broken with the result that I opted to stay away from school to avoid the derisive laughter which my classmates could not prevent.

Somehow, I managed to obtain a Grade nine certificate, barely making the the cut-off point.

After I got the results, my intention was not to go to Grade 10, to force my dad, who had not been moved, to look into my condition.

But instead of giving me hope, dad threatened to chase me from his house.

Despite the threat, however, I proceeded to Grade 10.

Life was boring in high school because, though I went for lessons, I came up with nothing.

Sometimes, however, I understood a little from what the teachers were teaching.

And, thanks, to my normal sighted friends on whom I depended to take notes for me, though they continued to deride me.

However, I had to adjust and get used to being a laughing stock.

Sometimes when teachers asked me questions, I would ask them to repeat five times or more in return.

One day, I pleaded with my classmates to change their attitude towards my illness and to our class teacher who told them to encourage me, but to no avail.

One time my father wanted to have me transferred to a school for the deaf, but I told him I was not totally deaf and was able to speak and hear.

My dad did not look at my condition thoroughly and was not concerned about the medical fees, which, luckily, were settled by my mother.

I convinced dad and remained at the school.

My second year at school was the worst as my condition deteriorated.

I thought of committing suicide, but my Christian beliefs prevented me from taking this drastic action.

I passed through a very dark cloud that year.

My dad could not understand my condition and my entire family and friends deserted me , literally withdrawing their usual sympathies and support.

They seemed to have resigned themselves to the situation and let me be the way I was as if I was born with the condition.

But I did not give up and continued going to school, though at times overwhelmed by frustration, I would not reach school, turning back on the way.

I used to hate myself because when I thought about the future, it was really heart-breaking.

I remember one day on my way to school. I used to go by public bus.

At the bus station, I could not hear clearly the announcement by a bus conductor and I jumped on a Chawama-bound bus instead of Chilenje!

I couldn't tell the conductor I'd got on a wrong bus for fear of being ridiculed and dressed down by the conductor and his passengers.

I truly felt ashamed of myself.

But in 2009, I enjoyed my education. While on holiday in August that year, my mother sent me to Mumbwa to relax.

It was there where I heard about a woman who prayed for those in need, those afflicted with all sorts of diseases and problems of life like me.

The woman prayed for me and I felt better than ever before.

I returned to Lusaka afterwards and realised that the past two years at school had been a waste of my time.

I started applying myself more to school work and sat Grade 12 exams, but my effort was not good enough as I only made it in two subjects.

I don't know what's the cause or the name of the illness I'm suffering from. Maybe I was bewitched or cursed into a life-threatening situation, looking at the way I am today.

Since completing Form five, I can't get a job and wonder how, if ever I got one, I would cope in a working environment.

I ended up doing small-scale business after Grade 12 which lasted only a year.

It's now two years since my small business closed and I'm doing nothing.

Apart from disturbing my education, my condition has also dashed my dream of being a professional footballer.

Believe you me, I used to be a scoring machine on the pitch, but with my current sight I can't see the balls, amid derisive laughter from teammates and fans alike.

I switched to singing which I thought I had a talent for so that I could earn a living, but this, too, has proved a challenge because I cannot hear the vocals, compounded by inability to acquire musical equipment.

Music houses cannot sign me on because of my condition. At one studio, I was chased like a dog for failing to answer the producer, forcing him to repeat his question more than twice.

The greatest challenge I face in every day life is communication.

Like talking to someone on the phone; I can't hear what they are saying even when loud speakers are on.

All I can hear is a distorted sound. I now depend on text messages, but even these pose a challenge because I have to squint my eyes to read them, as I do with newspapers and watching television.

I have to get very close to the objects and the result is that, if it's television, I cannot join family and friends in sharing a television joke.

With this condition, I end up appearing to ignore people calling me from long distance, but I always wish they knew my condition.

I thank God for giving me guidance and strength for these past five years in which I have lived in half-darkness and a half-soundless environment and ask for prayers from readers of this column.

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