By Nigel Nassar
Both his hands are contorted into some rigid anomaly, the fingers folding and clasping closely to one another in what renders the hands disabled and almost useless.
Yet, these otherwise useless hands, rickety and painful as he says they are, happen to be Mzee George Kamya’s only prized limbs. Because from his waist downwards, everything else is paralysed from an accident he had a long time ago, so paralysed he even wonders how he is able to urinate or pass out stool at all. In fact, he says, “when a mosquito bites any of the parts from the waist downwards, it suckles out water, not blood, and that kills it instantly.”
On the few moments when 85-year-old Mzee Kamya is not brooding about his situation, he jokingly passes this off as a mechanism against mosquito bites and malaria. But those moments are short-lived, as he quickly switches back to “why me, Lord?”
“I even wonder why I am still alive because half of my body is totally cold, just like a dead body,” he says. “Perhaps God has a reason for keeping me alive all these years, and that is why I refuse to question Him, much as I am tempted to do so every single day of my 34 years in this situation.”
Yes, 34 years is how long Mzee Kamya has been paralysed, and his story is something of a legend around his place of abode, Ndegeya trading centre, about 30km from Masaka town on the Masaka-Mbarara highway.
I ran into Mzee Kamya on Monday October 7, as I followed the just-concluded Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) charity walk from Kabale district to Mukono, a 400km walk aimed at raising awareness about problems affecting the elderly, a demographic ROTOM takes care of.
The 15 walkers including yours truly, led by ROTOM founder and executive director Kenneth Edmund Mugayehwenkyi, on this 10th day of the walk happened to take a few minutes’ break at Ndegeya trading centre.
And as we sipped at some water, right there a few metres away, by the verandah of a derelict house the age of independent Uganda, sat a visibly weather beaten, gray-haired old man. It was Mzee Kamya.
Linda Hallett, one of the charity walkers, was overwhelmed by Mzee Kamya's story
Hunched back and barely any clothes, with just an old bed sheet covering his private parts (he has no one to dress him up all the time); the old man uncomfortably leaned backwards against the wall, facing the highway and seemingly in deep thought.
We approached to say hello. Happy that anyone had cared to go check on him at all (the elderly in Uganda are very lonely people with hardly any visitors), his face lit up. “Come closer, my children, come,” he said in a strong but laboured voice, reaching out his trembling hands to shake ours.
With every handshake, he winced in pain, but happy to do the handshakes nonetheless. “Sit down, my children, sit and tell me stories from your journeys. As for me, all I got left is the voice, and perhaps the brain because none of those got affected when I got the accident 34 years ago. I have been here, bedridden for all those years, I have seen governments come and go, with bullets flying over my head during wars and soldiers coming in, taking whatever they want and leaving.
I have been here, unable to move when everyone else has run away from the village during wars in those past political turmoil days. Remember the 1980-1986 war when President Yoweri Museveni was fighting to take over from Milton Obote and later from Tito Okello? I was here, on my floor bed, and have been here since, these hands paining profusely and the lower part of my body dead, can you imagine?”
We couldn’t imagine. The walkers, most of whom anointed souls with powerful evangelical skills, launched into prayer for him, for his healing, for his next meal, and any other form of help coming his way. Afterwards we collected some money to afford him a few more meals in the days to come, and set off on the ROTOM walk.
But I promised to return and interview him later on after getting done with the day’s walk. “Perhaps after I tell your story in the New Vision, our readers might contribute some money for your welfare, as they usually help,” I promised him.
So after securing a place to sleep at Kinoni, a town after Mzee Kamya’s, I returned to Ndegeya for the interview. He was so happy that anyone had kept their promise at all. “Many have promised me things here and not returned. May God bless you for keeping your promise! Children of today hardly ever keep a promise.
God bless you,” prays the old man, a catholic who says his strong faith has helped keep him from a lot of bad thoughts and actions. “A man as idle as I needs his God closer, otherwise staying here waiting to be fed, clothed and moved from one place to another can make you have bad thoughts, for someone who was used to having their way.”
The walkers praying for Mzee Kamya
Mzee Kamya’s story
Mzee Kamya, born in Kyooko, Masaka in 1928, was by his hay day’s standards a successful man. He didn’t get much of an education to talk of, so he took the peasant angle to making a living – he became a peasant. By his 20s, he was a big-time farmer to reckon with around Masaka, dealing in beans and maize on a 12-acre piece of land, and later becoming a successful trader in the produce, with coffee beans as an additional arm.
“In 1952, I married my wife Freedah Nakyeegye. I was only 24, handsome and loaded. We wed at Matale Church of Uganda, and the late Bishop Ian Ddungu, then a Father, joined us in matrimony. Those were good days,” he recalls the beginning of the journey that would see him and Freedah sire 10 children, five boys, five girls.
For long he dominated the trade in the said produce, eventually building the now derelict house, which by then was “the house”, and consolidating his foothold in the area.
But one day in 1979, he rode a bicycle from Ndegeya to go visit his brother in Masaka. On his return home, at Kinoni trading centre, just a few kilometres to his house, the frame of his bicycle broke down and he crashed into a heap. He woke up days later in Mulago hospital, his backbone broken and most of his body paralysed.
“I spent two months in Mulago, with every doctor trying their best in vain. The doctors said it couldn’t be corrected anywhere in the world. But my wife and I kept on trying, along the way spending all the money we had, selling every inch of land we owned and using up all the capital for the business. Things got worse when after 10 years; my wife fell sick and died. She had been a pillar in my life, moving me from here to there, cleaning me up when I ‘went’ in my clothes, bathing me, cooking for me, feeding me, name it. After her death I became a beggar, suffering everyday with no one to get me out of my poop or take me to hospital.”
Kamya's grandchildren wait to carry him back inside
Things are not any different. Of his 10 children, only four are alive. “They would have helped me, but they are all in their 50s, needy and with their own families and problems.”
Since he didn’t get an education, Kamya didn’t give it to his children either. And now the cycle is back at his doorstep, biting him in the foot, which is one of the many problems eating at the elderly today. Kamya now understands it too well and actually advises: “Take your children to school, my son, if you have any. They will be the ones to save you from situations as bad as mine.”
Today, Kamya gets anything done for him at the mercy of his two teenage grandchildren. When these two play all day or get a casual labour stint and forget to fix a meal for him, wash his bark cloth bedding, carry him out or back inside; he stays put, messy and smelly too.
His house, decorated with dusty pictures of a younger him, the wife and past Ugandan presidents including his favourite President Museveni, is way past its sell-by date, and could collapse any day.
“My roof leaks, and when it’s windy I feel as though it is coming off any time, the walls shaking. One day this shack is going to come down on me and they will find me dead. I know I am aged and useless, but I don’t want to die now. If someone out there helped built for me a smaller and safer roof over my head, or contributed some money to help me pay a caretaker to accompany me to my day of death, I would forever be indebted to them. I have nothing to give, but God would bless them,” he prays.
So here is your chance to make a difference in this elderly and needy man’s life.
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