From the way Tony Opio calls a friendâ€™s name, it is hard to tell that he cannot see them. It is exactly 20 years since Opio became blind. He is turning 52 this May and even though heâ€™s getting older, the blind manâ€™s enthusiasm just keeps growing
From the way Tony Opio calls a friendâ€™s name, it is hard to tell that he cannot see them. It is exactly 20 years since Opio became blind. He is turning 52 this May and even though heâ€™s getting older, the blind manâ€™s enthusiasm just keeps growing.
It was all laughs on the bus to Bujagali on Saturday morning as we travelled down to see Opio and three other persons with disabilities take on the biggest challenge of their lives â€” white water rafting.
Opio, the blind one, makes his living out of music and once he started crooning, he could not stop. He regaled the journalists with stories of his sporting misadventures. For instance, how does a blind man know that he has covered the 100 metres of the race or does he just keep on running until someone tells him to stop? We wanted to know. Even more amazing was the fact that blind Opio can cook, dance and even swim.
This time around, the rafting company, Adrift Uganda, was handling a team with a difference. The rafting team consisted of Opio, Agnes Aserit, the deaf gender officer, Jessie, a student amputee and Seth Wanjihia, a lame architect from Kenya.
In rafting down the river Nile, the four disabled people took on a challenge that is hard to contemplate even for some able-bodied people. The aim of the rafting trip was to raise money for the construction of bore-holes in Gulu District. The white-water rafting trip received much local sponsorship and even international support.
Idle talk about rafting is one thing. Getting down to the real action is another. For the four persons with disabilities, the real challenge started when we got down to the bank of the River Nile. One member of the rafting team could not see the water and the other one could not hear the mighty rush of the rapids and waterfalls. Still, that did not take away any of the excitement for Opio, Agnes, Jessie and Seth, all first-time rafters.
The one thing the four disabled people have in common is a sense of humour. Whenever they faltered, they laughed good-naturedly at themselves and moved on. When Seth, the lame architect, took off his spectacles, he could not resist quipping, â€œWithout my glasses Iâ€™m as blind as Opio.â€
Agnes required an interpreter the whole day to translate into sign language whatever was said on the river. Jessie, the beautiful young amputee, had such an air of serenity about her all the way. Her good leg is so fine that itâ€™s hard not to imagine what she would look like if she had two. But since the persons with disabilities were not complaining, there was no use in moaning on their behalf, so we smiled and strapped on our life jackets.
The disappointment of the day was borne by the journalists who decided to go rafting on the spur of the moment. Since they had not confirmed their arrangements beforehand, they could not go. The rest of us moved to the watersâ€™ edge and started the preparations for the rafting journey ahead.
The WBS crew was the most ill-prepared. It seems no one had briefed the Showtime presenter and her cameraman that white water rafting involves getting yourself wet and that one requires a practical change of clothes for the river. Eventually, we got sailing with four boats. It was mid-morning and the sun was out in full force.
Opio went with one of the two paddle-boats. The paddle-boats follow the harsher route on the rapids and blind Opio was anxious not to be classified with the cowardly women â€” some of them journalists â€” who were sailing on the soft flip-proof oar boats.
We covered a long stretch of calm water before the first big rapid, stopping to marvel at the riverbanks and the semi nude children and the occasional nude adult washing themselves in the river.
Eventually, the real challenge we had gone to face presented itself in the form of Bujagali Falls. Bujagali is a â€˜Grade 5â€™ rapid and is one of the â€˜big fiveâ€™ rapids on the Nile. The rapid is so big and intimidating even to a third-time rafter like me that I wondered what the rest of the first-timers were thinking as we approached it.
Agnes, the deaf one, could not hear the thundering rapid and Opio the blind one couldnâ€™t see just how high the waves were rising â€” and may be it was just as well. Bujagali is really scary. We lost the Monitorâ€™s Evelyn Matsamura on hitting the first rapid. I did not even see her fall out of the boat. She just disappeared and resurfaced further downstream, breathing hard and trying to recover from the river dunking.
Out of the four persons with disabilities, only Blind Opio fell off the boat and into the river. After he was fished out, Opio could not stop telling stories. â€œFor the first time in my life I felt truly alone,â€ he said of his under-water experience.
The White Water Adventure with a Difference went well. The money was raised and many rafters were left swearing that they would do it again sometime.
Disabled rookies brave Bujagali