Her feet kicking too close to the road and her stuffed sack bag choking her, she convulses as she kicks her feet. Our matatu is driving at around 100km/h and the driver swerves to the right to avoid knocking her. He stops at a distance and reverses the car near her and stops. We all run out of the car.
The driver and I are the first at the scene, her mouth is foaming. I attend her torso releasing the sack bag’s strap off her neck. I hold her mouth tight as I gently roll her head over so as not to choke on the foam that is still forming on her mouth.
Am coming to Nairobi from the village and am seated with my cousin at the car’s front seat and we discuss investments, saving, thinking big, salvation etc. In the scorching heat, Rose Muhando’s latest album is playing in the car as my restless cousin slouches in the uncomfortable center seat. As I see the woman at a distance, I saw me, kicking and convulsing. While many think that she might have had an accident, I picture myself, a poor boy tending my father’s herd but kicking and tossing on the ground because I have a disease no one can fathom.
I tell my cousin to get me a pen from my bag and I put it between her teeth. A note is tucked in her waist and a woman pulls it. It reads that she is suffering from epilepsy and that her relatives abandoned her because of her condition. It also reads that she should not be given any liquids or food while she is convulsing. It adds that she also takes Tegretol for her medication. We try to call a number on the card but no one’s phone has reception. I now picture myself, a poor boy from a poor background lying on the road as passengers surround me in awe and bewilderment. I look at her face, her eyelids twitch and squint in rapid succession. People are surrounding her saying, “Huyu ako na Kifafa.” (She is epileptic) Many step back holding their chins. I keep holding her face as I try to engage her in a conversation.
She is still lying down, helpless, hands outstretched like Jesus on the cross. A woman holds her feet and resists the wind from blowing her clothes off. I look at her face, innocent, she looks weak and worn out. Suddenly, I feel hands grabbing my feet. She is awake and she tries to hide between my feet. She is ashamed, she picks her sack bag and tries to stand up. I help her sit telling her not to worry. I ask her name, she cannot speak. She reminded me of me, the inability to speak after having that seizure. She wants to leave, she says that she wants to leave so that she can sell second-hand clothes. The nearest town, Merrueshi near the new cement company Simba Cement is almost 30 kilometers and she was to go on foot.
The police are here and they ask what the issue is, they say that she saw her walking as they were heading towards the next town, Emali when they received a call that someone is in distress. She resists talking and people start giving up on her. Others stand aside pitying her and the police try to convince her to go home. The lady hails from Emali and she seems to be selling second-hand clothes to the nearby towns and homes. As she tries to find her way to continue with her journey, I get in front of her and hold her shoulders. I fix my gaze directly into her pupils and say, “I was like you, I have battled what you are battling for 12 years and I am well now, I only have a month to take pills. I saw in your note that Tegretol was prescribed to you. I use the same pills for my condition. I know how it feels to be segregated and people referring your condition as ‘your disease’ because it is peculiar. I know how it feels when people say you are cursed, that you have to make peace with your ancestors, that you are demon possessed or that you there is something bad you did.” People draw close and the well-dressed police are bewildered. No one makes a sound, not even the herders, they do not peek to have a slight look of their cows. She is moved, I can see from her eyes that she wants to cry but she acts strong.
I ask her if she has medication and she tells me she cannot afford them. Am moved, I brace my tears as I place myself in her shoes; middle-aged woman, forsaken by relatives, maybe with kids, struggling to eke a living, ashamed of her condition because people think that something supernatural is the reason and can’t work well because she is always falling and convulsing. Guys let me tell you what it feels to be epileptic. There is the fear of doing everything, the fear that you can be cooking and you fall into the fire, fear that you can have an attack while crossing the road, fear that you can fall from a height, fear that you may never drive your own car, the fear that you cannot stroll on your own or enjoy your lone moments etc. The greatest of all nightmares are people; people will always judge you and alienate you, people will always regard you as, ‘the guy with epilepsy’ or worse still said in Swahili, ‘Ule kijana anakuwaga na shida ya kichwa’, people will always ask you questions like, ‘Have you been prayed for?’ ‘Is there something you did to anyone?’ ‘Have you checked your family line? Maybe your grandparents cursed you. Maybe you need to go make peace with your family members.’ People are mostly the biggest nightmare for people who suffer from mental illnesses. They always sideline you, they think that you are not good enough and they think you are always incapable of doing most things. I could understand this lady’s pain because I walked through that path.
I quickly told everyone to get from their pockets all that they could give so that she could have medication. I told the people that a pill goes from around 35-40 shillings and she needs two in a day which amounts to 80 shillings per day and 2,400 shillings a month. In less than two minutes I had 1,350 in my hands and I begged her to receive the cash and allow the police officers to take her home. She was almost crying but she insisted that she wanted to go sell her clothes. I never wanted to quit on her and so I persuaded her to go home and take a rest as I asked someone to go the next matatu and ask for contributions. In less than a minute, I had KSh 400 and numerous coins in my hands and I pressed them in her hands. She reluctantly accepted them. I told her to take my number and call me in case she never had money to buy pills and she told me she never had a phone. I took a pen and a paper from the officer’s car and wrote it down for her. She was smiling and lacked words to say. In her slurred speech she agreed to go back home with the officers.
How did it feel? I had been home before and after the elections. With all these protests and killings I decided to stay at home and this one day that I go back to my house in Nairobi, God presents himself. She was Kamba, I am Maasai and the many who contributed including the herders were either, Kikuyu, Luo, Kalenjin, Kamba etc. Recently, I told someone that we are not tribal but political. We all forget about our tribes for 4 years only to remember what tribe we are in the 5th. This was a Kamba helped by people of different tribes but we butcher each other because one tribe did this or that.
I am glad that I was in the car, I loved because the matatu drivers decided to stop (Kudos Naekana Sacco for your amazing drivers). It is funny that I used to blame God that I was epileptic, that I will never drive my car, never get someone to marry me or will always be under the care of someone. Through the brutal years of bracing people, harsh conditions and environment, I managed to soar and here I am, never had a fit in four years and about to stop taking medication in a month’s time. I have taken pills for 7 years. Through the years I have moved from Tegretol (Carbamazepine) 200mg to 1600mg a day and even to an additional mood stabilizer Nexito (Escitalopram) of 10 mg costing as high as Ksh 7,000 a month. I thought I had it all and that the world was so unfair not until I saw this woman trekking for kilometers under the hot scorching sun to make ends meet, not specifically to buy pills but maybe to have something to eat. Sometimes we are blinded by what we undergo and think that our situation is worse and blame God but I learned to be thankful for every situation because everything works for our good and for His glory. If I had not walked that path nobody could have understood her as well and people would have walked away thinking that she was rude.
This calls for awareness and sensitization, it is sad that even in my lowest moments I couldn’t find a body that sensitizes on epilepsy or mental health. I couldn’t find someone with the same condition as me, someone who knows what if feels like to have a seizure. Most people are suffering, like this woman with no phone, whose relatives forsook her and I am hoping is for her to call me. An epileptic person is not demon possessed, bewitched or cursed, depressed people do not look for attention, they are not big babies who want the world to listen to them. Schizophrenia, bipolar, mood disorders, anxiety and other mental illnesses are not western diseases. I asked myself, with the journey I have gone through, what am I doing with the triumph? Because I have beaten epilepsy, what am I doing for others who are struggling with mental illnesses? I have decided to blog on mental illnesses to create awareness on the stereotypes in the society. Am still thinking of whether to create a new blog or create a section in this. If you can write on mental health and would want to create awareness and have a community where we will make people feel that they are not alone kindly email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have your story and you would like to share kindly email me using the email above. If you prefer anonymity please use silomasays.sarahah.com (Many people are asking what are the benefits of Sarahah – you just found out). I just created a Facebook Group where Kenyan people suffering from mental illness can relate and share, click here to join. Read other stories I have written on mental health on http://wairemafoundation.org/blog
Guys, this is a call to everyone, be kind to anyone suffering from any mental illness. The power to break them or build them lies in your hands. They need support, love, care and understanding. They are still humans like you.
Thanks, Shawn Koonce for the spirit of Simply Doing Good #SDG Check them out
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