The Blind Grandmother Giving HIV-Positive Kenyans Support and Dignity – Women & Girls Hub

NAIROBI, Kenya – When a visitor walks up the stony path to Catherine Mwayonga’s home in Thika, 30 minutes from the Kenyan capital, she hears their footsteps and raises her voice – bold and husky – to usher them in. She’s sitting on the sofa, knitting a sweater for a newborn baby and counting the stitches with her fingers. “Karibu sana (welcome),” she says.

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Catherine Mwayonga at her home in Thika, Kenya. Photo/Kalunde Kilonzo

Mwayonga, 62, the mother of six grown boys and two adopted daughters, is blind. She lost her eyesight when she was 7, after a cow kicked her in the head and threw her against a tree. She is also HIV-positive, which she only discovered when she overheard a doctor talking about her to his colleagues: “The patient on bed 12 is HIV-positive.”

Mwayonga remembers hearing him announce her status as she lay still on the cold bed, pretending to be asleep. “He said it in English, assuming that I did not understand,” she says. “It shocked me.”

That moment led to years of fear, denial and confusion as Mwayonga’s disability – one that had long ago become a natural part of her full life – suddenly became an impediment to coping with her illness. Everything from getting information from doctors to taking medication was a struggle. But 15 years on, Mwayonga has overcome those challenges and now devotes her time to advocating for HIV-positive people with disabilities, calling for more respect and improved resources.

The first case of HIV was discovered in Kenya in 1984, and the country’s infection rate currently stands at 5.6 percent. Figures from the Kenya National HIV and Aids Estimates shows it has the fourth highest HIV prevalence in the world, with about 1.6 million people infected with the virus.

For two years before her diagnosis, Mwayonga had pleaded with doctors to test her for HIV/AIDS. In 1996, after a decade of illness, her husband died from what Mwayonga later discovered were AIDS-related complications. She knew the risk of her having contracted HIV from him was high. “In 1999, I would have malaria today, typhoid tomorrow, but nothing specific,” she says. “I would ask why they were not testing me for HIV/AIDS. They would say the disease would not get [disabled] people like me. But I asked them: Aren’t I a human being?”

via The Blind Grandmother Giving HIV-Positive Kenyans Support and Dignity – Women & Girls Hub

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Teen With Down Syndrome Is Determined To Become A Model | Bored Panda

18-year-old Madeline Stuart recently decided to become a model. Her story is making headlines and winning support because of one little difference, however – Maddy has Down syndrome.
Because she enjoys swimming and dancing, Maddy was frustrated by the extra weight she had holding her back. With the help of her mother, Rosanne, she lost 44lbs (20kg). Her new-found energy and confidence inspired her to try modeling, and her inspiring story soon found a supporter in the Living Dead label, which prides itself on signing models of diverse body types.

via Teen With Down Syndrome Is Determined To Become A Model | Bored Panda.

Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery

By Angelina Jolie Pitt:

TWO years ago I wrote about my choice to have a preventive double mastectomy. A simple blood test had revealed that I carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. It gave me an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. I lost my mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer.

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I wanted other women at risk to know about the options. I promised to follow up with any information that could be useful, including about my next preventive surgery, the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes.

I had been planning this for some time. It is a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe. It puts a woman into forced menopause. So I was readying myself physically and emotionally, discussing options with doctors, researching alternative medicine, and mapping my hormones for estrogen or progesterone replacement. But I felt I still had months to make the date.

via Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery – NYTimes.com.

Chimamanda: Don’t be fake.

Today, I stumbled on a link on my Facebook timeline about quotes from five African writers. One was from my favourite writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was even more profound for me because I had just watched Half a Yellow Sun, the movie and I totally relate with her quote:

Ask questions. Never pretend to know what you don’t know, otherwise you will never learn. Read books. Do things properly. Do not write formal emails in text language where ‘you’ is one letter of the alphabet. Don’t be fake. You are more interesting as you truly are. Don’t measure yourself using another person’s yardstick. Be curious about the world. Be kind. Don’t be quick to judge, think carefully about things before you pass judgment. Try and learn something new every day. Don’t decide not to try something because you are afraid you will fail. Every successful person has failed at something. Think of it like this: you might fall down but if you fall down you can stand up and try again.”

This quote just spoke to me on all levels.

For instance, I ask so many questions, not merely because I am a journalist but because I am super curious.

At times, to save face, I have pretended to know what I don’t only to resort to asking questions both to the people who know the information as well as on Google.

I read books. I love African fiction…and non-fiction, let us just say I love any African book/read.

I strive on doing things properly that I end up bordering extreme, painful perfection and when I fail I suffer from too much self-criticism.

I am a sucker for formality…I am a ‘grammar Nazi’. I have stopped talking to some peeps because of spelling mistakes. Sorry, but I can’t. But as Chimamanda says, think carefully about things before you pass judgment. I am learning this.

Oh, honestly, I have more times compared myself to other people’s yardstick. I have not asked myself how they got to be as good as I know them. Instead, I have squeezed and strained myself to read like other people’s stories. Something which I am now realizing is a total waste of energy, I loose myself in the process and I end up like a copy…a fake copy.

I am moving away from this. A step at a time and celebrating Me. Eunice for who I am.

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Those who know me, know that I am a ball of optimism and excitement. But, lately, I have been on a slippery slope. I have received countless rejection emails. Masters applications. Fellowship applications. So so many that, when I see them, I pain a little and hit BIN. These rejections have clouded all the other great things happening in my life and in my work. But, to read Chimamanda say, think of it like this: you might fall down but if you fall down you can stand up and try again.

I am hopeful. I am very hopeful that I need to keep at it. Maybe you too are going through something similar. Or you were here a while back, or…you may find yourself here…stand up and try again.

And lastly…As if sent out to speak to me, a friend, Kevin Sanya, put up an update. Part of it read:

“God is in complete control, He’s brought me through in the past and I know He’ll bring me through again. I’mma keep pressing forward knowing that my due season is on its way. I will take the limits off God and make room in my own thinking for the new things God wants to do.

Friends, this is my prayer for you too. God is getting everything lined up for you, it’s your due season, its God’s appointed time; keep praying, keep believing, keep doing your very best! You are much closer than you think; the most difficult time is right before your victory!

Thinking of trying again? Check out these sites for writing ideas/opportunities.

  1. https://farafinabooks.wordpress.com/
  2. http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/
  3. http://brittlepaper.com/

Kidney Disease: The faces of strength

Today, is World Kidney Day.

A day to talk about the diseases that affect the bean-shaped organs on the back of either sides of your spine. The two organs, the size of your fists, that help you urinate, balance the acidity levels of your blood, create hormones and a lot more.

Before last year in October, I had not given much thought to kidneys. It was until I got a story tip about a young lady, Caroline Wangechi Ndiragu who was suffering from a severe form of Kidney disease. End Stage Renal Disease.

I met her in a relative’s home and I was not sure what to say to her. I saw pain and confusion on her face and on her parents. As a journalist, I was there with my pen, notebook and an open mind to learn how it is to live with kidney disease.

The interview led to this article published on The Daily Nation. It was her one week diary, narrating her experience through dialysis where her blood would be mechanically cleaned. It drained her as she hoped for funds to go for a transplant in India, a kidney donated to her by her maternal uncle.

When I asked her what she would like to do once she got her new kidney, she told me: “I would like to drink a glass of Fanta orange soda.”

That stung me. She longed for something that would have otherwise been considered ordinary or even mundane by others. To simply sip Fanta Orange. She could not do it as all the fluid and sugars from it would be retained in her body until the next dialysis session.

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Fortunately, after the story ran people sent in their donation in cash, prayers and words of encouragement. Caroline 2

In a months time, November 25; Caroline, her aunt and uncle were India bound. They left for the transplant. I kept in touch through Whatsapp on their time there up to the day Caroline and her uncle were wheeled into the operating room on January 14.

I was overwhelmed: both scared and excited in equal measures. I had read of how people died on the operating tables and honestly, I was not too sure what would happen.

You can imagine my joy when the aunt, Charity, sent me pictures of Caroline and Simon, the uncle from the theater. I cried. I cried some more.

I called her mother, Lydia and shared my relief and all she could tell me was: “My daughter is going to be fine. I don’t know how to thank you Eunice.”

I cried some more.

On March 1, on Sunday, I was in Mombasa when my phone rang in the morning. It was Lydia, Caroline’s mother.

She said: “Caroline will be coming back on Tuesday, March 3. Are you in Nairobi? We would like to have you at the airport.”

I could not get back in time. I was meant to leave Mombasa for the 8 hours drive to Nairobi on Tuesday. They, Caroline’s entourage, would land hours after I set foot in Nairobi.

I replied: “I will not make it, but I will come home to meet you. I will come to see her in a week.”

Six days later, I was travelling to an unknown location, just kept calm by the directions Lydia told me over the phone. Four hours later, I was a top a motor-bike, traversing the stony dusty paths of Chaka in Nyeri County into a little location called Maragema.

And then I saw her. Caroline.

She came out first to meet me. I could not recognise her. She was lighter, plump and jolly.

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She jumped up to me before I had descended the roaring motor-bike.

“See, I am fine Eunice. You helped me,” she said leading me into their house. Her mother joined us in a little while and embraced me in tears.

I will not cry here. Not in front of all these people, I said to myself.

To stop the tears I said: ” I bought you Fanta!”

She laughed, her mother joined in, her father jumped in too as well as Simon, the donor and the hero, her aunt Charity and Caroline’s younger brother, Richard. The place turned into a feast. There was talking, eating and drinking of tea and Fanta.

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I had never thought in October when I met this family that we would ever meet like this, over 300Kms away from Nairobi. I never thought I would be here among all these people.

“My new kidney from my uncle began working immediately it was put in my body. I can now eat anything. I now eat over five plates of food, six eggs for breakfast and about three litres of water. I have a second chance,” Ms Wangechi said.

Today, as we mark World Kidney Day, I want to celebrate Caroline. I want to celebrate her hope of a second chance and her determination despite the hurdles and challenges of the dialysis. Now, she still has to brace herself for the life long medication she is to take so that her body does not reject her new kidney. Unfortunately, the drugs are quite costly and Caroline’s parents are afraid they may not afford them. Continue reading “Kidney Disease: The faces of strength”