The Day I Cheated Death

sylvie — By Sylvie from Cameroon

Dawn was almost breaking, so you could still hear the birds chirping, the cocks crowing, and my siblings snoring. 
It was 5:30am, so I quietly slipped my way from our room to the kitchen, tiptoeing and being as quiet as I could to prepare the things I needed for the day’s restaurant sales. 

I was 21, had graduated from the university and because of a lack of jobs in the country I opened a restaurant. I employed two people to help me and I couldn’t be prouder of myself. 

When I finished packing, I rushed for a quick shower, got ready, and by 6am I left the house. Carrying the bags on my head, I walked through the dusty tiny path that linked our house to the main road. As I walked past the trees, I looked at the mud built houses occupied by the other jobless youths, and wondered how they paid their rent; I wondered if moving from the villages to the cities was a good idea for them, and I wished them well.

Finally, I arrived at the restaurant, it was an earth floored, brown painted two-room building bordered by two drugstores, a domestic gas seller to the right, a tiny passage to a motel where prostitutes lived, and a huge snack bar to the left. Business was active at the “Sodom and Gomorrah,” or as my mom called it, 24/7. The prostitutes were getting ready to retire as they had worked all night.

I opened the restaurant doors and walked through the first room, which was used for serving and eating, to the second room which was the kitchen. I used “salt-dust-pots” to cook the food, as it was cheaper, but it was some sort of a hassle to get it started. After about 30 minutes of pounding the dust into the locally made cooking utensil it was ready for use. I lit the fire, took a seat and started preparing the other ingredients for cooking; onion chopping, asparagus washing, spices blending and as I did, I heard a scratchy squeaky sound from the neighbor’s domestic gas shop, and I thought maybe he had forgotten to turn his radio off. I continued chopping, washing, cleaning, but the sound got louder and in a split of a second I saw a rushing flash of fire below my feet, and soon the entire kitchen was consumed in fire. Red curly puffs of fire covered my entire body. I got numb for a second and the next second I rushed out of the kitchen through the serving room to the street screaming “Fire!! Help!! Fire!! Fire!!” The prostitutes who had retired were the first to come to my aid as they too joined in screaming “Fire!! Fire!! Help!!” And in the next few minutes the entire place was filled up with people all trying to help, others rushing for sand to pour on the uncontrollable fire. The sounds of the gas bottles exploding could be heard from the neighbor’s shop, others were calling the fire fighters, and others were trying to save as much property as they could. 

I was standing there covered in tears, hands on my head, no shoes on my feet as they had been burnt: I watched how the flames spread to the neighboring buildings, and in twenty minutes, millions of dollars worth of property were all burnt to ashes. Journalists, cameras, people all surrounded me asking what had happened and how I survived, and to this day I don’t have an answer to that question. 


My Nurse

Anibe — By Anibe from Nigeria

It was just months after my twentieth birthday when I had the unforgettable accident. I remember how one morning, as I laid in the hospital bed with my right leg hanging, it dawned on me that I may never walk again. The thought didn’t scare me. I was numb of all feeling, except for the burning sensation in my dangling leg.

From the corner of my eye, I saw someone coming in. I knew it was my nurse. You see, I called her my nurse because we became such close friends. No one else would check in at 3 am to see if I was really sleeping. Before then, I also never heard of a nurse who bought fruits for her patient. She had no child of her own, but was one of the kindest people I ever met. Like me, she loved books, and would always bring me some.

As I jotted down random thoughts in my diary that morning, I looked up and it was her, of course. I guess she knew I wasn’t in the mood for our usual gist. So, she pulled a seat beside my bed and watched as I wrote, without saying a word – because she didn’t have to. I wrote about how I would become a successful CEO. Only, right then, I didn’t believe it.

How could I have believed in anything when I could smell sickness and disinfectant everywhere? I was assaulted by these smells from the first day I was wheeled in. But they paled in comparison to the real problem – that patients died every day. And some of those still living would never get better. I knew because I saw it in their eyes. Then, there was me in that odd gown with talcum powder all over my body, because I could get bedsores from prolonged immobility. How could I have believed in anything? How?

A moment later, I thought back to one night, a year before when my roommate and I were talking. She kept saying that it couldn’t be stopped. “What?” I had asked. “Accidents, illnesses, and especially death.” She spoke slowly, her teeth seemed clenched, eyes focused straight up at the ceiling. When I pressed her for more, she said, “I’m afraid I’ll end up just killing myself.” At that time, it had given me shivers, a clammy feeling ran throughout my body. But I talked myself out of it, saying she was only being dramatic.

Well, here I was, a victim of an accident – one of the things she talked about! More than anything, I wanted to break free. I worried that I might remain tied to that bed. I was stuck. So I figured if I couldn’t change the situation, maybe I could pretend it wasn’t happening. My only bright moments were my nurse’s visits, books, and a small radio she got for me. They were my tickets out of whatever I thought I was in.

Many months later, I was discharged from the hospital with a slight limp, crutches, and the will to live again – thanks to my nurse. But two years after this memorable experience, I heard a sad news – my nurse had passed away. It was painful because I wasn’t sure if I thanked her enough for being nice to me, a total stranger. I felt guilty because I didn’t return some her books like I promised. I was confused because I didn’t understand why she had to die when the world didn’t have enough good people.

It’s been a long journey to personal growth and a lot has happened to make me the person I am today. But to her honour, I decided to start helping to make someone else’s pain less painful – no matter their colour, religion, or tribe. I take small steps towards this every day, and I hope my nurse is proud of me.

Rest in peace, my nurse.

The Incredible Destiny of a Handicap


— By Mamadou from Guinea

Once upon a time, in a small village in the midst of the thick green mountains of Foutah Djalon, lived some farmers whose source of livelihood was always determined by the season. During one of those seasons that it rained, there was a huge downpour and a son was born to the family of the Diallos. The rain barely subsided before his dad went from hut to hut in the entire village to share the good news with fellow villagers. The joy in the family knew no bounds. A week after his birth his parents gave him the name Mamadou. At this moment, no one could have imagined what the life of this little boy would be.

Three years later, Mamadou was growing up very fast for his age. He could play around the house of his parents under the admiring and watchful sight of his mother. One of the nights, Mamadou’s mother was awakened by his cry. Mamadou had become sick and this sickness would eventually change his life forever. His parents took him to the traditional doctors and healers in their village and other neighbouring villages to find a cure to this illness. These doctors could not help the child and convinced his parents that the young Mamadou has contracted an incurable disease from the evil spirits. This was the beginning of suffering for the little Mamadou and his mother. Some believed his mother is being punished for the sins she might have committed in the past and some claimed the boy is a wizard. A few months later into his illness, Mamadou lost his father and those who believed he was a wizard concluded he had claimed his first victim.
Mamadou lived under this condition until he was six years of age. At this age, he was supposed to be in school just like his mates. His mother had an important choice to make between leaving him at home to protect him from others and sending him to school so that he will have equal opportunity to excel in life like his mates. Fortunately, she settled for the second option. On the first day he was to leave for school, his mother was sad and in anguish, because she had doubts about if the other students would welcome him at school.

======Mamadou’s First Day in School:=========

The long awaited day arrived and he had to go to school. Very early in the morning, his mother woke him up and he prepared himself, wore his uniform and headed for school. On arrival, what his mother feared happened. When he arrived, all the children looked at him because he was the only one who walked with a stick. This was only the beginning of his troubles. At school, he had to sit with other children. The children had to sit two by two on a bench, a girl and a boy per bench. No girl wanted to sit next to him and yet he was not the ugliest in the class. He did not understand why all these girls rejected sitting with him. The teacher finally had him sit with another boy. At some point, he noticed several children who imitated his way of walking, which was quite different. He had resisted everything that has happened earlier in class but this time, he cried. He returned home in tears and with many other questions that also made his mother cry.

=====The Encounter that Changed His Life:========

Days and years passed quickly. In his nine years of study so far, he was never sent to write on the board like other students. Whenever his teachers wanted to send him there, his friends and his teacher made it clear that Mamadou could not go to write on the board. This happened until the day that his chemistry teacher Momo Camara forced him to go there (to the blackboard). “Mamadou on the board!” The teacher said and Mamadou, after nine years of studies, had to go to the board in front of his friends, he wrote, sweating, and finally everything went well. At the end of the course, Mr. Camara summoned Mamadou to his office. He said to him “Mamadou, it was not out of wickedness that I sent you to the board, it is because if I treat you in a special way you become a special person, which is not good for you. You know there are two types of disabilities: Physical disability and moral disability. You already are physically handicapped, with it alone, you can live your life but if you add the second (moral disability), your life will have no meaning. If you do not accept yourself as you are, know that others will never accept you. You have the choice.”

These remarks got him thinking. Since that day, Mamadou began to change the way he saw himself. He began to consider himself not as a person with a disability but as a person. From that day, he accepted no special treatment. Sadness was written all over his face whenever he was forced to sit on the edge of the field watching his friends playing football, sitting on a chair while his friends danced, or sitting alone while his friends are having a nice time with their girlfriends. Now when his friends play football, he is the goalkeeper. When they (his friends) dance, he dances too (hmmm, you need to see him dance) and as far as love goes (hmmm, that one is complicated). As each step passed, at each success, he shakes hands and quietly thanks Mr. Camara for the tips that he would share with each person who would be discriminated against. Grace to you Mr. Camara, my life now has a meaning, giving great happiness to my dear mother.

=========The School, His Saviour============

After eighteen years of study, the little Mamadou who was expected by all to be in a corner begging is now an engineer. He is gainfully employed and now lives with his family. That is not all. He works with organisations to educate parents to vaccinate their children against polio because he eventually learnt that his illness was because of poliomyelitis. He is also involved in encouraging parents to send disabled children to school because for him, education is the only way to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities.