MY UNTOLD STORY
If I had a choice, I would have reversed the situation that led to the suffering of my grandmother. Unfortunately, I only had the will but not the power. I started living with my grandmother at the age of 11. Life was full of meaning. I felt protected and loved by her all the time. She called me her star. She was kind and generous, always helping the neighbors whenever they needed help.
She was hardworking, she sold vegetables and firewood in the market. With this little money, we bought food and saved the rest. We would close our door tightly and count this money after our supper. Despite my grandmother’s struggle to put food on the table, and pay for school, my schoolmates made jokes, laughed at my torn uniform, and teased me for behaving like my old grandmother.
I remember in my primary school, my teacher asked us about our personal hero. As you can expect, most of the children named their favorite musicians or actor, but I remember standing up and saying “My grandmother.” The classroom went silent and all eyes were on me. “Why would you say that?” My teacher and classmates asked. That day I went home with a heavy heart and told the story to my grandmother. She hugged me tight and, prepared soft ugali and fish curry. While enjoying the meal, she told me the story of Esther Small, the great-granddaughter of slaves who became one of the few Black students to graduate from NYU in the 1940s. She narrated how she persevered and became so successful in her education. She taught me that it was all right to be different. She constantly reminded me of how a girl’s education was an asset to society.
I witnessed her growing old day by day. She even started becoming forgetful. She would put the house keys in a place and then was not able to remember where they were. I got irritated when she kept asking me the same question ten times. She would wake up in the middle of the night and announce that she is going to the market. The situation got worst when she would go to the market and forget her way back home. I could hear people whisper that she is paying for the sins she committed. In my region, people believe, old persons, become witches.
I became terrified. I did not want to grow old anymore.
Her condition deteriorated. She needed somebody by her side to take care of her. She became so sick one day that I requested my neighbors to help me take her to the hospital. But they refused and asked what I had to do with a good-for-nothing old grandmother. I felt hurt and lonely. These were the same people whom she offered help.
I took her to the hospital after constant persuasion since she kept saying the nurses will not attend to her. It is a common notion that old people are not given priority in hospitals. She was then diagnosed with cancer. She became so depressed and regretted why it had to be her.
I remembered her words “My daughter, work for change, make it different.”
Having witnessed a lot of aged people being mistreated in my community, I wanted to understand why there was a big gap between the old people and the young people. I pursued a course in psychology and later worked in a hospital to provide counseling services to aged and young people. I visited many aged people in my village who were going through what my grandmother went through. I felt there was a need to change this narrative and treat aged persons with dignity and respect with an aim of promoting intergenerational care.