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Bulambuli blind woman finds treasure in making ropes

Nasambu at her home making ropes. Photo by Daudi Nana.

BULAMBULI–Rather than surrender to society’s perception that disabled people are the result of a family curse or punishment from a deity for a parent’s past transgressions, a blind single mother of two children in Bulambuli district believes she too deserves the same treatment, opportunities and privileges as able-bodied Ugandans.

It is commonly said ‘Disability is not inability’, this is the adage the 49-year-old Nasambu Wolusati, a blind woman is clinging on to make ends meet.

Nasambu was born in 1968 and his parents enrolled her in school but she dropped out in Primary Four in 1985 after developing sight problems.

“I was not born blind, I was normal, I could see well but while in school in 1985, I started getting sight problems, they persisted until I dropped out. I remained half blind, got married to Mr. Maline Lukuya before he died mysteriously in 1992 and having nobody to cling to with my three children, I started making ropes for sale before I totally got blind in 1993,”  Nasambu said.

Although I knew my children very well, I now resorted to telling their presence by their voices, I could not recorgnise people, had only a grass-thatched hut to stay in with my children without money. Life became so difficult for me in the village as a bling single mother especially after the death of my husband.

At first during the day, my children would bring me out of the hut, place me in the compound to start staring in one direction to beg but this failed to work out as I would talk to any sound I heard even of cattle passing.

“On the night of September 1993, at night I slept in my hut with my children, it rained heavily. I thought about killing myself but somehow a voice came to me that I could make ropes and survive. I asked my children to avail raw materials and they accepted and this is how I have been surviving,” said Ms Nasambu.

“And rather than surrender to society’s perception that the blind are supposed to go to the streets under guidance to beg, my conscious told me to believe that I could make a living from making ropes, digging for other people in their gardens under guidance,”  Nasambu said.

For the last about 14 years, I have been making ropes and selling them at Shs500 each, using part of the money to look after a family and saving some of the money.

After my husband’s death, we slept on sisal sacks but through my savings from ropes, I have now purchased mattresses, mats, bed sheets, blankets and can live on.

“It is hard to be blind after seeing for some time and it is worse if you have to work to look after children so you have to struggle to find a way out to do some farming. I use my hands, legs to move if my children are not around, I have crammed where I make my ropes from so I just stagger straight to this place and sit and using my hands, I start my work,”  Nasambu said.

In June 1995, I was taken to an eye clinic along Republic Street in Mbale to be examined by a doctor. I can’t recall him but he gave me medicine told me to seek further medical attention to correct the sight.

“My eyes were examined by the doctor in Mbale and he told me that my iris and the lenses were affected and added it could be cataract but I don’t have any means to get out of this place to seek medical attention, I have resigned to my work; making ropes and farming to make ends meet,”  Nasambu said.

She revealed that after the death of her husband, men would come and talk to her but after she went blind, they all fled and no longer want to associate with her.

She said because she had her full sight before, today she finds it easy to identify people by the way they speak, walk and that besides the stick, he uses his hands and legs to move within the house, to identify things within the house, measure the ropes she makes using her hands and that occasionally he is aided by his children.

When PML arrived in Bulumera village in Bwikonge Ms Nasambu was busy making her ropes, then she shouted “Nanu yo? Khukhuyete shi? Uryena?” loosely meaning ‘Who is that? Can we help you? How are you?”

She stopped working and sat staring in one direction as though she had seen somebody, then she asked further “Witsile khukula Kimikosi?  loosely translated to mean “Have you come to buy ropes?

She revealed that she has made peace with her condition and moved on, “ True, I need help, an examination on my eyes to determine their fate, maybe I can be helped to see again, I just want to see because I don’t want to beg, I can work on my own,”  Nasambu said.

Paul Kimamati the Bulambuli district NRM chairperson from Bwikonge sub-county where Nasambu lives, says the lady never quarrels, she loves her work, is hard working and is always smiling at anybody who cares to greet her even when she does not see.

“Being totally blind, Ms Nasambu most times arouses sympathy in us as we watch her making ropes, occasionally struggling to dig in her garden, at times she cooks with the aid of her children who are always there to help her get the right money from her customers, she has never given up and whenever you meet her, she says we must work whether blind or not which challenges us,”  Kimamati said.

Kimamati says despite all the challenges she has faced with her physical disability, Nasambu has managed to defy all odds to lead a life that if you came to her home and they told you that she is totally blind, you will take time to believe.

“There are many families in this place with able bodied people without any disability and they are not doing anything but this lady works even when she is blind, her family eats and is healthy, she does not go around begging like other blind people in the village but works,”  Kimamati said.

John Baraza of Mbale regional hospital eye clinic says the stones could have injured the eye but that he could also try to check again to find out if it can be corrected because blindness relies on the interaction between the brain and the eyeball, two extraordinarily complex organs.

“Nasambu. could have had cataract that damaged her eyes because of lack of treatment. I can’t say that this is permanent blindness until we check her but given the number of years she has stayed without seeing and checking on her eyes, she could have gotten completely blind but let her come and we check,” Baraza said.

According to Dr. Andrew Kasoro of Mbale regional hospital, Ms Nasambu could have suffered cataract that has now damaged both eyes.

Cataract is a clouding that develops in the crystalline lens of the eye or in its envelope, varying in degree from slight to complete opacity and obstructing the passage of light.

Kasoro says early in the development of age-related cataract the power of the lens may be increased, causing near-sightedness (myopia), and the gradual yellowing and opacification of the lens may reduce the perception of blue colours.

“Cataracts typically progress slowly to cause vision loss and are potentially blinding if untreated. The condition usually affects both eyes, but almost always one eye is affected earlier than the other but it could be corrected by an operation which involves the removing of the lens and then cleaning it,”  Kasolo said.

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