The road to Kalima is undulating, incredibly bumpy and full of ditches and boulders to swerve round. We drive for 40 minutes up some bone-jarringly bumpy roads, then park the car and walk for about a mile through farm land until we hear rushing water, and make our way towards a fast-flowing river.
“Mr Winesi lives up there.” We’re pointed towards the top of a big hill – in the bright light we can see the silhouette of an old man moving hesitantly around the outside of a house, feeling his way with his hands. This is the man we’ve come to meet. We take off our shoes, roll up our trousers and wade across the river.
Winesi March is happy to talk to us, and as we chat a few of his family members gather around, including his wife Namaleta. He’s 69 years old, he says – or 70; he’s not entirely sure. He’s respectfully known by everyone here as Winesi. He has a contagious chuckle, and we instantly warm to him. But it’s apparent that the last few years have been tough for him, and for his family.
His sight has been declining for more than a decade. Three years ago he could still make out the path and get around, and was working on his farm planting and hoeing. Two years ago his vision got a lot worse, and he’s been totally blind since then.
He can’t work anymore – occasionally he forces himself to try, but it usually ends in injury: the day we meet him, he has an injured finger from tripping on a tree stump, and he has a bad gash on his leg from accidentally cutting himself with an axe. “During my free time I used to make traditional mats and trays,” he says. “I could also make handles for my hoes, for farming. I used to do all these things by myself, but now I’m no longer able to see, I’m failing to make these items.”
His typical day used to be full of activity; now when he wakes he waits for his family to help him, and then he sits on his mat. Sometimes he changes location, but he needs help to move the mat. If he needs the toilet, or wants to prepare food, he needs someone to guide him.
He misses being part of daily activities: “I am always here, and sometimes I can hear people laughing across the other side of the river. I feel like ‘Let me go and see them, let me go and join them’, but I fail to do that because of this situation.”
There are times when everyone is out and Winesi doesn’t have peace of mind. Losing his sight has knocked his confidence and he can’t relax because he worries that if someone came to assault him he wouldn’t know. “I am scared of being attacked and there not being anyone to protect me. I feel like I’m not safe.”
This isn’t his only fear. He worries that there’s nobody to support the family, and feels he should be able to provide for them. He misses his role as breadwinner. Namaleta and the children do what they can, but it’s a struggle, and when the food they have harvested currently is finished, he doesn’t know what they’ll do to get by.
A lot of extra pressure is on Namaleta, who now shoulders the responsibility of work and keeps the household running. “I relied on him so much, to provide for the family, but now he can’t do anything. I have to do everything – finding food, making sure the children go to school. It’s painful having to do both roles. I would be so excited and so relieved to get back to normal life.”
“I will dance on that day”
The sense of excitement among Winesi’s family and our team is infectious – it’s amazing to think that after the struggles he’s had in the past few years, an operation on 8 October that might take as little as 10 minutes could change everything.
And it did! See what happened…